GREEN BAY - GREEN BAY - Terry and Jean Eckers of Green Bay say volunteering for Brown County’s PALS program is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done.
PALS is part of the Brown County Human Services Department and matches volunteers with children in need of mentors. The children are referred to the program by Child Protective Services workers.
The Eckers became involved in PALS nearly 14 years ago after discovering they would not be able to have children.
“We knew the time was going to go past one way or the other, and we wanted to do something with the time so we got involved in the PALS program,” said Jean Eckers.
The Eckers were matched with a then-7-year-old boy named Stan Wilinski. He was enrolled in the PALS program after his mother suffered a life-changing medical condition.
“She had a stroke when she was 35 and was disabled from then on,” said Wilinski. “She couldn’t do much; she was a single parent.”
PALS program leaders ask volunteer mentors to meet with the child they were matched with at least three times a month for up to one year. The Eckers and Wilinski met on a more frequent basis.
“He liked everything we liked to do,” said Jean Eckers. “He was into sports, football, wrestling and track – so we did all those things with him. In a lot of ways, we got to do a lot of what parents get to do and it was a lot of fun.”
The Eckers also guided Wilinski with his homework over the years and helped him secure a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The 21-year-old Wilinski is currently in his senior year at UW-Madison, studying to become a mechanical engineer. He says he wouldn’t be there without the Eckers.
“As I grew older, I just started to realize more about life,” said Wilinski. “Terry and Jean just helped me out by having something stable in my life.”
The Eckers are making a difference in Wilinski's life, and he in theirs.
“He's the closest thing I got to my own kids,” said Terry Eckers. “It’s meant a lot to me.”
While they started out as PALS, all three say they are now family.
“He's here for the rest of our lives,” said Jean Eckers. “It's a permanent relationship.”
Currently, there are 60 children in Brown County's PALS Program. There are 55 on a list, still waiting to be matched with a volunteer mentor.
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