MANCHESTER — For the past three years, Bryan Richheimer and Tyler Benson of Manchester have enjoyed each other’s company playing sports and taking advantage of all that Vermont’s outdoors has to offer.

Through the United Counseling Service’s Big Brother/Big Sister mentor program, Benson is able to be experience things he wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

He’s the youngest of two sisters. Richheimer raised two boys, but he doesn’t have any grandchildren.

They started out as a school-based match and evolved to a community match. One is based at Manchester Elementary Middle School, and the other is on the pair’s own time.

Richheimer said the community match gives him and Benson more freedom. This is his second match through the program.

Twice a month Benson and Richheimer get together to hike, fish, feed fish at Orvis, sled, visit art galleries, cross country ski, bike, ice skate, play frisbee golf and much more.

“To me, it’s fun to expose a kid to something that you like,” Richheimer said, “like ice skating. Kids need exposure to a lot of different things to know what they like. It might spark something. Who knows what seed might be planted. That to me is fun, a good relationship, good buddies.”

Benson is 9 years old and said he wants to be a National Football League player. His favorite team is the New York Giants. In addition to football, he also plays hockey, rides dirtbikes and BMX, snowboards, and sometimes plays soccer.

Richheimer said he asked the Northshire coordinator to match him with someone who likes sports, which presumably is why they get along so well.

The Big Brother/Big Sister program has a Northshire and Southshire coordinator that oversees 50 to 60 matches in the county. The program is funded by the annual Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser at Bennington Lanes in April, along with state grants and money from private foundations. The program operates under a $65,000 budget and resources are shared from the national Big Brother/Big Sister organization, according to Sue Pierce, Northshire coordinator for Big Brother/Big Sister.

The national organization came about in the early 1900s when there was a need to address juveniles before the court. It helped youth from committing crimes and living in poverty. A formal organization was formed in 1921 and incorporated in the state of New York as Big Brother and Big Sister Federation, Inc. (BB/BSF).

Richheimer said he documents in an online system when he meets with Benson. Pierce is able to see the logs and check off that she viewed them.

Children in the Bennington County program range from 5 to 14 years old. They must reside in the area for six months and experience a lack of involvement from two supportive parents. The bigger sibling must be a positive role for life skills and interpersonal relationships, improve the child’s peer relations, academics and behavior and must develop trust with the child, according to the regional program’s guidelines.

The mission is to help local children reach their potential in a one-to-one relationship that will contribute to a brighter future, better educational experience and to strengthen the community.

Benson said he isn’t sure if he ever wants to be a big brother, but for now, he likes being a little brother.

Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.