The Stovers make a “Big, Little” impact
A Tulsa family’s involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters comes full circle.
Kristine Stover and her Little Sister, Jaylan, have been paired through Big Brothers Big Sisters for the past five years. Stover has been involved with BBBS in various capacities over the past 20 years. Next month, she will be recognized with the organization’s Matt Burtelow Award.
More than 50 people are overflowing the small upstairs meeting space inside McNellies. A man is speaking to the crowd about his experiences as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma.
Just outside the room is a registration form to receive more information about becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister. Potential volunteers are lined up to provide their information.
Among the organizers on hand are Kristine Stover and her son, Kohl. They both serve on the organization’s Big Development Committee, which organizes recruiting events like this one.
In 2017, the organization served 1,084 children throughout Oklahoma’s seven state offices. In Tulsa, they served 347 children. BBBS Oklahoma has a 2018 goal to pair 100 new mentors with a Little in the Tulsa area. There are currently 130 ready-to-be-matched children awaiting a mentor.
Although Kristine and Kohl are both recent additions to the Big Development Committee, their involvement with the organization goes back two decades. For Kristine it started by contributing at fundraising events, and for Kohl it began as a Little Brother.
Tragedy leads to lifelong connections for the Stover family
In 1998, Kristine’s husband died, leaving her with two young boys. She had no family nearby and became concerned about the lack of a male mentor in her sons’ lives. Two years later, a lunch discussion resulted in a life-changing opportunity for the Stover family.
“One of my best girlfriends and I were at lunch talking about it, and she suggested I get them Big Brothers,” Kristine recalls. “I asked, ‘Is that for my kids? They’re not troubled kids.’ She said, ‘They’re there for kids who need to be mentored.’ She talked to a friend who was on the board, and that afternoon I got a call about it. I knew it was a great organization, so I agreed.”
Kristine watched her boys develop strong relationships with their Bigs and thrive in life. Logan, her eldest son, got paired with a Big Brother, Tucker, who dragged him out of bed at 6:30 every Saturday morning to play basketball. The pair are still close even though Logan now lives in Plano, Texas.
Logan and Tucker
Kohl had a Big Brother who graduated and moved away after two years. He was then paired with another Big Brother, Chad Morrison, who has stayed by the younger Stover’s side to this day.
“As I grew up, I realized how much it has positively impacted me,” says 25-year-old Kohl, who works as an associate advisor for a financial services consulting company. “It was great to see how hard- working he was. He was always there to talk about stuff that I didn’t want to talk about with my mom. He inspired me and motivated me. His impact is greater than he’ll ever realize.”
Kristine Stover gets involved with BBBSOK
It didn’t take long for Kristine to understand how much those volunteers helped shape her sons’ lives, and she wanted to repay the organization that made it possible, so she joined the board of directors.
During her time working with BBBS Oklahoma, Kristine has chaired the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake and Taste of Tulsa, she has served two six-year terms on the board and chaired it, and five years ago she became a Big Sister for the first time.
It’s the day after the recruiting event, and Kristine is visiting the BBBS Oklahoma offices in downtown Tulsa. Talk turns to her Little Sister, Jaylan, and she begins glowing. Kristine grabs her phone and pulls up a photo album showcasing their many adventures. There are photos of haircuts, movie dates, birthday celebrations, Turkey Mountain hikes, annual gingerbread houses and more spanning ages 8-13. In every picture the young girl’s smile is beaming.
“I never looked at myself as becoming a Big because I was a single mom raising two kids,” Kristine says. “I had no business mentoring. Then eventually I remarried and the kids went off to college. I was an incoming board chair, and I thought ‘I still don’t have a Little. I should probably do this.’” Kristine’s husband, Mick Walsh, became a Big a couple years before her.
Kristine shares stories about the challenges in her Little’s life. She says the two have spent a lot of time talking about the young girl’s potential and the opportunities she will have if she stays dedicated to chasing her dreams. Just recently, Kristine was checking the teen’s Facebook account and saw something that provided more encouragement she’s doing the right thing.
“She wrote, ‘I’m going to be different. I’m going to graduate high school. I’m going to have a career then I’m going to get married and have kids.’ She is listening occasionally,” says Kristine with a laugh. “It’s going to get tougher for her as she enters her teenage years. I have five years left with her to help keep her on that path.”
