Big Brothers group calls for help as wait list grows

Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Sudbury is experiencing a shortage of older male volunteers. Almost 50 youth are waiting to be matched with a mentor.

Volunteer organization that helps Sudbury youth sees wait list for male mentors growing

Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Sudbury is experiencing a shortage of older male volunteers. Almost 50 youth are waiting to be matched with a mentor.

"Little brothers" are usually boys between the ages of six and 17, and "big brothers" are men 18 or over.

The executive director of the organization said the boys often come from single-parent households where there isn't a positive male role model.

"I think everybody knows that [our organization exists], but they don't really know the need we have in Greater Sudbury," Chantal Gladu said.

"It is [easy] to actually become a volunteer with our agency … it could be a caring couple or it could be a family unit coming together to mentor a child."

She said the organization is looking for men or families who can provide at least a one-year time commitment.

Josh Kollmel credits the Sudbury Big Brothers program for helping him get his life on track. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

Avoiding being a ‘statistic’

Twenty-year-old Josh Kollmel knows first-hand what kind of impact a big brother can have.

"Generally you learn your social skills from your father, if you're a guy. And if you're a girl, more from your mother," he said.

"Without having my dad in the picture, I didn't really have those social skills."

That's where Kollmel's two big brothers came in — doing everything from leading him away from drugs, to teaching him how to shave.

Kollmel has since graduated from the little brother program, but said he doesn't know where he'd be without it.

 "I would definitely be a statistic," he said.

"I would have been [that] someone who tried to rob a Topper's Pizza and they're now in jail for however many years. That would have been me. I would have been that person."

Like a ‘flashlight in his life’

The waiting list with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in Sudbury means young boys can wait years before they're matched with a big brother.

"For every one we match, we usually get five or six [youth], so we're not able to seem to bring this number down," Gladu saud.

"It's really unfortunate to see these boys wait so long in a community of our size."

She said the longer they wait, the more unsupported they will feel. The boys benefit from having "someone to really highlight their potential and help them reach that."

"I had one little brother, actually a teenager, who explained that his big brother is like the flashlight in his life," Gladu said.

"Whenever he's at a crossroad, he has his big brother there lighting the way. And if he takes a wrong turn, his big brother is lighting a new direction for him … someone who's always believing in [him] and just being there as a support system."

Superheros who espouse good values can be seen on TV, online and in books, but youth benefit most from having a mentor who is actually in their own lives, according to Kollmel.

"[As a youth] I was always thinking Superman and Batman and all those cool people on TV and Ironman especially," he said.

"But as I got older, being through the program, I've realized that a role model is not someone that's famous. My two biggest role models would be Al and Sammy, and they're just your average Joes."