Wanted: One Big Brother
James, 8, has been waiting two years for a grownup buddy
Susan Clairmont, The Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton, Ontario, May 6, 2006
James is lonely. He has a loving mother. Friends.
But what he really wants -- more than a pirate sword or pepperoni pizza or video games or anything -- is a grown-up man to talk with. The eight-year-old has been waiting two years for a Big Brother. And he likely has another three to go.
That's how long it takes to get matched in our community. Children can turn into teens and into young men without ever making it to the top of the waiting list.
The problem is both starkly simple and overwhelmingly complicated: there are more boys wanting to be Littles than there are men wanting to be Bigs.
Jackie Kohne first started thinking about Big Brothers when she was pregnant with James. If the baby turned out to be a boy, she would sign him up for a Big Brother the first chance she got.
Just days after James turned six and became eligible, Jackie signed him up with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hamilton and Burlington. He is still on the intake waiting list. No. 42 last time his mom checked. A year ago he was 80-something. This list just gets James screened and approved for the program. After that he goes on the "active" waiting list which could have him wait another two years to be matched, says Tracy Newthon, the organization's director of services.
There are 153 boys on the intake list, 74 on the active list and another 25 boys who have been approved but are waiting to be added to the active list. There are 100 matched Big and Little Brothers.
The waiting list for Big Sisters isn't nearly so long.
Adults sometimes hesitate to volunteer because they worry about the time commitment. A few hours a week is what's expected of them and a promise to stay in the relationship for at least a year. As for costs, Big Brothers Big Sisters encourages free or low-cost activities so money isn't a barrier.
The other concern is liability. Adults -- particularly men -- are increasingly fearful of being targeted by allegations of abuse. That issue is dealt with extensively during the volunteers' training and screening. And every match is supervised closely by a case manager.
None of that translates for James though. He just wants a guy to hang out with and he doesn't have one.
James' dad was never in the picture.
There is a wonderful uncle who James adores. But he has his own children to occupy him. There are no other male role models in James' life.
James lives in a subsidized housing complex on the East Mountain. His mom says they have good neighbours and friends there, but her son is being influenced by the wrong children. He is a bit of a follower and is hanging out with kids who have no respect for authority, particularly the police. They bully other kids.
At school, where he is in Grade 2 with a B average, James has been in trouble for leaving school property and not listening to teachers. Jackie worries he may be on a slippery slope.
The thing about James though, is he has a long way to go before he could be considered a full-fledged troublemaker. He is a delightful kid whose career choices include being a sculptor or "a guy who goes into jungles and captures big animals to put in zoos." He is polite and sweet and silly and has a close bond with his mom. He just had a test about telling time -- "I think I got the quarter past stuff right" -- and loves to play with Pokemon cards and create "abstract" art from Play-Doh .
Once, a year ago, there was a neighbourhood barbecue at James' housing complex. He met a firefighter there. They sat on a rock and talked for an hour. Just the two of them. About fires. And school. Stuff.
It was one of the best hours of James' life. He talks of it still.
Jackie has tried to find that firefighter, with no luck. She's called the fire department. She doesn't know the man's name, but he has three daughters. She wonders if maybe he would be interested in spending some time with a boy.
James cocks his head and squints his eyes as he considers what else he would like you folks to know. His last words though aren't about him at all.
Potential Bigs can call Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hamilton and Burlington at 905-525-3860.
To be a Big Brother, you must: