- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Every Wednesday during recess, two non-biological brothers can be found on the second floor of Bennington Elementary practicing guitar or drawing characters from the show “The Walking Dead.”

Sam Clement was matched with 9-year-old Keegan Reed in November after much contemplation. They are a part of the United Counseling Service Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

Clement had already been working with kids in the Mount Anthony Union Middle School Mosaic After School Arts Program, and realized he wanted to do more with his time.

“I was thinking about it, with the election, just wanting to do more and more, especially for kids,” Clement said. “Everyone’s always talking about how to make this town better and saying nothing is good enough and I think a lot of people are focused on bringing people here and it seems to me they’re less focused on keeping the people who are here, here. For me it was getting involved with the awesome people that are here, like Keegan.”

Clement moved from Maine to attend Bennington College and graduated in 2008. He continued at the college for three years working as the assistant director of student life. Now he focuses on music, plays in several local bands and offers private guitar lessons. Last year he played about 200 gigs.

“I was looking for something to push me,” he said. “Music has always been a crutch for me, as a connection. We try to connect through many other things.”

Clement wants his little brother to realize that he can be anything and do anything he wants. For example, Reed said he hopes to enlist in the Marine Corps when he’s older because his uncle did so. He added that he’d like to play the guitar.

“I’m booking kids at the Vermont Arts Exchange and there’s bands that can’t play the VAE. Now the kids focus. (It’s about) purpose, things to look forward to, goals that big picture kind of stuff, that’s community driven, I like making kids, as cheesy as it sounds, believe in themselves, because it doesn’t happen all the time. So, yeah, you can go on TV, yeah you can get in the paper, yeah you can play the VAE. What do you wanna do? You want to be a Marine? You can also be a musician,” Clement said. “You don’t have to be good at something to do it.”

“Yeah like I don’t have to be good at jumping out of a window but I can still do it,” Reed exclaimed.

“Don’t jump out of a window,” Clement replied. “Are you good at drawing?”

“No,” Reed said.

“But you can still do it,” Clement said.

On voting day in November a Big Brother/Big Sister program organizer approached Clement about participating and that’s when they knew Reed would be perfect for him, Clement said.

“I have all these conversations with my friends and I just got tired talking about it,” he said.

Clement grew up five years apart from his younger brother. Later, when his parents separated, he said his father remarried and had a daughter, and then adopted two more children from other countries.

Reed is also a big brother to three younger brothers.

“Sometimes we just sit here, while (Reed) eats food, and (Reed) gives me a Slim Jim, and we just talk,” Clement said.

“And he draws,” Reed said.

They also compete in performing as many pull-ups as possible when they go outside for recess. Last week they filmed a commercial for the upcoming Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser.

Another community driven task Clement takes part in is donating money to nonprofits through open mic nights at Donovan’s. He said he chooses a different group each week and also does it at South Street Cafe during the week when he performs with “That Strange.”

“None of the musicians get paid to do the open mic anyway, so it was like ‘How can we raise money for the community through live music?’” Clement said.

A tip jar collects roughly $100 each week for different area nonprofits.

“That’s what was the most fun was being like ‘Here is $130, we raised this at open mic. Just take it,’” he said.

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Information from: Bennington Banner, http://www.benningtonbanner.com

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