Big need for Big Brothers in Surrey
At least once a week, Raman Gill hangs out with his friend Davon.
Sometimes they'll go to a hockey game or Science World, and other times they'll keep it low key and play video games or throw a ball around. It doesn't really matter, as long as they're spending time together.
Their's is much like any other friendship – except that Gill is 26 and Davon is 11.
The two met through Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, which matches men with boys aged seven to 14 who are in need of a male mentor in their lives.
Gill was a Big Brother back in 2009 and returned to volunteering with the organization last fall after moving back to Surrey from Kelowna.
"I finished school and figured I should pursue other ways to spend my time other than just hanging out," says Gill, who doesn't yet have kids of his own and works as an account executive for a digital marketing agency.
He and Davon were paired up about four months ago.
"I've been fortunate to have a lot of male influences in my life – my dad, uncles, older cousins – and a lot of people don't get that same kind of benefit," says Gill. "You know, they're living in a single-mom home and sometimes you need to have an older male influence that you can do fun stuff with like play catch in the park or go to a Canucks game. That's the reason I got involved."
Davon's mom Theresa McDonald signed her son up in hopes of providing him with a positive male role model. Having raised him on her own, she hoped he would gain confidence by leaving her side and developing a friendship with a trusted guy. So far, she says, that's exactly what's happened.
"It's really opened things up for both of us," she says.
The bonds between so-called "Bigs" and "Littles" can be invaluable.
In Surrey, however, there is a critical shortage of men volunteering, leaving some boys waiting up to two years to be matched. There are currently 11 boys on the Surrey wait list and another 18 waiting just to get on list. That means at least 29 volunteer men are required immediately to meet the need.
According to Big Brothers, the demand is reaching record-breaking highs, with the volunteer shortage approaching dire levels not seen since the late '90s.
"It breaks my heart when a mom applies for a Big Brother for her son and I have to tell her he will have to wait at least a year to be matched, if ever," explained Rebecca Farnell, a Big Brothers' mentoring coordinator in Surrey.
Because boys are only matched until they are 14, if a child is enrolled when he is 12 or older, there's a good chance he may never be paired with a mentor in Surrey.
Big Brothers are asked to spend a minimum of two to four hours with boys weekly. Volunteers undergo an interview and criminal background check and are then matched with kids with similar interests.
The process, says Gill, is not arduous and he says he gets just as much out of the relationship as his outgoing Little Brother.
"I'd say it's 50/50. We both enjoy the time we get together."
For McDonald, the benefit of the Big Brothers program is obvious.
"Davon always comes home with the biggest smile on his face and so much to talk about after his meetings with Raman," says McDonald.
Men 18 and over who are interested in being Big Brothers can call 604-876-2447 or visit www.bigbrothersvancouver.com
Big Sisters needed, too
While male volunteers are needed to mentor boys, Big Sisters is also in need of women to step up as role models for girls in Surrey.
There are currently 23 girls waiting to be matched in the city, some of whom have been waiting more than a year.
The program serves girls aged seven to 17 and the time commitment for adult volunteers is a minimum of two hours per week.
Another six Surrey girls are on the wait list for the Study Buddy Program, which pairs adults with kids who need academic assistance but cannot afford tutoring. Volunteers for that program need to commit one hour weekly.
To volunteer for either Big Sister program, call 604-873-4525 or check www.bigsisters.bc.ca