Gerstle Ellis & Kevin Nix
Twenty-one years ago, Gerstle Ellis picked up literature about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program at a tractor show on the fairgrounds in Little Rock. Little did Gerstle know that by becoming a Big Brother, he would be affecting a young boy’s future so profoundly – nor did he know how it would affect his own future.
“My feelings were probably typical of most people. I was going to take a kid and change his life, but that’s a fantasy.” Gerstle realized that becoming a Big Brother doesn’t mean you can fix everything in a child’s life – you are simply a friend and mentor. Gerstle was quick to admit, “I got so much more out of it than him.”
As a child, Kevin Nix lived with his grandmother, mother and two sisters. His father was not involved in his life, plus his mother worked night shifts. Kevin and Gerstle were matched when Kevin was 9 years old, and stayed matched until Kevin turned 18. Kevin said, “I liked Gerstle right off – he made me feel comfortable.”
“Due to owning a business, I probably didn’t have as much time to give compared to other Big Brothers, but we did get together a couple of times a month,” Gerstle said. “Kevin was a shy kid; he had no demands…but we did eat a lot of hamburgers and junk food.” Kevin remembered Gerstle joking about Kevin’s “hollow leg”. Besides enjoying food together, Gerstle and Kevin spent time water skiing on Lake Ouachita, motorcycle riding, camping and just spending time on Gerstle’s land. According to Gerstle, “We did a lot of guy stuff.”
A defining moment in their relationship occurred when Kevin ran away from home at age 16 and he turned to Gerstle. According to Gerstle, “It meant a lot to me that he came to me for help.” Gerstle knew this was not in Kevin’s nature – he was not a rebellious kid. According to Kevin, “I was having typical teenager problems, but I also had a lot of pressure at home to take care of my two sisters.”
As Kevin reflected on the impact of their friendship, the influence Gerstle had as his Big Brother continues today when Kevin is faced with life decisions. “Any moral decisions I’m faced with – I ask myself, ‘What would Gerstle think, or want me to do in this situation?’ His opinion of me really matters. If someone is pushing you to do the right thing, it makes a difference.” This powerful testimony demonstrates the effectiveness of mentoring.
Kevin and Gerstle still share time together when Kevin comes home for a visit.