About three decades ago Erik Brown, one of TDS Telecom’s managers of application development and management, had a life-altering experience at Badger Boys State (BBS). Since attending himself, Brown has returned 25 years as a volunteer hoping to impact the lives of others. Brown says, “When I was there as a participant I had a really great time. I got to meet people I may have never encountered otherwise in life.”
BBS teaches high school boys, who’ve just completed their junior year, about city, county and state government. The one-week program takes place in June on Ripon College’s campus in Ripon, Wis. The program, run by the American Legion, hosts about 850 boys from all over the Badger State each summer.
When camp participants (also known as “citizens”) arrive they’re divided into fictional cities and tasked with establishing a government. The boys elect, city, county and state representatives. Eric Gierach, a former citizen who also happens to work on Brown’s team at TDS as a software engineer, says the faux elections were his favorite when he went to BBS in 1998. Gierach says, “I thought it was awesome applying for a position and persuading people to help others run and vote.”
Brown, who’s served on the program’s board of directors, as assistant director and as historian, sacrifices a week of vacation every year to participate in the camp. This year’s program, which will be volunteer year number 26 for Brown, starts in mid-June. BBS may only be one week long but, preparing for the event takes all year. Brown says because of the time commitment he sometimes questions if he’ll return for the next session. But, by the end of the week he’s re-energized.
Brown says, “A lot of the guys are awfully shy when they arrive. Maybe they only know a guy or two but, by the time they leave they’re high fiving and slapping each other on the back like they’ve known each other for decades. Their confidence grows exponentially that’s a big part of the reason I keep going back.”