Experience as a boy informs Sarasota man's choices to work with children himself.
It started about 52 years ago in New Jersey.
Rich Puckett first got involved in Big Brothers as a Little Brother. He was a kid who grew up in a poor neighborhood, and Howie Louie, a foreign exchange student, was his Big Brother. All these years later, Puckett said he still remembers something Louie said to him.
“He said, ‘I’m going to trust you until you give me a reason not to,’” Puckett said. “It’s something I never forgot. And I wanted to help someone the way he helped me.”
As an adult, Puckett began volunteering in 1992 with Big Brothers Big Sisters in New Jersey and has remained active in the organization even after moving in 1998 to Sarasota.
And his involvement has rubbed off on his 35-year-old son, Jason, who said volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters was a natural fit.
“He taught me you can still impact people, despite having a busy life,” Jason said. “This brings genuine joy.”
The elder Puckett said he keeps in touch with his five Little Brothers from years past, and is working to arrange a gathering for them.
Freddie Smalls, who was 8 in 2012 when Puckett began working with him, is now a sophomore at Riverview High School. That means it’s almost time to ask for a new Little Brother.
“My experience has been unique because I’ve been able to mentor for longer than most, and bond more,” Puckett said. “I truly believe mentoring kids changes lives. Mentoring makes a difference.”
Puckett also has been involved in the inner workings of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Suncoast as the corporate board chair.
“I think I’ve had a unique experience viewing the inner workings and also the volunteering side,” Puckett said.
Gina Taylor, vice president of communications and marketing for the organization, said Puckett’s experience is a good example of what Big Brothers Big Sisters tries to do.
“I think it’s something I think about all the time and a question which should be posed to everyone,” Puckett said. “What can we do as a volunteer? Giving back shouldn’t be a question for people. Whether it be money, time or talent — there are 168 hours in a week, and you’re saying you can’t find an hour?”