New Castle News

April 22, 2013

Difference Makers: New Castle man builds relationships with young people

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Sometimes people make a difference in their community without knowing it.

Bernie Muckian is one of those.

Recognition doesn’t mean much to the New Castle man, but relationships are a priority.

A devoted husband and father, Bernie and Patricia raised three children after moving here from Pittsburgh 30 years ago. Bernie started a local youth soccer program and coached hundreds of area youngsters for 15 years. He recently added “doting grandfather” to his most important titles.

But according to Paul Kovach, a caseworker at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lawrence County, there is another role in which Bernie stars,

“Bernie’s been a volunteer in our program for more than a year and has exemplified everything that we could ask for,” Kovach said. “He’s caring, dedicated and committed to our program and his Little Brother.”

Bernie and Mike met 14 months ago. They’re like family now.

“It was a little awkward at first,” said Bernie of the anxious moments before their initial meeting. “But Mike is a very outgoing young man and we hit if off right from the start.”

The pair get together for weekly outings, planned by Bernie.

They share a love of sports so Bernie has arranged trips to many local colleges to see athletic events. They’ve gone fishing, played catch, racquetball and basketball, attended Pirates baseball games and visited the library.

“I want Mike to experience a lot of different things,” Bernie said. “He appreciates all of it.”

Mike, 13, feels the same way, telling Kovach that he “likes everything about Bernie” and referring to their time spent together as “awesome.”

A television commercial about the BBBS program caught Bernie’s eye, but worried that his age might be a problem.

“I was apprehensive,” said Bernie, 56. “I didn’t want that to be a negative.”

It wasn’t. Kovach said age is seldom a deterrent to participating in the BBBS program. Volunteers range in age from 15 to 75.

“He wanted to be a friend, not a grandfather figure,” said Patricia about her husband’s involvement.

Knowing the time commitment was vital, Bernie sought Patricia’s approval before signing on.

“Bernie has always wanted what’s best for kids,” said Patricia. “He believes children are treasures.”

Bernie said he dealt with some difficult life situations as a boy. “I was thinking back to myself and what that was like,” Bernie said.

He found some relief through sports and various coaches during his high school and college hockey days.

Bernie said building relationships takes time and trust.

“At first Mike had some questions,” Bernie said. “He was concerned that I was going to skip out and totally forget about him.”

“He knows now that will not happen.”

(Want to nominate someone who is making a difference in the community? Email: d_burcham @ncnewsonline.com)