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'Always there': COVID-19 won't break the bond between this teen and his Big Brother

David Gutman, Seattle Times on

Published in Parenting News

SEATTLE — Online school is not easy for anybody.

Online school is a lot tougher when you live in a small house with five brothers and a mom who works two jobs.

"Do you hear that background noise in my house?" says Renee Hipp, as the rambunctious sounds of her five boys talking, bickering, playing and living in one space echoes off the walls.

How is online school going?

"Horrible. I don't like it," says Zech Hipp, a 15-year-old sophomore at Franklin High School in Seattle. He's almost wistful as he thinks of all the years he spent complaining about regular school. "I wish I hadn't said that stuff."

"It's hard to stay focused," he says. "I can't stay focused on one thing at a time."


One saving grace: Zech's "Big Brother," Owen Kim, a software developer who's been available — by phone, by Zoom, by text, whatever — to offer instruction, guidance or just commiseration.

"I've worked from home in the past. It's a lot about setting up the physical space as much as possible," says Kim, 33, who was matched with Zech through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, one of 12 local nonprofits boosted by reader donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. "As much as you can, have a dedicated space and make that space as comfortable as possible. I know that's tricky with a lot of other things going on at the house."

So in Zech's room, in the converted attic, he's set up a sort-of cubby in the corner, between a wall and the slanting roof. He's got a little set-up to make tea (Kim has convinced him of the merits of tea over coffee) and, "I like cut off everybody else. That's where I work," Zech says.

Owen and Zech have been Big Brother and Little Brother for four years. For more than three years, they met pretty much every week, at least. They'd go to Starbucks. Or go for walks through different parts of the city. Or play video games (Nintendo Switch and PS4).


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