HOLIDAY — Xander Miller, the Pasco School District's Outstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year, holds another, equally important role. As a big brother with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, he mentors Gulfside Elementary third-grader Austin Maynard.
And while Miller's weekly mentoring sessions with Austin count toward the 205 hours of volunteer service the Anclote High School junior has accumulated, he never regards his time with the younger student as work.
"I like working with kids," Miller, 16, said. "They have so much potential and are always learning new things."
Miller and Austin meet each Wednesday to review Austin's homework, read together and play board games. Austin reads aloud to Miller from books that include Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce, with Miller gently explaining the meanings of complex words and laughing along with Austin at all the funny parts. Board games include Beat the Parents, an educational trivia game.
"You're beating me at this game!" Miller tells Austin with a smile.
Austin feels that the time spent with his big brother has improved not only his grades, but also his life in general.
"He's a really good big brother," Austin, 9, said.
During his three years as a high school volunteer, Miller has performed a number of other student-related services at Gulfside, where he works 10 hours a week. He also goes to classrooms to deliver packaged weekend meals to students in need through the Pasco County Pack a Sack program.
"The kids are very polite when I bring them their meals," said Miller, who attended Gulfside for fifth grade and who has a younger brother and sister attending the school. "They say thank-you. And they smile."
Miller also works in the Gulfside office, making copies, delivering messages, sorting through papers and performing other general duties.
"Xander is a vital part of our school," said school secretary Michelle Hemphill. "He is a great role model and performs every duty in a timely and effective manner and to the best effect. He is the perfect example of a youth volunteer."
When it comes to volunteering at schools, Miller says that it's all about the kids.
"I love having an impact on a child's life," he said.