TODAY

TODAY   |  April 24, 2014

Volunteer’s mission sparks a life-long friendship

As TODAY’s #OneDayOneDeed continues, Jeff Elgart and Lendell Eaddy join TODAY to discuss the impact the “Big Brothers Big Sisters” program made on both their lives. TODAY contributing correspondent Jenna Bush Hager reports. 

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to our special series, one day, one deed. in honor of national volunteer month. today our contributing correspondent jenna bush hagar is hereway compelling story about one volunteer. good morning.

>> good morning. that's right, matt. when he walked into her life 20 years ago at big brothers big sisters here in new york he had no effect he would have changing the course of one life forever.

>> i grew up actually not having a clue who my father was. i was still trying to find my place in life so my mom decided to sign me up with big brothers and big sisters . that's when i was fortunate enough to meet jeff .

>> reporter: he was 12 when he met jeff , the big brother little brother teaming was a good match. they've been close for nearly 20 years, but the relationship evolved slowly.

>> a lot of trust i think he needed to see.

>> reporter: it took some time just to really form a relationship.

>> yes. that is a very common thing for kids who, you know, get an adult plopped down in front of them and say hi. here is your mentor.

>> i've always seen the bigger picture. i'm here. i need you to show me a way to get out of this situation. i need to find a way. i'm willing to do whatever it takes. the first couple of years, we were probably following the normal script of the program. as i started to turn a teenager, he kind of stepped up and took a huge role, because i did have some troubles in high school . then also he sat down and had guy talks with me.

>> reporter: once your relationship evolved he talked to you about his dreams.

>> one of the things we worked on and talked about was him dreaming big.

>> he set me on a path, found out i really love cooking, and actually helped me find the school that i went to.

>> does it make you so proud?

>> i am very proud. i am prouder of him.

>> i do definitely think if i didn't meet jeff things might have been very bad for my.

>> reporter: he said he could have gone down one of two paths. he could have gone down a much darker path.

>> i definitely wonder whether i was going to get a call one day saying he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

>> i very well could have ended up in prison, on the streets. more than anything, him giving me an opportunity to escape that might be the biggest gift of all.

>> i never in a million years thought that 20 years later he would have graduated from high school , graduated from college, gotten married, had a baby, a wonderful career.

>> he is more than just a brother. he is a father to me.

>> reporter: valerie stark is the social worker who 18 years ago selected jeff to be lindell 's big brother . valerie made this all happen.

>> it's all valerie .

>> well thank you.

>> reporter: you played this role of something that maybe you didn't know you were going to play. you know, maybe you just wanted to volunteer but instead you filled this void.

>> maybe there were times when i was less of a big brother and more of a figure in his life that really became like a more driving force . i never quite thought of myself as a father.

>> reporter: you thought you were younger than that.

>> i felt younger than that. all we want to do is open up the world for him. i think if the world, if the blinders could come off of him, he could see, he could find his way.

>> reporter: and lindell couldn't be more grateful.

>> the young kid from the bronx 20 years ago is this young man at 31, you know, having a good life, and it's directly because of him. i would just look him in the face, you know, give him a hug, and tell him that i love him.

>> lindell and jeff are with us now. good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> good morning.

>> i had so much fun watching your face watching that story. this guy meant an awful lot in your life didn't he?

>> yeah he did. he actually changed my life. you know, i owe a great deal to him.

>> it 's wonderful that you guys have stayed in such close contact as well.

>> yes.

>> he was at your wedding?

>> yes, he was.

>> and helped you tie your tie?

>> yes. actually had no clue how to tie a tie. we figured it out when we were together. he was standing on a chair -- i was standing on a chair behind him leaning over to tie the tie. you don't know how to do it for a second person.

>> full disclosure, i was a big brother and i love this program. i think everybody thinks this means a lot to the little brother . talk about what it meant in your life.

>> when i first joined the agency after i moved to new york, big brothers big sisters had a model that worked for me and my flexibility in terms of work and what i was able to give. so i was just doing a good volunteer thing. i never in a million years thought i would have this life long relationship. it took us six months to kind of get in the groove. so there was no way i was going to walk away after we just started making it happen.

>> think about the magic. the woman in the piece, valerie , the social worker who picked you two and said you would be a good match.

>> yes, right.

>> it is extraordinary. you've seen her. have you ever had a chance to thank her? no, we actually were talking about it. i haven't seen her in about 20 years my gosh.

>> it actually made me very emotional because she was a lady who worked one-on-one with my mom.

>> oh, yeah? well, valerie , will you come in here, please? because maybe lindell there is something you'd like to tell her yourself.

>> oh, my.

>> thank you. good to see you.

>> so good to see you.

>> sit down, valerie . sit down.

>> you haven't seen her in 20 years.

>> wow.

>> how are you?

>> good, good.

>> i can't believe you're here.

>> oh, i am. jeff got me here.

>> i know he did. i was so excited to finally see you after all these years. how are you?

>> good. are you?

>> i'm great.

>> valerie wharks does it mean to see him doing so well?

>> it is -- i'm going to start being emotional. you know, jeff has kept me updated all of these years on all of the wonderful events that happened in your life between your career and now you're a husband, a father, and i just need to tell you how incredibly proud i am of you and i just feel very privileged to be a part of your life all of these years.

>> thank you.

>> i really do. it's so wonderful.

>> thank you.

>> all right. that does it.

>> it's so great. it really is.

>> look at you.

>> valerie , thanks for making this reunion possible and making this union possible in the first place.

>> of course. of course.

>> lindell , congrats.

>> thank you.

>> thanks for sharing this story. you, too, jeff . such a