PAL Program Creates Lasting Friendship of More than 30 Years

February 11, 2022

PAL Program Creates Lasting Friendship of More than 30 Years

By JF&CS Marketing

When 11-year-old Russell and his family moved from South Africa to the United States in 1988, it was a difficult adjustment. Integrating was challenging and scary at times for the young child, especially with having an accent. Russell’s mother recognized that he needed some extra support and applied for the PAL Program, Atlanta’s Only Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister Program at JF&CS.

Russell was matched with 26-year old Larry, who volunteered to be a Big PAL after losing his father when he was 21. He thought it would be helpful for both his own healing process and for mentoring others.

“I lost my father, and it was a terrible thing. But there are some kids out there that get even less time with their fathers than I did. I wanted to find a way to give back to those kids," he said.

Larry became the friend and mentor that Russell needed while coping with a new city. They enjoyed fun activities together, including mini golf, movies, and bowling.

"We hit it off immediately. Our friendship was huge for me during that point in my life," said Russell. "They (Big PALs) have no idea how important they can be for somebody like me. We saw each other about twice a month, and I always looked forward to seeing him.”

Russell moved back to South Africa only a year after coming to Atlanta. But distance did not stop the deep friendship that he and Larry had begun to develop, and they were determined to stay in touch. It began with written letters as long-distance calls were expensive. As technology advanced, letters turned into emails, which turned into Facebook connections, and soon into FaceTime sessions and WhatsApp messages. They made sure to always keep in touch and update each other on important life events, and they always knew the other was only a letter, email, or Skype call away.

Russell and Larry have successfully maintained their friendship now for more than 30 years. They've even managed to visit in person a couple of times: once at Disney World and another at Wimbledon in London. And when the Braves won the World Series in 2021, Russell, who is also an Atlanta sports fan, made sure to give Larry an excited call.

When he was a Big PAL, Larry did not realize how much his mentorship mattered. “At only 26 years old, I didn’t realize the impact I was having on Russell. Years later, while visiting Atlanta, Russell’s mother told me how much it meant to her, what I did for her son," he said.

Larry encourages those interested in being a Big PAL to go for it: “It’s a meaningful experience, not just for you, but for your Little PAL. It’s a great way to give a little bit of yourself that makes an impact in a big way.”

Havinagala is March 5, 2022. It's the largest Jewish young professional fundraiser in Atlanta. All proceeds go to benefit our PAL Program, so we can help create more stories like Russell and Larry’s. Purchase tickets here.

To learn more about our PAL Program, click here.

Honor a current or previous Big or Little PAL, and show you care! Send a tribute, and help raise money for the PAL Program.