Without Big Brothers Big Sisters, Dean Braund’s life could be radically different.
Braund’s father was killed in a car accident when he was 10 years old. His mother was 26, didn’t have a job or a way to support her family.
“(Big Brothers Big Sisters) was big for me at the time,” Braund said. “I didn’t have that stabilization and someone to talk to other than my mom, who was totally engrossed in trying to get her life back together.
“Big Brothers was totally important and worked really well. You see the happy side of life and you see the positive instead of the negative…You can go in all different ways and it’s the small things that change the way you go and the decisions you make.”
Today, Braund is president of Brantford’s Ardency Corporation, which runs Williams Fresh Café, Wendcorp Holdings Inc. and Ardency Development.
Braund credits his experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a positive influence that helped give him the confidence to seek success.
“(Big Brothers) shaped me, for sure,” he said. “I was influenced by my Big Brother and the Little Brothers that were around.”
Braund is just one of many success stories that have come out of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada during the last century.
The charitable organization is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year and is asking people across the country to acknowledge the person who was their mentor growing up through the “Big Shout Out.”
“It could be ‘I want to give a big shout out to my mom, or my second grade teacher or hockey coach,’” said Renee VanderHarst, resource co-ordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters Grand Erie. “Anyone who was responsible for making a difference when you needed that role model.”
Events big and small are planned for throughout the year, including a birthday party-themed Bowl for Kids Sake in April, to help celebrate the Big Brothers Big Sisters milestone.
The organization started in 1902, when a group of New York lawyers working in juvenile court realized that young offenders were missing a positive influence in their lives. The concept spread, with the first Canadian agency opening in Toronto in 1913. Today, there are more than 170 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across Canada providing support to more than 300 communities.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Grand Erie opened in Haldimand-Norfolk in 1975 and expanded to include Brantford and the County of Brant in 2008.
Today, the organization offers its traditional volunteer-based mentoring program – which matches Big Brothers or Sisters with Little Brothers or Sisters – along with a number of other services, which include in-school mentoring, the “girls only” Go Girls and “guys only” Game On.
“What is very rewarding is we planted the seeds 100 years ago and now we are celebrating some of those relationships and how they can become lifelong friendships,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters Grand Erie executive director Patti O’Reilly.
After a year together, 13-year-old Little Brother Adrian Fletcher and his Big Brother Darren Cromwell have already begun to form their lifelong friendship.
Leaving the Big Brothers Big Sisters Grand Erie agency on Charing Cross Street, the pair playfully teased each other as they headed out for a round of miniature golf.
Each week, they spend time doing something they both love, teaching each other activities they enjoy individually or trying something new.
“It’s really good because you have something to look forward to every week,” Fletcher said. “Say you’re not really in a good mood and your Brother takes you out. It puts you in a good mood to know that someone is there to connect with. It keeps you out of trouble and opens your eyes.”
For Cromwell, who is also an in-school mentor, being a Big Brother to Fletcher represents more than just giving back to the community.
“If he’s looking forward to hanging out with me, that makes a difference in my life and just because I’m older doesn’t mean he can’t show me a different way of thinking.”
It’s learning experiences, relationships formed and the opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives that has kept Big Brothers Big Sisters going for a century, VanderHarst said.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada has a short slogan: start something,” she said. “That simple relationship, that simple friendship could be the start of something bigger.
“We are very excited to be celebrating 100 years of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. It’s not just looking back, it’s looking forward to the next 100.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters Grand Erie is always looking for volunteers for its mentorship program, as well as individuals, businesses and service clubs who wish to get involved in fundraisers. Visit www.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca/granderie for more information.