Senior finds brother, friend through Western Youth Network’s mentoring program


Meghan Frick

Senior recreation management major Brett Smith lifts his 'little brother' Dylan Johnson onto his shoulder. Brett and Dylan have been paired together for a year through the Western Youth Network. Paul Heckert | The AppalachianThis Monday marks one year since senior Brett Smith gained a brother.

Smith, a recreation management major, is a mentor through Western Youth Network’s mentoring program. He met his mentee, 13-year-old Dylan Johnson, on Sept. 18, 2011. The pair hit it off right away.

“I remember I was wearing a dragon T-shirt that day and Dylan was like, ‘Is that a dragon on your shirt?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah,'” Smith said. “And he said, ‘We’re going to get along great.'”


WYN’s mentoring program is comparable to other big brother/big sister programs.

“We’ll match guys with guys and girls with girls and once that match is established, they will go out and do their own thing together and they are a pair,” Executive Director Jennifer Grubb said.

Smith said he got involved with the program because he felt called to do it.

“I just had an inclination that I wanted to be a mentor and I wanted to do something in a kid’s life,” he said. “I’m also a big kid myself.”

Johnson was referred to the program by his teachers at Green Valley Elementary School.

“At school, I didn’t have a lot of friends,” he said. “They talked to me about [the mentoring program] at school, a bunch of teachers did.”

Before the matchup happened, Smith and Johnson filled out forms that described their interests and activities they enjoyed. Johnson said he waited about two months before being matched with Smith.

The program currently has a need for male volunteers to meet the demand for male mentors, Grubb said.

“I don’t understand why there aren’t as many males mentoring,” Smith said. “Maybe they feel intimidated or worried about taking care of a kid. I have a lot of fun hanging out with Dylan. He’s a guy, too — just a smaller guy.”

Growing up, Smith said he could have used a mentor. He lived with a single mom who worked and was a “latchkey kid” who stayed home alone after school.

“I kind of wish I had been in a mentoring program when I was in middle school,” he said. “I look back on just how weird I was in middle school and just how much it could have helped me.”

Smith plans to stick around Boone for two years after graduation, but eventually wants to travel abroad. When that day comes, Johnson has a plan.

“There is a piece of tape on the floor at Dylan’s house that says ‘Brett’s Spot,'” Smith said. So that if I ever end up moving out west to Colorado, Washington, California, New Zealand or anywhere else in the world where I can go, if we lose each other’s phone numbers, I have to walk my happy butt back to his house, knock on the door and stand on ‘Brett’s Spot.'”

And the mentor-mentee experience has influenced Johnson to look into being a mentor one day.

“I’d definitely go for it and try it,” he said.

For more information on WYN, go to or call 828-264-5174.

Story: MICHAEL BRAGG, Senior A&E Reporter