by Cori Hilsgen – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sartell resident Bill Riner was recently recognized for his outstanding role as a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
BBBS of Central Minnesota recognizes a “Big Brother” and “Big Sister” annually. Riner and Julie Hentges of Richmond were selected to receive the honor and to represent BBBS of Central Minnesota in the statewide competition. Both Riner and Hentges were chosen as the sole winners in their respective categories.
Riner has been matched with his little brother, Skyler Figallo of St. Joseph, for five years. A friend of Riner’s referred him to the progam.
“Skyler and I are certainly glad they did,” Riner said.
Riner said besides the chance to make a difference in a young person’s life, he has had a whole lot of fun.
“How many senior citizens get to enjoy navigating through a straw maze, enjoy a haunted house, spend an afternoon at a water park getting splashed and very wet, help an eager young man work on woodworking projects which turn into gifts for his mom, dad and little brothers?” Riner asked. “Help a teenage boy refinish a rocker for an appreciative mom. Enjoy and share with him his pride of accomplishment. Watch him skillfully cut out puzzles for his little brothers on a scroll saw. Guide his hands in the carving of a snake and creation of a bear puzzle for sale at the ‘Magic Moments Ball.’ Skyler and I think we were the ‘best in the show.’”
The two were matched in the “School- and Site-Based” program and met once each week during the school year. They played board games, made and flew paper airplanes in the gym and flew kites outside in warmer weather. During the school year, they did not meet off -site.
When the school year ended, however, Riner and Figallo wanted to continue with the program. They expanded to the “Community-Based” program where they met outside the school and increased their fun activities.
Some of their activities included attending as many BBBS events as they could, spending time at the library, bike riding, swimming, fishing, playing board games and card tricks, playing catch with balls, playing pool, bowling, working on lots and lots of woodworking projects, eating lunches at places such as “Mongos” and other activities.
They went to the theater to see the movie called “Wreck it Ralph” and really enjoyed it. Riner said he would never have gone to that movie on his own.
Riner and Figallo have also shopped together for Christmas gifts for Figallo’s family and also for items for Figallo.
“Skyler is an excellent shopper,” Riner said. “He spends his money very well. He takes a long time to make comparisons and frequently does not make a purchase. He knows how much money he has available and decides how to allocate his funds.”
Riner said Figallo is fun to watch when he shops.
“He compares prices and assesses value; it’s not a fast process,” Riner said. “I just tag along and listen to him think aloud about his choices. I’ve told him several times I think he is a very good shopper.”
Figallo, 15, is a student at St. John’s Preparatory School. His father, Andrew, works at Merrill Corp., and his mother, Shaana, recently passed the Minnesota Teacher license exam after graduating from St. Cloud State University in December. Figallo has two younger brothers – Rainer, 6, and Donovan, 4.
Figallo started with the BBBS program when he was a student in Sauk Rapids. A teacher, who had had a good experience with the program, suggested Figallo would like it, too. At about the same time, a class member of Figallo’s mother had also given a passionate, informational speech about the program. Since male volunteers were minimal, he was originally matched with a Big Sister. Figallo’s mother said she was a wonderful match, but as Figallo grew, his needs changed and the program matched him with a Big Brother.
“We are forever thankful to BBBS for recognizing he needed a match that could be with him throughout the years and help mold him into a well-rounded, healthy, positive young adult,” Shaana said. “And they succeeded when they paired Skyler with Bill.”
Figallo is active in plays and musicals and Riner says he always lands a major role. Currently Figallo is performing as the “Scarecrow” in the “Wizard of Oz” performance at the Paramount Theatre. The two also watch other plays and musicals at the Paramount.
Figallo has played soccer, participates in track and cross country and enjoys attending German Camp in the summer.
Riner, married for 48 years, has two sons and five grandchildren. A Minnesota resident for the past 10 years, he is retired from an engineering and management career in heavy manufacturing.
Before joining the BBBS program, Riner had experiences with his sons and grandchildren and says he does many of the same things with Figallo.
Riner believes all youngsters need a good adult role model who interacts with them in a loving, nonjudgmental way. He said kids thrive on it and it’s essential for their healthy development.
“The BBBS organization is a proven way of providing this vital component to many young people,” Riner said. “Being a part of this organization as a ‘Big’ is very rewarding.
“We are just two guys, one young fellow and one not so young sharing time together. Something we would not have if it were not for the pairing brought about through the marvelous BBBS organization.”
Figallo said Riner deserves the BBBS award.
“He’s one of the smartest, funniest and nicest guys I know,” Figallo said, “and I am glad he’ll finally get recognized for it.”
Figallo said Riner has taught him many things about a variety of subjects. He has taught him to understand math, how to be safe and have fun at the same time, how to play chess and other things.
“Teaching me to play chess helped me learn I needed to plan ahead,” Figallo said, “anticipate what was coming next and to plan accordingly.”
Figallo said Riner has helped him to see the world in a few different ways. Riner liked classical music as much as Figallo did, so they listen to that a lot.
“I found it to be a mostly relaxing genre of music,” Figallo said. “It helped me slow down and think about things. Whenever I get upset or stressed out, I listen to classical music to remind me to calm down and think about things. Most of the time, it helps me realize what was wrong and how it could be fixed.”
Figallo said Riner also taught him a few things about people and about the difference wearing a smile and being nice can make. Riner had shared a story about getting stuck at the airport and how the person waiting in line ahead of him had yelled at the woman behind the counter. When it was Riner’s turn at the counter, he told the woman she didn’t deserve what she had just received and that she had handled it very well. Riner ended up getting put in a first-class seat because he was nice and wore a smile.
Figallo’s family is happy he has met Riner and made a good friend. They said they realize how important it is for any child to have someone he can trust and is comfortable enough with to share feelings. The family is glad for an authority figure like Riner, who can guide “Little Brothers” through listening, understanding and being together through difficult times and joyous times.
Figallo’s younger brothers wish Riner could be their Big Brother, too.
Riner was nominated for the award by the BBBS agency. He said it’s an “honor and a privilege to represent and promote the program,” and he would recommend the program to others.
“You will most likely make a difference in a young person’s life and have a whole lot of fun in the process,” Riner said. “There is a very good chance you will get more than you give.”
Figallo said he doesn’t really know anything about the other ‘Bigs’ in the BBBS program, but he believes Riner is the best. Whenever he needs someone to talk to, is bored and doesn’t know what to do, or is confused about math, Riner is there to help. Figallo said Riner listens, offers ideas for him to use his time productively and helps him understand math.
“Bill is the best ‘Big’ because no matter what I require to get the skills I need to succeed in life, Bill is always there,” Figallo said.
Figallo would also recommend the BBBS program to others.
“BBBS has a lot of events, fun things to do and gets us discounts at a lot of places, but the best thing is they gave me a best friend for life, a Big Brother,” Figallo said.
This is the second year both the state Big Brother and Big Sister have been chosen from the central Minnesota agency.
The Big Brother Big Sisters program began in 1969 and provides youth with one-to-one mentoring relationships.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota program currently has 190 children who are waiting for a mentor. To learn more about becoming a mentor, volunteering or donating, call 320-253-1616 or visit www.bbbscentralmn.org.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.