O Brother, Where Art Thou?
PHOTO SUPPLIED BY MELISSA ST. DENNIS
Two years ago, Nick Lovejoy was going through a rough patch. He was in the middle of a divorce and searching for meaning in his life.
“Mentorship is the word that kept coming around,” says the 32-year-old automotive electrician. “I realized how many people had been [contributing] to my life. … I just saw the value in my life, and really wanted to start passing that along.”
So, Lovejoy signed up to be a big brother through Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton. He was quickly matched up with Romel, a teenage boy from a single-parent household who needed a strong male role model in his life.
“If I can help guide one young man into manhood, I believe that’s my responsibility – a privilege and a responsibility,” he says.
Unfortunately, Lovejoy is the exception, not the rule. BBBS Edmonton engagement manager Kari Readman says that the waiting list for a big brother in the city is huge, and the average time a little brother has to wait to get paired up with a mentor is hovering around two years.
“Sometimes there’s a stigma around men volunteering in kids’ lives or just being that caring adult,” Readman says. “Oftentimes they feel like they don’t have anything to give to a young man, which is not the case at all.”
The major criterion for big brothers is to be over the age of 18. Each potential volunteer is screened and trained before being paired up with a little brother. Once matched, they spend at least an hour together every week for a minimum of a year, focusing on free and low-cost activities.
“You’re impacting a child’s life. You’re exposing them to new things and new options,” Readman says. “You’re a person they bounce ideas off, and provide different ways of thinking about problem solving.”
Meanwhile, being a big brother has meant a lot to Lovejoy, too.
“Sometimes I’m not sure how he’s feeling, and then his mom will send me a text saying, ‘He had the time of his life today.’ That’s exactly why I do this,” he says. “The warm-and-fuzzies is part of it, but it’s also building me, building my character. And I’m so thankful for that.”
“If you spend 40 hours a week at your job, come out and give three or four hours to a kid,” he adds. “It’ll give you tenfold what you get out of your job.”