Big Brothers Big Sisters is the oldest, largest and most effective youth mentoring organization in the United States.
We have been the leader in one-to-one youth service for more than a century, developing positive relationships that have a direct and lasting impact on the lives of young people. Big Brothers Big Sisters serves children, ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country — including yours. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lower West Michigan has been serving our community since 1967.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lower West Michigan prepares children for the future by enhancing their strengths through new experiences and friendships with qualified volunteer mentors.
We will serve the community based upon these guiding principles:
Commitment to quality and safety
We are committed to one-to-one, safe and professionally supported mentoring with proven, measurable outcomes.
Dedicated to serving at-risk youth
In a world of scarce resources, we will focus on youth receiving free/reduced lunch, in a single parent environment and/or who have a parent in the criminal justice system.
Accountability to our stakeholders
We are committed to mutually beneficial relationships with our stakeholders and to building and funding our capacity for sustainable, quality growth.
Focus on diversity
We will address our communities’ racial, ethnic and gender diversity in all aspects of how we operate.
Culture of performance
We are a progressive organization that measures our impact and will recruit, build and retain the most effective team and Board of Directors.
Who We Are
For over a century, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America have helped children reach their potential through professionally supported one-to-one relationships with proven results. In 1903, a young Cincinnati businessman conceived the idea that became the keystone of the Big Brothers Program. Irvin F. Westheimer, distressed by a young boy foraging for food in an alley trash can, befriended the youth and learned that he was fatherless. Projecting that his new friend represented many boys, Mr. Westheimer informally talked to some business and personal friends, and they all agreed that such boys could benefit from an association with interested men who would act as a “big brother” to each of them.
Big Brothers of America
In 1904, a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement. By 1916, Big Brothers had spread to 96 cities across the country.
Big Sisters International
At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group became Catholic Big Sisters and later, Big Sisters International.
Two mentoring groups join together in 1977
Big Brothers of America and Big Sisters International continued to work independently until 1977, when both groups joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sister of America.
Serving Niles and Buchanan since 1967
In 1967 a group of local volunteers saw the need for mentors to work with at-risk children. In April 1967, Big Brothers of Niles and Buchanan received its incorporation from the Michigan State Treasury Department. Our local affiliate followed the national trend of offering mentoring services to both boys and girls in 1979.
Serving Berrien and Cass Counties since 1998
In 1998, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America requested that our affiliate expand into the unserved areas of northern Berrien County and all of Cass County Michigan. The local Board of directors approved this expansion and the agency has been officially known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass, Inc. since that time.
Meet Our Team
Board of Directors
Our board of directors is our chief governing body and is comprised of community members nominated by current board members and elected by affirmative vote of two-thirds of the directors present at a meeting of the Board at which a quorum is present. The total number of directors varies year by year, but averages 12-15. Each member is asked to contribute annually. The term of office is three years and the board meets monthly.Our board is an active board and all members take on significant roles and tasks as board members.
Jessica Kehrer, President
Jessica is the Regional Manager for Honor Credit Union overseeing branches in Berrien and Cass County. Jessica was born and raised in Dowagiac Michigan and graduated from Dowagiac Union High School. Jessica went on to attend Central Michigan University earning a B.S.B.A in Human Resources Management. Jessica joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass Board of Directors in 2012. Jessica enjoys spending time with her family and currently resides in South Bend, Indiana with her husband Jerry, daughter Riley and two bulldogs Jersey and Jax.
Larry Sehy, Vice President
Larry has served on the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board for over 5 years. Larry is a pillar in the community, serving many organizations as a Board Member, including Fernwood Endorsement, Niles-Buchanan YMCA, and the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County. At 80 years young Larry continues to put his professional fundraising skills to good use by managing our Sponsor-a-Match campaign each year. Larry enjoys time with his companion, Emily Egan, a former Niles High School Librarian.
Brian Hake, Treasurer
Brian was born and raised in St. Joseph, Michigan, and he attended the University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio, obtaining a B.S. in Accounting and a B.S. in Finance. After Dayton, Brian moved back to Southwest Michigan and began practicing at a local public accounting firm in 2008. Shortly after, in January 2010, he earned his license as a Certified Public Accountant. He remains at the same firm today, Kruggel Lawton CPAs, and during his time at the firm, he has practiced and gained experience in a wide array of areas, including individual and business tax consulting and preparation, payroll and bookkeeping assistance, and assurance work for local private businesses, not-for-profits, and governments. Brian has joined BBBS in hopes that he can use his knowledge and skills for the benefit of the organization, and the children that we serve, in the community that he deeply cares about. In his free time, he enjoys challenging hikes with his wife, Heidi, spending time with their two adopted dogs, and playing sports of all kinds, including tennis, golf and pickleball.
Vickie Wagner, Secretary
Vickie is an education consultant, develops curricula for publishing companies and volunteers as a Big. Vickie served as the Director of Development at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Before joining the Institute, Vickie was associate faculty at Holy Cross College, Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College, and served as the Tech Prep Specialist at Purdue University. Prior to university administrative duties, she served as a consultant to the airline, banking, hotel and cruise industries and has traveled, studied and worked in over 80 countries. Vickie received her degrees from Capital University and Michigan State University.
Edward (Hank) Yeomans
Hank has lived in Cass County for 39 years. He and his wife Ruth have been married for 46 years and have 3 grown children. He has been a Big Brother to two young men. The first match was in 2006 when the young man was 9 years old. Their friendship has continued since that time. Hank is currently a Big Brother to another young man. Their relationship is now 5 years old, starting when his “Little” was 9 years old. Hank retired from Bayer Corporation after over 30 years in various financial management positions. He is also involved in various voluntary activities in Cass County. Hank graduated from Western Michigan University with an MBA in Management and is a CPA.
Ryan is a Product Development and Marketing Manager for Whirlpool Corporation. He joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors in 2016 but has been involved in fundraising and supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters since 2007 and has had the joy of being a big brother to two young men. Ryan earned a Bachelors of Science in Engineering from Western Michigan University and resides in St. Joseph with his wife Rebeccah. In his personal time, Ryan enjoys staying active, live music, playing guitar and traveling.
Alexis Bechtel, Case Manager
Alexis has been with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lower West Michigan for three years. Prior to moving to the Southwest MI area she was an assistant director at a child care facility near East Lansing, MI. Alexis has always had a heart for serving children and her community. She received her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in Family Community Services with a concentration in child and youth development. Alexis is excited to be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters as it continues to serve the child in this area in a big way.
In her spare time Alexis enjoys spending time with her husband and son, Kyle and Benjamin, and cheering on the Spartans.