CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Sometimes, all it takes for a young child to succeed is for a mentor to step up. Well, that happened when Darrel Plank took on a “Little.”

That’s what the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois organization calls the youth they serve in several counties including Macon, McLean, DeWitt, and Ford to name a few. In Champaign, Darrel matched with C.J. in the summer of 2021. Ever since, they’ve both developed a bond they knew they needed in their own lives.

“It’s been a cool opportunity to invest in his life and see his school journey and his commitment to academics and sports and friends. Friends in his community and how he’s involved with that,” says Plank.

Over time, C.J. began exploring more of his interests and experiencing a variety of activities thanks to his match with Darrel. They discovered they both love sports, math and trying new things. Darrel helped open C.J.’s eyes to a different world, like trying tapioca drinks at Bearology in town or blowing off steam at Elevate Trampoline Park.

C.J.’s sister also had a “Big” through Big Brothers Big Sisters for about eight years with Becca. Their bond remains alive today and it fueled their mother to seek a mentor for C.J., something greatly needed after their father passed away. Ambur Thomas knows all too well the value of having a positive example in her kid’s lives.

“I know how hard it is to get a male role model as it is. So I was extremely blessed to know they found someone that would be perfect for him. In our situation, because C.J.’s father passed away, it was a huge effect to know he’ll have someone in this community that will be by his side and take the time out to talk to him, do things with him. I know it’s gonna change his life forever.”

With the time spent on match activities with Darrel, C.J. has grown into a mature, athletic and brilliant student-athlete. He’s a straight A student at Urbana Middle School, and he plays baseball and does travel baseball. All reasons for Ambur and Darrel to be proud. But Darrel will tell you it’s a worthwhile investment, guiding C.J. with his academics and athletics.

Darrel is a student himself at the U-of-I and studies engineering, so challenges are aplenty. Still, he makes the effort with C.J. because he too realizes the impact it’s having. In fact, he’s witnessing it firsthand each time they spend time together. Now, Darrel can sit back and enjoy the potential C.J. builds on each time..

“I’m a full-time college student and I work. I have a full-plate. But it’s worth it to find that time to invest in C.J. and see the impact it has on him. I feel super blessed that C.J. Is a great kid and easy to be with. I think anybody would be successful with C.J. as their match.”

But C.J. is one of many kids in Central Illinois who need a positive male figure in their lives. Now that Darrel is present, so many other men are needed for those kids without. A need his mother hopes can be met quickly.

To learn more about how to become a “Big” for our young men and women in Central Illinois, click here.

For more on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois as a whole, click here.