Over 20 years had passed since Big Brother Jim, had been matched with his Little Brother, Robbie. Back in the mid-80s their lives crossed paths—if only for a few years—when Big Brother Big Sisters of Toronto (BBBST) matched the pair in our one-to-one mentoring program.
“I was terrified, confused and curious—I didn’t understand why my mother thought I needed a Big brother,” says Robbie, now an OPP Special Constable. “But that all changed the first day I met Jim…for me, in that moment, it was like winning the lottery. Finally I had someone I could open up to about things my mom and sisters just couldn’t understand.”
Jim’s recollection was that “BBBST did a great job in preparing me for what to expect. It’s like they knew exactly how Robbie was going to act on our first outing together. Robbie was very shy, but BBBST taught me that when I asked him a question, that I should follow up with two or three answers so that he could choose one—which would make it a lot easier on him. The first get-together went very well.”
“I was a young, very impressionable child that lived in a very rough area of Toronto, and honestly, looking back now, I can say I was heading down a very negative path.” When Jim came into Robbie’s life, things started to change. “I started to do better in school; I started interacting with other children more; and I started to realize I didn’t have to become a product of my environment.” Jim taught Robbie that he was his own person, who was free to make his own decisions. He also taught Robbie that it was okay to stumble in life, but to always get back up, dust yourself off and keep on going and, every time, learn from that experience.
Jim and Robbie loved to go camping, to the movies and to the Exhibition – a destination that has afforded them many special memories. “Jim and I would spend all day just taking in the sights and enjoying each other’s company. This is something that we’ve continued to do since reuniting after 20 years of losing touch.” More importantly, it didn’t matter if they went to a big attraction or not: “Everything we did was an adventure,” says Jim.
“The times we had talking over a meal or running around the park were the times I feel mattered most.” Robbie remembers, “Jim would pick me up from where I lived…..and sometimes we would just go for a drive in what I liked to call his ‘super car.’ Every time I saw that car and Jim, I knew everything was going to be okay and that I was going to be safe. I knew I could tell him anything.”
Robbie knows that growing up, if not for his Big Brother Jim, the housing complex he lived in would have consumed him. “It was full of crime and dysfunction. As a result, I would have forever been standing on the wrong side of the thin blue line.”
Little Brother Robbie reached back out to Jim in July 2009, 20 years after their original match. He wanted to thank his Big Brother, “…for being that person I could talk to, for being that person I could feel safe with. I wanted to show my appreciation for everything he did for me because—if not for him—I’d be a different man today. Even now I feel as though I will never quite be able to express my gratitude to Jim for what he’s done for me.” Jim feels equally as blessed: “The best part is knowing that my efforts were appreciated. The experience for me was very rewarding as well.”
After reconnecting, Robbie invited Jim to attend his wedding, which made a very special occasion even more special. "Jim is a great guy that I’ve always looked up to—and always will. I feel very lucky to have such a great, compassionate Big Brother—and friend.”
Another great story about how lives can change when you decide to start something.