Faces in the Crowd – Carol Bruce-Gage

October 4, 2018

By Gene Bodnar

Arriving at the appointed time for this interview, I met Carol Bruce-Gage sitting behind her workplace desk, already busy working as the only full-time employee of Mid Michigan Big Brothers Big Sisters.  She is its Director and a donor, with her office located at 104 West Fifth Street in downtown Clare.

Carol Bruce-Gage

Carol Bruce-Gage

The mission of her organization is “to provide children with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”  The ultimate goal is to assist in the achievement of the child’s highest potential.

Carol was born in Flint in 1956.  She attended the school system in Flint, graduating from Carman High School.  She attended Central Michigan University, for her Bachelor’s degree and has completed graduate work at Lawrence Technological University in Nonprofit Management.

Carol and her husband of 43 years, Norm, were married in 1975 in Flint. They have two sons, Gavin age 30 and Ethan who is 26.  They have 2 granddaughters Annabelle and Tessa. Carol and Norm moved to Clare County in 1993 when Norm took the job as Assistant Prosecutor. Norm then also served as the elected Prosecutor from 1996 to 2008.

For a period of about 20 years, Carol worked at two banks, first at the Genesee Bank in Flint, where she was a keypunch operator, and then at Michigan National Bank, where she worked with ATMs, which was a new industry at the time.  She was also on the management team for Customer Service in telephone banking.

In 1993, when the family moved to Clare County, Carol resigned from the bank.  Then Carol decided to return to school, first attending Mid-Michigan College, then transferring to Central Michigan University, obtaining a degree in Family Studies.  Graduating in June of 1999, she soon became a part-time case worker at Mid Michigan Big Brothers Big Sisters.  In 2002, she became a full-time Executive Director, a position she still holds today.

Mid-Michigan Big Brother Big Sister office.

Mid-Michigan Big Brother Big Sister office.

What is Big Brothers Big Sisters all about?  The concept has been in existence for more than 100 years.  They have operated under the belief that every child has the inherent ability to succeed and thrive in life.  As the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network in the country, their goal is to make meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers and children between the ages of 5 through 15 (once matched children may remain in program until 18).  The children are candidates who need adult assistance for a variety of reasons ranging from poverty, neglect, severe illness of parents, incarceration of parents, or a host of similar misfortunes.  Big Brothers Big Sisters develops positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of these young people.  It is obvious that when a child has the influence of a truly caring adult, they are more likely to avoid risky behaviors and to focus on academics.  Today’s youth face a variety of challenges, and being matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister can help them navigate these challenges and reach their full potential.

Carol repeatedly stressed to me that Big Brothers Big Sisters needs more volunteers.  The organization is currently mentoring over 100 children agency wide, but it also has a “tremendous waiting list” – more children in desperate need.  YOU can help the cause by volunteering your time to such a child.  The requirements are minimal.  All that’s required is that you donate at least one hour per week (or 4 hours per month) to a child.  You would serve as a role model and friend to a child in a one-on-one mentoring relationship.  A match would last at least one year, and you would spend time doing activities you both have in common interest.  Each month, a planned activity is also available for them to attend.  For example, a recent trip to Binder Park, a zoo near Battle Creek, was enjoyed by the group.  Also available are game nights, craft activities, and coming up shortly is Christmas crafts.  At least nine months of the year contain similar activities.

High school students can also serve as Big Brothers or Big Sisters.  They are matched with elementary school students as lunch buddies.  They are required to spend one lunch period a week with an assigned child, sometimes assisting with homework and engaging in conversation with the child.

Becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling things you will ever do.  Imagine helping to shape a child’s future for the better by empowering them to achieve.  And the best part is, it’s actually a lot of fun.  Meanwhile, you help that child attain higher aspirations, greater confidence, and better relationships.  At the same time, you are helping that child avoid risky behaviors.  Yes, YOU have the potential to change a young person’s life.  At the same time, it will get you to stop thinking about yourself all the time, and of course, there’s nothing like having a young person in your life to keep you from turning into an old fogey.  By mentoring, you are helping build a better, more stable society for the future.  Finally, you may actually end up with more than just a mentee – but a new member of your family.  And it is a fact that mentors change lives, but students change mentors’ lives more.

If you are unable to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, you can always make a donation to help fund the careful one-to-one matching and ongoing professional mentoring support unique to this organization.  Your gift will help match a child with an adult mentor.  The gift you make today will lead to better outcomes for our community’s children tomorrow.

Carol points out that the Clare area Big Brothers Big Sisters has a 43-year history.  They have served thousands of children in the communities of Clare, Farwell, Lake, Harrison, Beaverton, and Gladwin.  In past years the agency has grown to accommodate the Big Brother Big Sister of America guidelines and to help share in costs.  The agency now serves multiple counties, most recently this past January the counties of Gratiot and Montcalm have been added to the area covered.  Thus, as you can see, the need for volunteers and donations continues to grow.  If you wish to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, or if you wish to donate, please contact Carol at (989) 386-9304 or her personal cell phone at 989-429-6189.

Does such a program really work?  Here are some interesting statistics for those of you who like numbers:  In a 2013 study of a Big Brother Big Sister organization, the results found that youths participating in the program improved academic performance by 86%, avoided delinquency by 89%, while 90% gained a stronger sense of self-confidence, and 85% made safer and better decisions.  Furthermore, 46% were less likely to begin using illegal drugs than children not in the program; 27% were less likely to begin using alcohol; 52% were less likely to skip school; and 37% were less likely to skip a class.

I asked Carol what she did for fun in her spare time.  She responded, “My work is my hobby.”  She says she is “willingly engulfed in my work.”  Her enjoyable “off work hours” are spent with her two granddaughters, and I could see that they undoubtedly enjoyed Grandma as well.  Carol also loves to travel, especially on long weekend trips.

Carol Bruce-Gage is one of those people you meet who has incredible enthusiasm for her “work.”  It is obvious that she experiences that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from helping someone, and she must experience that feeling all the time.  She is 100% devoted to making less fortunate young people into exemplary adults, which in turn makes the future of the community a better place for all its residents.

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