WDC Leaders - Attorney Spotlight: Karen M. Gallagher

WDC Journal Edition: Spring 2020

Editor’s Note: To recognize the philanthropic efforts of our membership, the WDC is introducing a new recurring feature to the Wisconsin Civil Trial Journal which spotlights members who generously donate their personal time and/or resources to a civic or charitable organization on a community, national, or international level. To nominate a member, please contact the Journal Editor, Vincent J. Scipior, at vscipior@cnsbb.com.

Karen M. Gallagher is an associate at Coyne, Schultz, Becker & Bauer, S.C. in Madison. She has been practicing since 1995. Her practice focuses on personal injury, professional negligence, medical malpractice, and insurance coverage issues. In addition to the Wisconsin Defense Counsel, Karen is a member of the American Inns of Court James E. Doyle Chapter and the Dane County Bar Association. Karen lives in Madison with her husband and two children. She serves on the board of the Notre Dame Club of South Central Wisconsin and has previously served on the Parish Council of her church.

In 1999, Karen and her husband volunteered as a “Big Couple” with the Big Brothers Big Sisters (“BBBS”) of Dane County Program. Big Brothers Big Sisters matches adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children ages 6 through 18 (“Littles”) to create and develop one-to-one mentoring relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.

Why did you decide to become a Big Couple?

A friend of ours was a Big Sister and frequently spoke about the events she took her Little Sister to and how important the relationship was for her. I wish I could say I would have volunteered to be a Big Sister on my own, but the truth was I did not think I had time to commit to BBBS until our friend said we could volunteer as a “Big Couple.” We were pre-kids and pre-dog, and we contacted BBBS shortly thereafter and applied to be a Big Couple.

Tell us about your experience as a Big Couple.

In October 1999, we were matched to a 7-year-old Little Brother who lived with his grandmother. His mom struggled to take of herself, let alone her two kids, and would arrive in town occasionally and stay just long enough to make a lot of promises and disrupt his home life. We stayed matched with him – even with the arrival of our two kids and a dog – through his high school graduation in 2011. There were ups and downs through those years and times when we saw our Little more and less, but overall we are so glad our Little Brother was part of our lives and our family. We are still in touch with him, his grandmother, and his aunt.

After not participating in BBBS for several years and having our older child head off to college, in 2019 my husband and I decided we would like to be matched again, and in May 2019, we were matched to a 9-year-old Little Brother. Our Little’s father died of cancer in January 2019, which can still be quite fresh for him and his mom, and we are building our friendship one visit at a time.

What do you like best about being a Big Couple?

I think that volunteering as a Big Couple has been fulfilling for me because of the opportunity to serve a child who is learning to navigate the community and build a friendship with them. I am glad to provide some consistency, encouragement, and cheerleading in our Little’s life. Serving as a Big Couple has the added bonus that my husband and I also spend the volunteering time together, but can also be flexible if only one of us is available for an event or picking up our Little Brother.

What are some of your favorite memories from volunteering with the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program?

Some of the highlights were a BBBS bus trip to a Bucks game where the matches got to sit near courtside and my husband won the free-throw shooting contest at halftime. There were many basketball games when our Little Brother played for a traveling team through middle school and early high school. And then there was his high school graduation in 2011; that was a great day. We had a party at our house to celebrate and showed a video montage of photos going back more than 10 years.

Last fall we took our Little Brother to a high school band event and later heard from his mom how much he enjoyed it.

What advice do you have for someone who is considering becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister?

Think about ways you could involve a Little Brother or Sister in your life – you don’t have to find “extra time” for the friendship; you can pick up your Little and make and eat dinner together, play some UNO or Go Fish, and take them home. It is about letting an authentic friendship develop, so think of things you like to do – go to a movie, see a Badger game, visit a library, take a walk on Picnic Point – and then add your Little to the picture.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your volunteer experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Having first experienced BBBS 20 years ago in the days before cell phones and apps, the Program now makes it really easy to find out what is going on around town that could be interesting to you and your Little. There is also a comprehensive process to get matched, but it is worth the time and steps in order to get matched and establish a relationship with a young person who is looking for a friend.

BBBS of Dane County has hundreds of boys on a waiting list, and many girls too, but the boys wait longer to get matched. Consider volunteering today.

To get more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, visit www.bbbs.org.