Stories

A Better You in just an hour a week

And the changes I’ve seen in my Little Brother are amazing, too!

Kenneth still lets Sharon win a few at basketball now and then.

I didn’t think I could do it, but I, a mother of sons, have somehow managed to become a Big Brother.

I’ll explain: The Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Toronto allows women to become Big Brothers through its mentoring program. This isn’t the traditional program, which matches boys and girls with adults for two to four hours a week, or the group program, in which volunteers go on a group outing once a month (for example, bowling or visiting the zoo). The mentoring program brings together a volunteer and a child for one hour a week on school property.

And that’s how I met Kenneth, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student at Lord Dufferin, a school in the Parliament-Gerrard area that has been very enthusiastic about the Big Brother/Big Sister program. Like Kenneth, whose background is Vietnamese, a number of children at the school are involved in this program. Right from the start, in September, 2000, I had lots of ideas about things we could do together: board games, arts and crafts—that kind of thing. But I soon discovered that Ken was primarily interested in two things: cooking and sports.

So I decided we would develop our relationship by cooking in the school kitchen. We made pizza, cake and cookies, which went well until Ken informed me he had arranged for us to cook for his entire class of 30. My limited sous-chef skills failed me, I’m afraid. The day my attempt at a cake yielded a pudding, we agreed to try the other option, sports, which in fact is Ken’s favourite pastime. And that’s how, for one hour each week, I found myself undergoing an intense workout with my Little Brother.

The budding basketball star had me in the gym from the minute I arrived at Lord Dufferin until it was time to leave. If I was a minute late, I heard about it. At first, he ran circles around me, as I desperately tried to prove the impossible, which is that I actually know something about basketball.

When I became exhausted, which never took long, we would move on to the less strenuous game of badminton. But competitive though I am, I still found myself racing around the court like a madwoman attempting to keep up with my athletic Little Bro.

For a while there, I thought it was paying off, because this year I seemed to be winning more games. Had I really improved that much, I wondered. But though he won’t admit it, it appears my sensitive Little Brother was occasionally throwing a game in my favour.

Now Kenneth and I have moved on to a new phase. We are now part of the latest Big Brother/Big Sister program, e-mentoring, which means Ken and I chat online for about 45 minutes a week. He’ll be at school, I’ll be in my home office. No more cooking. No more shooting hoops or racing after shuttlecocks. Can an hour make a difference to a young kid in the great scheme of things? Kenneth answered that question a few months back when we were still getting together at his school. I couldn’t make it one week, and the school forgot to tell him. Soon after, I received an urgent call asking if I could please come in because Kenneth was upset I hadn’t shown up.

But now we’re online together, and there are no missed appointments. Best of all, I’m off the hook for coming in and playing basketball, aren’t I?

No way, says Kenneth, who at the end of our virtual visits insists on setting up a date for our next basketball game.

And I thought a personal trainer was tough.