Daniel Church started Grade 3 a little later in the year than everyone else, which meant a lot of friendships had already been established.
“I started late, so I felt lonely,” Daniel said. That’s when he saw that some kids had mentors come in to visit at lunch once a week. “So I asked the school counsellor if I could have a mentor, too.”
That’s how he met Andy Lee, a Victoria retiree, through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Victoria (BBBSV) in-school mentoring program.
“I’m a grandparent-aged person, but my family doesn’t live nearby,” Lee said. “And I had a desire to connect with kids.”
Fast-forward more than four years and the two still hang out weekly, now outside of school through the organization’s community mentoring program.
“Daniel is the most fun-loving kid I could imagine and he’s brilliant at inventing new games,” Lee said. “I’m kind of dull. But Daniel nudges me in the fun direction. I am bookish and I nudge Daniel in the school direction.”
The two have travelled all over the region, using their common interests of cycling and nature. They’ve visited CRD nature events, the Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Royal BC Museum, as well as just hung out playing board games or with Lee’s dog.
“We have common interests; I’m a retired architect and Daniel has shown me Minecraft,” Lee explained. “We collaborated on a Minecraft project the other day, and Daniel built a stunning house.”
For Daniel, having Lee around helped him become more confident in making friends, as well as in making choices in life. His latest lesson has come in the form of a “moon jar” where Daniel can divide how he uses $1 given to him by Lee every week.
“One part is for saving money, one is for spending and one is for sharing,” Daniel explained. “I can spend my money how I like, but sometimes I take my sharing money and go to places like Wild ARC.”
Daniel is also learning how to walk on stilts with Lee; if he gets 50 steps they’ll go on a trip to Vancouver.
Over the BBBSV’s 42-year existence many connections like Lee and Daniel’s have been made; presently the organization has 614 similar connections established, each assigned to a social worker who helps guide the pair along the way. However, there’s also a huge shortage of mentors in the Greater Victoria community.
“We currently have 100 kids waiting,” said Rhonda Brown, executive director of BBBSV.” A lot of the families are living in poverty, and some have experienced the loss of a parent while others are struggling with chronic or mental health and they recognize that their children need some extra support… we’re feeling a sort of urgency around it.”
Volunteers can range in age from teens to seniors, and will be matched with kids between 8 and 18 years of age. The biggest requirement for a volunteer, Brown said, is a desire to establish a connection with children.
“There’s a lot of screening done of volunteers, of course,” Brown added. “And we do our best to match people based on their common interests and location.”
When asked what the best part of being a Big Brother was, Lee didn’t hesitate:
“I get to hang out with Daniel,” he said.
When asked the same about being a Little Brother, Daniel turned with a smile; “I get to hang out with Andy.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Victoria can visit victoria.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca.