Talented Edmonton Journal freelancer Shari Narine helps us tell the tale of an incredible family and their mentoring experiences. Enjoy!
People are still talking about the speech his little brother delivered at the wedding, Jordan Dunn says proudly. And while it would be no big deal at most weddings, it is a little different for Jordan because Russell Demeulenaere is Jordan’s little brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“He got up and he gave a speech which was amazing and he was so funny. It was so good,” said Jordan. “When I was younger, because I had a really bad slur I never liked to talk in front of people. By just being around Jordan, he showed me it didn’t matter, and just to be myself,” said Russell. The two have been paired together for over four years.
Irene Demeulenaere reached out to BGCBigs when her eldest son, R.J., reached a crisis point. The boys weren’t able to see their father, who had moved to the United States, and Irene realized they were desperate to connect. As close as she was with her boys, Irene knew R.J., David and Russell needed strong male support.
“They needed a male mentor, somebody to be their confidante, somebody who wasn’t their mother,” she said. R.J. was past the matching age but David and Russell were paired with two young men, who would not only become mentors but also close friends. David was 13 when he and Steven Doyle connected and Russell was 11 when he was matched with Jordan.
The changes Irene has seen in her two boys have been heart-warming. David, she says, has focus, and Russell has confidence.
Jordan has also seen changes since he began spending time with Russell. “We’ve been together for quite a bit of time,” said Jordan. “Last year he entered high school. He’s grown up, matured. He has a bigger outlook on life, like he’s thinking more about the future.” He also noted that while Russell, like most children, cycles through various career choices, the young man keeps coming back to being a teacher.
“I’m a teacher, so I have to think I’ve had some influence on that decision,” said Jordan.
The pair try to spend a couple of hours a week together doing “guy-stuff,” says Russell, which includes going to movies, working out at the gym, going swimming, playing video games and getting a bite to eat.
Being with Russell has encouraged Jordan to have fun. “It’s allowed me to be bit of a kid again,” he said. “Sometimes we get so caught up in our day to day life we don’t take time to relax.”
Jordan, who is now 30, became a Big Brother at the point in his life when he had free time and wanted to give back. But he is quick to admit that his relationship with Russell is a two-way street. “Russell has been an inspiration,” said Jordan. “He works so hard. He’s so motivated.”
Russell, 16, is in Grade 10 at St. Joseph’s and works a part-time job as well. He says he looks at Jordan and sees what is possible. “He really showed me if you want to do it, you can do it,” said Russell.
David is now 18 and no longer falls under the auspices of BGCBigs, but he and Steven have continued their friendship. Steven’s influence led David to be a mentor through school and to participate in public speaking opportunities on the importance of mentoring. And like his brother, David also took part in his Big Brother’s wedding last year.
For Irene, a single mother of three boys, BGCBigs has provided a valuable support. “It’s been a big burden taken off of me,” she said. “It’s a relief knowing they have someone they can talk to who is a male figure.”
While her sons were close to their maternal grandfather and had a strong male role model in him, Irene says, they have connected with their big brothers in a different way. Irene also gets the benefit of having someone else offer sage advice to her boys. And both David and Russell now have post-secondary education firmly in mind because of their Big Brothers.
To show her appreciation for everything BGCBigs has done for her family, Irene volunteers her time to work casinos and help fundraise. “It’s my way of giving back,” she says.
And Irene firmly believes that when her boys get married, their Big Brothers will be part of their weddings too.