When Karen and Mike Michelsons' youngest child went off to college, they felt they had an empty nest.
Karen decided Big Brothers Big Sisters was a way to solve that problem.
She became a "big" to then 6-year-old Heather.
"It took me about a year before Heather and I were grouped together, and I think it was God's way of Heather needing me and me needing her," said Karen of Jefferson City.
"Bigs" are needed for 55 children on a waiting list for Missouri Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The nonprofit organization matches adult mentors with children ages 6-17. The mentors provide the children, called "littles," with additional support, guidance and encouragement.
A big can volunteer to be involved with the school-based program or the community-based one. The school-based program requires a commitment of one hour a week. The community-based model requires a two-hour commitment a week.
Lee Knernschield, director of Missouri Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the "program allows someone to provide a child with guidance and to offer a viewpoint on a child's potential in life."
Karen's "little," Heather, is now 17 years old, and Karen said she'll be Heather's "big" as long as she's able.
"She's in the process of deciding where to go to school and deciding what she wants to do," Karen said. "I think we've been together longer than anyone else."
The duo, as well as Karen's husband, Mike, have done all sorts of things together, including visiting the zoo in St. Louis, going swimming, cooking, going to hay rides and having picnics. They spend time together every week.
The Michelsons have two grown kids of their own and a granddaughter.
Karen said time with Heather has flown by, and it's been a rewarding experience.
"It's really about giving to someone else," Karen said. "Just helping others like Heather and her family.
"There's so many kids out there who need a friend."
For more information about becoming involved with Missouri Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters, call the agency's office at 634-3290.