Mentoring with Love

Steve Smith isn’t a big guy, except where it counts the most: in his heart.

No one knows that better than 12-year-old Jesse, Smith’s Little Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Wisconsin, which operates in and around De Pere where they live.

The two have been best buddies for more than four years, and Smith obviously is doing something right, because his Big Brothers Big Sister chapter recently named him its Big Brother of the Year.

He said his motivation to help mentor Jesse was to teach him the core values of life, to help him interact with others and to believe in himself. In each of those instances, Smith, 31, is the go-to guy, because he’s dealt with and overcome the challenges of congenital muscular dystrophy since he was 12.

Steve Smith
Steve Smith (left) and his "Little Brother" Jesse work on important life lessons while just hanging out. Smith was named "Big Brother of the Year" for northeastern Wisconsin.

His employer, Schneider National, the largest privately owned truckload carrier in North America, relies heavily on his logistical skills to keep track of trucks and cargo as they travel cross-country (including when those items ride piggyback on railroad cars, and when they turn up missing).

When he’s not ensconced at his desk command center, Smith spends plenty of time helping MDA raise funds, primarily through selling Shamrocks and organizing an annual bowl-a-thon. In the last nine years he’s raised more than $42,000, and in recent years his sidekick Jesse has been a big help.

Smith and Jesse do plenty of other things together, including playing frisbee golf, camping out as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters activities, cheering on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and St. Norbert hockey teams and rooting for Jesse playing soccer.

“He’s really good,” Smith said. “He’s only 12, but he’s been picked for the Select Soccer team, and they’ve already got him playing against 13-year-olds.”

Jesse was 11 when he made the team, and when Smith asked him how things were going, the youngster replied, “It’s not going to be easy; I’m really going to have to work on my grades to stay on the team.”

Smith found that very impressive, coming from a guy so young. He said when the two first had a chance to be paired up, Big Brothers Big Sisters asked Jesse how he’d feel about having someone with a disability as his “Big.”

Steve Smith

“He told them he had no problem with it,” Smith said. “We talk very openly about my disability and how it affects me and slows me down. Once when I had to go to MDA clinic for some tests, he called me up and asked, ‘Are you going to be all right?’

“He’s always right there if I need a hand.”

And, of course, there was the wedding.

Smith tied the knot with Jenny on August 30, and eight couples stood up with them for the ceremony. Among the groomsmen, beaming proudly in his tuxedo, was Jesse, on hand to make sure everything went well for his biggest pal.

“I got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters because I wanted to use what talents I have. Helping a kid who needed someone to hang out with seemed perfect,” Smith recollects. “But it turned out better than I ever thought it could be. We’ve made memories that both of us will keep forever.”

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