One day this past Fall, Jennie Newton, an Enrollment Facilitator with BGCBigs, was looking through Little Brothers, trying to find a match for a Big Brother who had just applied. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate, when she came across Zane’s file. With his 18th birthday just around the corner, Zane was about to age out of BGCBigs programs. He lived in foster care, was in a wheelchair, and had been waiting for a Big Brother for 6 years. Moved by the resiliency of this young man, Jennie made it her mission to find him a match before he turned 18.
Around the same time, Ryan had just got back to Canada from a three week mission to Bolivia. He left on the trip shortly after he lost contact with his Little Brother. After years of wanting to volunteer but not having the time, Ryan was incredibly disappointed when his first match fizzled out so quickly.
Who knows what would have happened if Jennie hadn’t stumbled across Zane’s file that day, or if Ryan had been re-matched immediately instead of traveling to Bolivia. What we do know, is that Zane and Ryan, in less than 6 months, have developed an incredible, lasting friendship.
“When they called to tell me about Zane and his story to see if I would be interested, my heart broke,” Ryan explains. He couldn’t understand how such an awesome young man had been waiting for a Big for so long. “I picked my heart back up, put it back together, and said ‘of course’.”
Zane tells us that he was thrilled to get the phone call. “I signed up so long ago I guess I forgot about it until they called. But they told me he was a Christian, liked going to church, and had been praying for another Little Brother. I was pretty stoked. It turned out we both got our wish.”
With fairly low expectations for the match, Zane says that he really just wanted someone to hang out with. “I wanted someone who would be a friend, mentor, literally a brother. Someone to talk to and trust. Someone to push me to go out and do things when I’m feeling lazy. Ryan is awesome for all of that.”
So far they’ve have had a pretty relaxed friendship – attending sermons at each other’s churches, enjoying the food and chai lattes at Remedy Café, and working out at Ryan’s gym. They both laugh when talking about the gym since Zane easily “kicks Ryan’s butt”.
“Sometimes we just go driving,” Ryan says. “We had big plans at first of all the stuff we wanted to do together, but we both realized that we’re comfortable hanging out and just being us.”
So far, Zane’s favourite moment of the match was when Ryan was able to be there for him at his baptism: “it was a cool moment,” Zane says with a humble grin.
Ryan agrees that was definitely a highlight. But his absolute favorite moment was after Zane won a bet. “He bet me that I wouldn’t get $5,000 when I traded in my car and he won. We bet cash (which we found out was against BGCBigs rules afterwards) and later that same day he gave it in the offering at his church. He’s pretty inspirational. I can’t think of many 18 year olds who would so casually donate money they just won.”
According to Ryan, Zane is the strongest person he knows – and not just physically. At his youth group the other kids sometimes say things like “if anyone knows about struggles it’s Zane.”
“But he doesn’t wear those struggles,” Ryan says. “Other people put that on him. To him, it’s just his life. His positive and caring attitude has made me examine my own life and realize that no matter what’s going on, I can choose how to approach it. Zane’s swagger and confidence have definitely worn off on me,” he laughs.
Zane believes that Ryan truly wants to change and impact other people’s lives. “He wants to make people feel happy and fulfilled. He’s given me great advice and I hope that I can also make him feel good about himself. I appreciate everything he’s done.”
Ryan initially wanted to be a Big Brother because he grew up in a single parent household but had many positive role models in his life and he believed in paying it forward. For the longest time, Ryan just didn’t have time. But one day he saw a poster for 100 Men 100 Days and he took the plunge to apply. Over the last six month’s he’s realized that in many ways, it wasn’t exactly what he expected.
“Sometimes it feels like a lot of responsibility; this kid really looks up to you and pays attention to everything you do and say,” Ryan explains. “His struggles become my struggles – like in any true friendship. I don’t think you can prepare for that, but it’s so rewarding.” Ryan laughs, “oh, and I had to learn how to disassemble and reassemble his wheelchair so it could fit in my car for outings – I didn’t expect that. But Zane and his foster mom were so patient with me.”
Today, Ryan is a whiz at managing Zane’s wheel chair, although now he has a truck so they can just stick it in the back.
“I think that to have an impact on a kid, you just have to spend time with them,” Ryan tells us. “I just try to be there for him, not as an authority figure but just as his friend.”
Ryan calls his match with Zane “an answered prayer.” “I wanted to be matched with someone who would complement me, and so we could impact each other. Now we’re just there for each other.”
“I think this program is a great way to get to know new people,” Zane explains. “It helps to change people’s perspectives and bring happiness to a lot of kids.”
After high school Zane can’t decide if he wants to go to Bible College and go into Ministry, or write a book, or try something else. But he says there’s no end in sight to his friendship with Ryan: “we have the same heart.”
Whether an answered prayer, a wish come true, or just good timing, we can’t imagine these two not being friends.
To learn more about mentoring or how you can become a volunteer like Ryan, click here.