Kristine's impact on the organization is recognized
If you mention Kristine’s name to anyone in the BBBS Oklahoma office, they are ready to gush about her personality and her efforts.
Holly Stewart is the longest-tenured employee in the office with nearly a decade of service to the organization. She has worked closely with Kristine throughout that time and says the amount of good the former board chairwoman has accomplished has been unrivaled.
“She’s very passionate about anything she does, and she’s a true believer in our mission, which means you’re going to get a lot from her,” Holly says. “She’s a great advocate for our organization and continues to do a tremendous job.”
Chase Mowery is the Tulsa community engagement coordinator for BBBS Oklahoma. When he joined BBBS nearly three years ago, Kristine had just completed her term as board chairwoman, so Chase only knew about her through talk amongst the staff. He needed to fill his Big Development Committee, so he went to Holly for advice.
“I was looking for a go-getter, who had a passion for the program and somebody who could help me recruit volunteers through connections, but really through passion,” Chase says. “Holly instantly said Kristine is who I needed to call. I reached out to her, and she immediately agreed.
“Next thing I know, she has recruited Kohl and his Big, Chad. Half the people on the Big Development Committee are there because of Kristine. That’s amazing. She brought the passion and the power, and we’re already seeing the results.”
A well-deserved honor
At Taste of Tulsa on June 14, Kristine will receive the Matt Burtelow Award, given annually to honor an individual whose contributions of time, energy and/or resources have promoted the idea of adult-child mentoring in a significant way.
When Matthew Morton, Tulsa-area director for BBBS Oklahoma, informed Kristine that she’s this year’s recipient, he says it marked the first time he had witnessed her at a loss of words.
“The impact Kristine has made on Big Brothers Big Sisters in Tulsa has changed thousands of lives, and I cannot think of anyone more deserving of the award,” Morton says. “She has dedicated her life to making sure BBBS serves every single child in Tulsa who needs one-to-one mentoring.”
For Kristine, being the recipient of the Matt Burtelow Award continues to baffle her.
“It’s a huge honor. For 20 years I’ve watched big ‘community people’ do amazing things for the organization. I just don’t think of myself as that,” Kristine says, choking back tears. “I’m just doing what I can. I’ve got a lot of energy, and I really don’t work full time anymore, so this is a great way to keep busy and help a great organization.”
The Stovers complete the mentorship cycle
While she is honored to win the award, Kristine’s proudest moment to date occurred when she received a call from Kohl that brought everything full circle for the family.
“He called to tell me he had an interview to become a Big, and I had no idea,” she says. “I knew both my boys wanted to do it someday and give back because they had so much fun with their Bigs. Logan has a child of his own, so now’s not the right time for him. I’m really proud of Kohl for doing it. He will be great.”
For the past four months, Kohl has been a Big Brother to Grant. He acknowledges his Big Brother’s and his mother’s positive influences that helped inspire him to become a Big. Being on the other side has already taught him a lot, including how easy it is to mentor a young person.
“Just go be dudes. That’s all you have to do,” Kohl says. “You don’t feel like you’re making a big impact. You don’t realize how much just chatting can help someone. I know how much Chad means to me, and I hope I can do that for my Little.”
Kohl and Chad
There is a major need for mentors in Tulsa. A person only has to be 18 to participate in school-based mentoring. Those who want to do community-based mentoring must be at least 21 and have a car, a driver’s license and insurance. Currently the oldest mentor in Tulsa is 77.
Kristine says her work is far from done. She’s going to do everything she can to ensure every waiting child has a Big. For those on the fence, Kristine has a message.
“It’s the power that one person can have on someone who doesn’t have anybody they can depend on regularly,” Kristine says. “Just having someone that’s there for them 100 percent without distractions for one hour a week can positively change a life.
“I’ve seen it as a mother, as a board member and as a Big. I’ve seen what good it does for kids.”
June 14 — Taste of Tulsa: Today’s Littles, Tomorrow’s Next Big Thing
6:30 p.m. Cox Business Center, 100 Civic Center. $250, tickets. nextbigthingtulsa.org