Big Brothers, the organization here that helps fatherless boys, has a crisis of its own.

More than 1,000 boys in the Washington area are on waiting lists for a big brother, the largest backlog in the National Capital Area's history, said Leroy Upshur, its executive director.

"About 70,000 boys in the area are raised in fatherless homes," Upshur said.

"The number of people volunteering to be big brothers is not keeping pace."

He attributes that to the high divorce rate and "a greater number of women deciding to raise children by themselves."

"But boys need adult male companionship," he said. "[It] affects the way a boy behaves and grows up."

Upshur said the boys he has helped as a big brother "called me when they had crisis situations. In some situations they just have to talk to a man."

The organization's attempts to overcome its shortage through advertising has not helped because more fatherless boys respond than potential big brothers.

But stories of past big brother relationships help to highlight its importance. One involved Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.).

Leland's "little brother" had been a 13-year-old truant before they met. It was clear he sought a male role model because he often visited his male teachers between classes.

Leland spent nights helping the boy with his homework and teaching him sound study skills.

When it became apparent that the boy had learning disabilities, Leland arranged for necessary testing and tutoring.

Gradually, the boy eliminated his academic problems, and in time, won a good citizenship award.

During the last three summers Leland's little brother has worked on Leland's horse farm in Houston. The youth has now won several horsemanship awards and aspires to be the first black on the Olympic equestrian team.

Other stories are simpler, but no less important.

John Graham, 26, who became a big brother to 10-year-old Calvin Benson a year and a half ago, said, "A lot of it is just horsing around at playgrounds, just the two of us. If somebody else is there we'll try to get in a game or throw a football around."

Calvin said "fun" is the major benefit of having a big brother, but his mother, Claudia Nelson, has noticed more.

"He has a lot more confidence in himself," she said. She said Graham took her son to his first basketball game (with tickets that were donated to big brothers) and got him his first library card.

"When you're just one woman there is only so much you can do," she said.

Graham, an elementary school teacher in Montgomery County and a Georgetown resident, sees Calvin between two and seven times a month. He said he, too, has benefited from the relationship. "At school, all my relationships with kids are on a business level. But I am really friends with Calvin. People get involved in it Big Brothers trying to help out and are surprised by how much fun they have. It keeps the kid inside of me going."

Upshur also mentioned fun when he described the big brother's job. "The big brother is not a father figure; he is a friend who sees his little brother at least two times a month and gives him guidance and advice."

The common perception that becoming a big brother is like adopting a child is false. In fact, big brothers are advised to conduct most of their activities away from their homes and the homes of their little brothers and to let their relationships develop spontaneously. They do not carry any legal or financial responsibility for their little brothers and are advised not to become overly involved with the little brother's mother or guardian. Upshur described the average big brother as a man in his early to mid-30s with a family of his own. Most are involved with the Big Brothers program for about 2 1/2 years.

"We have tremendous needs," Upshur said. "We need funds for a recruitment drive and funds for matching big and little brothers. But our major need is for people who want to be big brothers. There are 1,000 boys waiting."