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Volunteering as a LGBTQ+ Mentor

For many, becoming a “mentor” can be intimidating, but for Big and Little Brother, Fraser and Awen, it has resulted in a seven-year long friendship – and counting.

“The way I like to think about mentorship is that it’s really anyone who has a story to tell or is willing to go on that story journey with someone else,” Fraser, who uses the pronouns they/them, explained. “For me, mentorship equals the connections and relations that form the fabric of our community and how we grow together and build.”

Fraser (right) and Awen competing at the McSpadden County Fair Zucchini Races in 2023.

Getting in the driver’s seat

And oh how these two have built over the years – a lot of zucchini race cars, that is!

One of the first excursions and activities this Community Mentoring match got up to was attending the McSpadden County Fair and participating in the annual Zucchini Races.

Each September this community event throws an all-day competition, consisting of five categories, of constructed wheeled zucchinis and yellow squashes where individuals or teams of all ages compete for the coveted trophies.

Fraser, an urban engineer, and Awen, an aspiring architect, have spent many-an-hour building and engineering vehicular squashes to be the fastest on the track and forged a strong bond doing so.

Fraser and Awen throughout the years at the McSpadden County Fair Zucchini Races .

This past season marked a bitter-sweet moment as it was the last time the pair would participate as an official Big and Little Brother due to Awen aging out of the program in 2024.

Over their seven-plus years of hang outs and adventures, they’ve got the chance to do everything from participating in foot races, or as Awen prefers to phrase it “zombie contingency planning,” to learning how to row in the waters around Metro Vancouver.

The experience has been a lot of fun, Fraser said. They’ve been able to do a lot of things they would have otherwise never ended up doing if it wasn’t for volunteering with Big Brothers.

Building bridges

For Awen, the program has been equally rewarding.

“The focus is on mentorship, but what it really is: is a really good, really close, friend,” Awen, who also goes by the pronouns they/them, said.

“You can be really comfortable learning from them and discussing things. There’s no grades, there’s no quota to meet. There’s no ‘you have to know this’ or you can’t move on,” they explained. “Your mentor is there to support you in the best way they can support you. In our case, that was being a really, really, awesome friend.”

Having Fraser, who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, as a friend and mentor has brought an extra layer of value to Awen because, as they grew up, Awen identified as gay.

“Having an older gentlemen to talk to about these things and to ask to ask silly questions is always really nice,” Awen explained. “You can look everything up these days … but being able to ask a person questions is a much more personal experience.”

“The larger your network is, the more real things are and the more comfortable you can be. And so, knowing Fraser, and having that older queer wealth of knowledge was really great.”

Fraser has been a mentor in the Big Brothers Community Program for seven years.

Having this shared experience added an extra lens, in terms of the mentorship experience, Fraser said.

Fraser noted that growing up in Red Deer, Alberta provided a different perspective compared to Awen’s experience of growing up queer in Vancouver.

“I think it didn’t change how I was approaching the program. Like, the role of being a mentor, being a Big Brother,” Fraser said. “It was just kind of cool to see the broader context.”

As for the topic queerness, it never felt forced and flowed naturally in and out of their conversations when the time was right, Awen explained.

“I don’t think there was a necessity to talk about these things, but they happen because they’re important. Like, I don’t feel there was ever a pressure to talk about it. It just came up,” Awen said. “Like, if I’m gay, and I want to know more about the gay experience, and Fraser is also gay, we’re going to talk about gay – and it’s real great.”

That comment from their Little Brother made Fraser burst out laughing and made them reminisce on why they first volunteered to be a Big Brother.

“Vancouver can be a difficult city to build connections in, build community and especially intergenerational community, which I really value… That was something I was interested in and Big Brothers seemed like a logical connection,” Fraser said.

At the end of the day it’s always about meeting Awen where they’re at and enjoying the moment.

“[Mentorship] can be really daunting to think of as this big auspicious thing that only the wisest most sage of us all have any input. But really, it’s just about kind of existing and co-existing in space to learn from each other and experience from each other and just know one another. It’s really fun and doing that with intention and compassion is really important. I love it.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Big Brother Community Program, connect with us! Reach out to volunteer@bbgvf.com or visit our Volunteer Inquire Page.

Haven’t got enough? Watch Fraser and Awen’s feature interview below.

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