Spc. Ian Carino is a 21-year-old pharmacy technician with MEDDAC. Sharif Payton is a 12-year-old fifth-grader at Reese Road Elementary School.
They’re brothers who met last summer, thanks to Mentoring Military Children, a program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley.
When Sgt. Freddie Payton deployed in June with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, his wife Yolanda started looking into the program for her son.
“Sharif has always had a hard time with deployments, with just the separation and being away from his dad, so I thought having another guy in his life would make a difference,” said Yolanda, who called up Big Brothers Big Sisters a few days after her husband deployed. “And it’s worked out wonderfully. I’m glad I did.”
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Freddie redeployed in October, but left shortly after for the Advanced Leaders Course. Even with his return, it’s been helpful to have Carino around for the “reset” period, said Yolanda, who stays busy with a career, student work and family of seven.
Sharif, who has two little brothers, a younger sister and an older sister, took to the idea of having a “Big Brother.”
“I was thinking it might be fun to hang out with somebody else who was older than me,” he said. “When my dad’s busy or my mom’s busy I don’t have anybody to hang out with, so he came along and everything’s been fine ever since. I get to hang out with him and do all kinds of stuff I never did before. He’s a really unique guy. He has a fun job, too.”
Besides visiting Carino’s workplace, the two have gone kayaking, biking and canoeing, visited the aquarium and World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, played basketball, soccer and video games and gone out to restaurants and the movies.
Their next big activity is going to be bowling, Carino said.
Signing up as a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters was easy, said Carino, who completed an application and interview before being matched with his “Little.”
“It’s always nice to get involved, especially being in the military, but the main reason why I joined is I don’t have a family here in Fort Benning, so just being with Sharif and with his family, I consider it as my family,” he said.
Carino, who is the youngest in his family, has relatives in Hawaii and Virginia.
“As long as you have a good relationship,” he said, “like a brother and sister in the family, as long as you have that, you’re going to be OK. Spending time together that is really beneficial, too.”
Mentoring Military Children, brought to the Chattahoochee Valley in 2008, is geared toward kids with parents in the military.
There are currently more than 25 matches, said Jamie Williams, recruitment and marketing specialist for the local Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“The program addresses the unique challenges faced by children in the military and also provides active-duty personnel with the opportunity to serve as a volunteer mentors,” she said.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters’ one-to-one mentoring program supports both Soldiers and their families by providing support and comfort to military children. It also allows Soldiers the opportunity to serve their community. Pairing military children with volunteers who understand their unique situation provides much needed guidance and support.”
Sharif said he’d recommend the program, which has been helpful to him, to other kids.
“There’s somebody there with me,” he said, summing up the support Carino provides in his life. “There’s somebody watching me and looking out for me.”