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Mentoring program makes lifelong friends

Despite more than 60 years age difference between them, Evelyn Hubler and Jake Huizenga have become the best of friends — that’s the power of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa. The pair were matched up in 2003 when Huizenga was in the second grade. Now, five years later, the 12-year-old and his mentor still spend one half-hour a week together playing cards, making models, reading, talking and developing what they both described as a “lifelong friendship.” “We like to play card games like Kings in the Corner, read books, play chess,” Huizenga said from the office at Berg Elementary School where the two meet. “Well he’s trying to teach me how to play chess. I thought I’d find an outsider who could teach me that I could come back and beat him,” Hubler joked. All kidding aside, Hubler said her friendship with Huizenga has been a blessing to her. The 78-year-old woman said she had moved to Iowa after spending more than 40 years in Colorado. Making the move meant leaving behind her children and grandchildren and adjusting to Iowa life away from her family was difficult. “I sat around for five years missing my grandchildren,” she said. “Then I said ‘You just got to get up because you can do this.’” Hubler decided to contact Cathy Wignall, coordinator of the BBBS school-based mentoring program in Newton and the match was made. “He has been the best thing in my life since I moved back to Iowa,” Hubler said. “(The match) has been the best thing to happen to me.” Huizenga said he enjoys spending time with his friend who may be old enough to be his grandmother “but never acts like it.” “She’s just nice to be around and have fun with,” he said of Hubler. “She taught me Kings in the Corner, and I never heard of how to play it. Now my whole family plays it.” The pair has taught each other more than how to play a few games, Hubler and Huizenga are both quick to point how the shy second-grade student has turned into a talkative leader in his sixth-grade classroom. “I’m not afraid to talk to people and stuff,” Huizenga said. “He was really shy but he’s developed into a young boy who’s a leader,” Hubler added. Along with the friendship the “Big Sister” and “Little Brother” have formed, Hubler and Huizenga’s family also have become close while watching Huizenga’s games and talking with his family at the annual BBBS pool party. Even though Huizenga comes from a very supportive family he said it’s nice to know he has another adult to turn to. “She’s taught me a lot of things and been a good friend and it makes me feel good to know there’s another person I could turn to if I needed,” Huizenga said. Hubler said her time as a mentor has shown her how easy it is to make a difference in a child’s life. “I think the thing I have learned from this experience is there are so many fine young children who don’t come from broken homes or have problems in school that just need friends,” she said. “It almost makes me cry to think of how important this experience has been to me.” To learn more about the school-based mentoring program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, call Wignall at 792-4077.