Colby was only about a year old when her dad was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 
As Colby grew up, the degenerative nervous system disease slowly robbed her dad’s muscles of their strength and functionality. Her home was a loving one, but it wasn’t easy for Colby to watch this happen to someone she loved. Her dad’s care eventually began taking more and more of her mom’s attention. 
Alicia Gerlach came into Colby’s life at just the right time.  
Gerlach, a data analyst supervisor at Exact Sciences subsidiary PreventionGenetics in Marshfield, decided to become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Wisconsin in 2021. The long-running charitable program matches adults with kids facing adversity. Through one-to-one mentoring relationships, Littles thrive, knowing they have someone in their corner outside the home. 
Gerlach became Colby’s Big Sister in 2021. The pair struck up a friendship that has included good times — snowman building, kayaking, roller skating — and tough ones, like Colby’s dad’s passing in early 2023. 
Not every kid involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters has a story like Colby’s. But no matter their situation, each Little benefits from the consistent, supportive, trusted adult presence that a Big provides.  
That’s what keeps Tony Krentz involved with the program. Krentz, vice president of lab operations at PreventionGenetics, has been a Big for seven years. He’s watched his Little, Connor, grow from a second-grader who needed a booster seat in the car to a 6-foot-tall kid headed into high school. 
“Like a parent, I’ve been able to watch him transition from coloring books to endurance athletics and woodworking and being a 14-year-old kid goofing around,” Krentz says. “I don't try to be his parent. He has parents. I’m just trying to be a mentor.” 
Krentz and Connor have a standing meet-up time, for a few hours every other Monday evening. “It’s in my schedule,” Krentz says. “I look forward to it. I never cancel. If I’m traveling, he knows ahead of time.” 
Connor is an identical twin and has five siblings. With Krentz — and his wife, who became a Big so she could cover when Krentz is out of town for work — Connor gets attention that’s just for him. 
“Most humans know it takes a village to raise a child,” Krentz says. “We can be a positive influence for our kids just by being present.”  
The pair will work on projects, be active, or simply sit around and talk about life. “Whenever he needs me, I’m there to pick him up,” Krentz says. 
And after spending so much time with his Little, Krentz expects to be present long into Connor’s future. “I fully expect our match will be a lifetime match,” Krentz says, adding that it’s been as meaningful to evolve his relationship with Connor as it has been to see him grow up. 
In addition to Gerlach and Krentz, several other PreventionGenetics employees serve as Bigs, and the company has backed the program for years, its contributions supporting many Big-Little matches. Earlier in 2023, Exact Sciences sponsored the Casino Royale Gala in Marshfield, benefitting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Wisconsin.

As critical as financial support is to the program, its success comes from committed volunteers. As busy as his work keeps him, Krentz emphasizes the importance of setting aside time to give back.  
“It really is as simple as prioritizing the connection and being present during the dedicated time,” Krentz said. 
Gerlach agrees. “It's about showing up and showing that they can trust you, that they can rely on you. Some kids don't always get that,” she says. 
The program’s design reflects that. Big Brothers Big Sisters is always looking for people to apply to become Bigs. It’s a commitment, to be sure — Bigs must pledge availability of at least 12 months of meet-ups with a Little. But that commitment pays off, Gerlach says. 
“If you want to really change somebody's life, you have to be there consistently for them,” she says. “Over and over.” 

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