By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Even though their match coincided with the height of pandemic restrictions in 2021, Big Brother Kevin and his Little Brother Lucas have become the best of friends.
The two are among the lucky ones paired by Big Brothers Big Sisters Chatham-Kent, who managed to forge a relationship in the face of COVID-19.
“It was quite the experience we went through,” Kevin said in a recent interview as “best buddy” Lucas sat by his side listening thoughtfully. “But we found a way.”
Weather permitting, whenever possible, the two can be found at a baseball diamond, with Lucas taking on the roles of scorekeeper and bat boy for Kevin’s team.
They also spend a lot of time playing catch and hitting the ball.
Another pastime they love is ATV trail riding. The Grade 8 student has his own machine, which according to Kevin, he’s pretty good at fixing.
“I tell everyone we’re best buddies,” Kevin added.
For his part, Lucas, 12, said having a Big Brother is a great experience and he thinks more adults should volunteer.
A young man of few words, the smiling Grade 8 student said the experience has been “fun.”
“Lucas is the shyest non-shy guy that I know,” Kevin joked.
Phone calls, text messages, outdoor meetings wearing masks, and playing online video games together were some of the ways this Big and Little kept in touch.
“We played some silly games online sometimes just to pass the time and have a conversation, Kevin said.
Holly Larivee, the agency’s program development co-ordinator, described helping run an organization based on face-to-face contact during a pandemic as an “interesting adventure.”
“We encouraged virtual contact as much as possible,” Larivee explained, noting that some Littles – forced to do their studies online – weren’t too crazy about adding more screen time.
“Our matches just had to get creative about keeping the relationship going,” Larivee explained.
Currently, there are 57 Littles of both genders waiting to match with a Big in Chatham-Kent in the six-to-16-year age group, with the average Little in the 10-to-12-year age group.
Girls tend to have shorter wait times than boys as more females than males step up take on the Big Sister role.
Those wishing to fill the gap by offering their time (some in-school programs require volunteers to only commit one hour a week), a Big Brother or Sister undergoes a rigorous vetting process. Bigs are interviewed and they must provide detailed references and submit to a screening process and a police check. After being approved, they engage in extensive training that highlights the “duty of care.”
Kevin, who works with local charity groups in his day job, said Big Brothers Big Sisters has always been on his radar.
“There’s a lot of people who know there are kids out there that need these extra things, but until they see matches like us, then it hits home a little more,” he added.
“I think a lot of people are nervous to take the first step too, but realistically it’s a two- or three-hour-a-week commitment to a child sharing your hobbies and interests,” Larivee said, joking that even working in the yard with a Little “helps build life skills.
“We always make sure someone is aptly prepared, making sure they can always fall back on the casework staff,” she said, stressing the agency tries to match a youngster with someone in their home community.
The organization hopes to add Big numbers to increase the number of matches, as only one new match has been added in the past year.
“A lot of our children are very bright and very resourceful,” Larivee acknowledged. “They just don’t have the opportunities.
“When it comes to our less-privileged youth, our Bigs are able to show them things and expose them to new places and new ideas,” she added. “Sometimes a child will never receive a Big and this is often difficult to convey to a parent.”
Girls typically wait about a year, and for boys, that wait can be two to three years, she said.
Those interested in volunteering, or parents of children looking for a match can contact 519-351-1582 or access the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chatham-Kent online.