Surrey resident Rick Johal works full time as a child-care supervisor. He is also working towards completing his Bachelor of Social Work. Johal just finished his second year of studies at Kwantlen College and will attend UBC in the fall. In his spare time, the twenty-four-year-old likes to snowboard during the winter, go mountain biking in the summer, play guitar and squeeze in some time at the gym. Johal also finds the time to spend a few hours a week with an eight-year-old named Cameron. Johal volunteers as a Big Brother.
Johal is one of 630 volunteers currently participating in Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver's mentoring programs for children. Johal and Cameron have been spending time together for just over a year. Cameron's mother Tanya wanted a Big Brother for him because he didn't have a consistent male role model in his life. She explains, "Cameron and I are very close, but I can't teach him about "guy" stuff. I really noticed it when he wanted me to play soccer, baseball and basketball with him and I don't know how." When Cameron started to spend time with Johal, she noticed a big difference in her son. She says, "Cameron stopped being so clingy and became very respectful of me and of the things I do for him. He started to smile a lot more and really enjoy just being a kid."
Johal met Cameron when he decided to volunteer in Big Brothers' In-School Mentoring (ISM) Program to build up some volunteer experience on his resume. As an ISM volunteer, he spent an hour a week with Cameron on school property during the school year. The pair really hit it off. Johal says, "Cameron and I had a good vibe immediately. Because of the relationship we built, I wanted to continue seeing him through the summer." The pair transferred into the Big Brothers program and continued their friendship.
Big and Little Brothers meet for a few hours every week for fun and friendship, doing activities that both enjoy. Little Brothers are average boys between the ages of seven and 12 who have limited to no contact with their fathers. Big Brothers must be at least 19 years of age and be willing to commit to spend a few hours a week with their Little Brother for a minimum of a year. There are no special skills or experience required to be a Big Brother.
Cameron says that before he met Johal he had, "Nothing to do and no one to talk to about "guy" stuff. There aren't a lot of kids my age who live close to me." The two friends now do a range of activities together including playing basketball, frisbee, video games, hiking, and arts & crafts. Cameron loves having Johal as his Big Brother because he says, "Rick is really cool. He makes me laugh."
Big Brothers' Surrey Mentoring Coordinator, Harpreet Brar, says studies have shown that when a child has someone in their lives who spends consistent, quality time with them, other than a family member, "It provides a huge boost to the child's self esteem. This positively impacts their attitude towards school, their relationships with family and friends and ultimately, how well they succeed in life." Brar encourages men over the age of 19 to call Big Brothers now to obtain more information about volunteering. "There are children waiting to be matched with a Big Brother in every area of the Lower Mainland."
Johal recommends that anyone considering becoming a Big Brother just, "Do it. It is one of the most rewarding experiences ever. My friendship with Cameron continues to grow every week."
Tanya says she is very grateful that Cameron has Johal in his life, "Rick has given my little boy his smile back and put the sparkle back in his eyes. Words can never express how much that means to me. Rick has become part of our family."