Professor’s life sweetened by ‘little brother’

“Do you think we should be worried about folks stealing our secret recipe?”

Professor of Social Work Rick Zingher waits for nine-year-old Jarrett to ponder the question. The two are standing at Zingher’s kitchen counter, with lemons, sugar and cutting utensils neatly arranged before them as they prepare to make the world’s best cup of lemonade.

“Nah,” says Jarrett.

Their unique relationship started three years ago, when Zingher chose to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Jarrett, as Zingher’s “little brother” gets to spend about four hours every other week with him. The two attend baseball games, go fishing, play golf — or a favorite of both of them — spend time with each other at the Zinghers’ home. Making lemonade has quickly turned into a tradition.

“You have to make sure you get all the seeds out,” Jarrett cautions.

For Zingher, the path to becoming a “big brother” started in a Mount Mercy classroom. After teaching a January Term course on the importance of fatherhood, Zingher’s interest in fatherhood and male role models took flight. After conducting the research, Zingher developed a presentation of his results titled, “Dads Make a Difference.”

The findings are powerful. “When fathers are involved it has a dramatic influence on children,” says Zingher. “It affects children’s academic and social development, and decreases delinquency.”

Zingher’s research is sought by organizations across Eastern Iowa. He has presented “Dads Make a Difference” at area high schools, prisons, social service agencies and churches, and the presentation has recently been recorded on DVD.

More than simply research findings, Zingher developed an interest in serving as a strong role model for a child who may not have one, alleviating the “fatherhunger” that is prevalent in a youngster who is seeking male approval and relationship.

“My favorite thing to do with Jarrett is just spend time with him at home,” says Zingher. “It makes it more like a relationship with your own child, and I think Jarrett values having a relationship with a man and having that time.”

Through the years, Zingher and Jarrett have developed a connection that Zingher foresees continuing well into adolescence. “I envision this relationship continuing longterm,” says Zingher. “It’s great to be able to provide him with a male resource, a person to work through issues that boys need guys to help them work through. Children need a support system in every stage of life.”

As Zingher continues to nurture and provide support for Jarrett, he has found himself growing in the relationship as well. “Anytime you make an investment in something, there is growth. It’s nice to feel that you can offer something and it’s appreciated.”

“Sometimes I’ll think of things throughout the week that will make me think of Jarrett, and I’ll want to teach him something,” says Zingher. “He is a part of my inner life now.”

So what was the secret recipe to Rick and Jarrett’s lemonade? Find out in the special behind-the-scenes video we captured during the photo shoot!