Irwin K. Westheimer became the first “Big Brother” on July 4, 1903, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Irwin, then age 23, looked out a window and saw a young boy going through a garbage pail in his backyard. “I didn’t think that was the way a boy should eat, “ Irv said, “So I approached him and asked his name and where he lived. When I found out he didn’t have a father, I took him under my wing, and later, got some of my friends to do the same for other fatherless boys.”
As Irv traveled around the country on business, he spread the word on Big Brothers, which was what the boys back in Cincinnati called the men who befriended them. Like Johnny Appleseed, the idea of Big Brothers was planted, took root, and began to grow.
Big Brothers of America was formally organized and was chartered by Congress in 1910. It merged with Big Sisters International, a relatively younger agency, in June 1977, establishing the name, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. The National Organization is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its major role is to assist agencies in the process of formation; provide training for local agency staff; conduct workshops and conferences, and provide technical assistance in public relations and advertising. It also performs on-site evaluations of local agencies to assure consistent high-quality service is being provided to recipients. Adherence to strict National guidelines is followed. In return, the local agency is assessed an annual membership fee based upon the level of affiliation and the local agency’s operating budget.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America divides the United States into 12 regions, Indiana being in Region VII. There are approximately 400 professionally staffed local agencies throughout the United States serving 140,000 boys and girls.
In 1979 and 1980 a community needs and interest survey was conducted in Decatur County regarding the possibility of establishing a Big Brothers/Big Sister program in Decatur County. It was discovered from this survey that 15% of the children enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade were from single-parent homes. According to school enrollment figures, this would mean that approximately 400 children at that time could potentially benefit from a Big Brother/Big Sister Program.
In 1981 Decatur County Big Brothers and Big Sisters was established and a Board of Directors was selected. Work was begun to secure funding, open an office, and hire a caseworker. Decatur County Big Brothers /Big Sisters affiliated with Five Co. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Columbus and, as a result of this affiliation, became a member of the National Big Brother/Big Sister Organization. A caseworker was hired in May of 1982 and the first match was made in October of that year.
Decatur County Big Brothers/Big Sisters became an independent agency with full member status on April 12, 1993.