Father-Son Duo Bond Through Mentorship

Gary and Cole Stang Big Duo of the Year with Carter

Gary Stang doesn’t know why he chose Big Brothers Big Sisters to fill the void in his life after both of his children left for college. He wanted a way to help a kid who needed a mentor – and was also looking for someone with shared interests to spend time with.

Regardless of how he came to the conclusion that being a Big Brother was the best way to fill his time, he now believes it is the best decision he ever made. Gary was first matched with his Little Brother, Carter, eight years ago, and the two have formed an inseparable bond.

When they were first matched, Carter would hang out with Gary’s children, Shelby and Cole, when they were home for break. Cole enjoyed his time with Carter – the trio would go to hockey games, play video games together, or just hang out and talk. But he also noticed the change in his dad after joining BBBS and becoming a Big Brother.

“Every time we caught up, his words were brimming with newfound vitality, filled with stories of fulfillment, pride, and uncontained joy,” Cole said of his father.

A short time after being matched with Carter, Gary asked Cole to officially join the match and become a Big Duo with him. Cole was hesitant, but he couldn’t overlook how happy being matched with Carter made his dad – or the opportunity to find that sense of joy for himself. So he made the leap.

Gary, Cole, and Carter have officially been a match for more than seven years, and the growth Carter has shown under their mentorship is recognizable by everyone. Now, Gary and Cole are the 2024 Central Minnesota Big Duo of the Year.

In 2015, Carter’s mom, Sarah, wanted a male role model for her son. She wanted to make sure Carter had a solid male role model in his life. Now, she realizes BBBS gave them so much more.

Gary and Cole have both provided mentorship and stability for Carter, each with their own unique perspectives. Carter – an only child – gravitated to Cole immediately after he and Gary were matched. Cole was young enough to build a good rapport with Carter thanks to shared interests like video games and hockey. Neither Cole nor Carter grew up with a brother, and soon the Big Brother/Little Brother relationship through Big Brothers Big Sisters grew to feel like a natural relationship between brothers. Cole even asked Carter to be the junior best man at his wedding.

Gary and Carter’s relationship is more akin to father and son – and they both continue to learn from it. Through their match, Gary says he has learned patience and understanding from Carter after watching Carter move through life with such confidence. On top of enjoying similar activities and spending time together, they can relate to each other, and the ups and downs they both experience.

When Gary, Cole and Carter first met, the Stangs quickly realized that Carter was a kid full of curiosity who struggled to express his needs. They helped Carter learn how to express his emotions with words, and helped him become more responsible with his schoolwork. Gary and Cole started scheduling homework time into their outings. They encouraged Carter to ask questions and share the toughest pieces of his schoolwork with them, and slowly but surely homework became less of an issue.

Through his match with Gary and Cole, Carter has matured into a respectful 17-year-old who always has a positive attitude. There have been tough-love moments, but that has only bonded the trio together even more deeply. Carter loves hockey, and has become a leader on his high school team. Cole and Gary are in the stands at his games whenever possible, and Sarah, Gary and Cole are all thrilled that Cole has started volunteering with youth hockey in the area – and even talks about wanting to coach.

Everyone was looking for something different when they joined BBBS. All three found what they wanted and so much more in their match – and the pictures of Carter in Cole’s wedding, or Carter being a part of the Stang family Christmas card, proves it.

“(Gary and Cole) will always be important to me throughout my whole life,” Carter said. “I think without them, I wouldn’t be doing as good as I am now, nor the person I am now. They have taught me a lot, and I am really grateful for that.”

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