Keith Poling has made a career of helping others, but he says his success is still ahead of him.
“I'm still learning everyone's names,” he said. But after only three months as program director at Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Northwest Ohio, he has plenty of names to learn. He oversees the delicate match-making involved in pairing volunteer adult “Bigs” with role-model-ready youngsters, and smoothes any problems between the pairs. “We have more than 300 kids in relationships, and about that many waiting for someone to step forward and mentor them,” he said. “I'm always out there working to recruit volunteers, looking for responsible adults who might consider giving a kid a chance to make it through those tough adolescent years and become a good person.”
Mr. Poling grew up on a farm in Van Wert County. He studied agriculture at Ohio State University but he didn't stay down on the farm after school. He and his wife, Sara, joined the Peace Corps and served in Nicaragua in 1971-72.
“We wanted to see the world and help underprivileged people, and we found we got more from them than we could ever give,” he said. The young idealists returned to Ohio and raised soybeans, corn, wheat, and two children on the Poling farm for 15 years.
The family moved to St. Louis in 1989, and Mr. Poling received a master's degree in social work. He went to work for Lutheran Family and Children's Services, coordinating its disaster-relief and housing programs. “My talent is in organizing, coordinating things,” he said. “I have a lot of stick-to-it-iveness. I can wear a lot of hats.”
Mrs. Poling's work as a hospital administrator brought the family to Toledo two years ago. They settled in Sylvania Township. Mr. Poling took the job at Big Brothers/Big Sisters in June.
“I made a very good decision in hiring Keith,” said Barbie J. Harrison, executive director of the organization. “He's a fast learner, and he sincerely cares for children. He keeps track of the day-to-day services we perform. He's the people person, the social worker. And he covers a lot of area: Lucas, Ottawa, Fulton, Wood, and Williams counties, and he's out there, evaluating and developing and expanding our programs.”
“I had two Little Brothers when I was a student in Columbus,” Mr. Poling said. “I believe in what I do. I believe in this program.”