Mark and Maverick have been matched for 8 years, and in that time, they have done it all. From theatre, to Raptors Games, to concerts, to outdoor adventures, to cooking (which includes an unfortunate incident that involved some jalapeño pepper, some tears, and later, lots of laughter). Mark has made sure to introduce Maverick to a variety of different experiences that otherwise he may not have ever had access to.
Melanie, Maverick’s mom, remembers when her son was first matched with Mark. Maverick really, really wanted Mark to take him to play laser tag, and was taken aback when he didn’t.
After a few weeks during a conversation with Mark, Melanie reminded Mark of Mavericks interest in Laser Tag, sharing how much Maverick wanted to go with him. Mark responded indicating that while he wanted to make sure that Maverick enjoyed their time together, he looked at his position as Maverick’s BIG as an opportunity to introduce Maverick to activities, events, and places that he might not go to with his family. These new experiences could expand his view of their community and their city.
Melanie understood Mark’s approach to being a BIG and looking back now is more than grateful that Maverick has had the opportunity to experience the arts, Toronto culture, the outdoors, and other experiences that as a working mom from a single-parent household she wasn’t always able to provide.
“It’s been life-changing,” Melanie said when asked about how important those experiences with Mark have been. “The more you get to see and get exposed to, you’ll make better decisions of who you are and what you want to do. It’s taught Maverick how to interact with adults…social skills. It opened him up to multiple opportunities instead of just seeing things one way all the time.”
Maverick fondly remembers his adventures with Mark, “He showed me all over the city which my mom was sometimes too busy to do. He took me to all these different places and now I know my way around the city really well.”
“He would expose me to all of this stuff that I would never do.”
Throughout their time together, the adventures got bigger and bigger. They bought more cook books, saw more shows, went to concerts, shared music, accidentally tipped over a boat, got caught in the rain at a fishing derby, and much more. From seeing Bonsai trees to superhero movies, to portaging in Algonquin Park, the two built a strong friendship.
“He was just a little kid when I met him,” said Mark. “The consistency over the years was a big help [in developing a relationship]. Instead of being a father figure to him I thought I should do my best to never speak down to him, that it would be my job to be his friend, to be close like a brother.”
And it did help. Melanie attributes Maverick’s time with Mark to developing a better sense of empathy, for his appreciate for music and the arts, and much more.
Over time, Mark has become part of their family. Melanie and Mark have developed their own relationship to ensure Mavericks has all that he needs to ignite his potential.
Eight-years ago, when Melanie first signed her son up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto program, she was skeptical. “When we first started, I didn’t know what a mentor was. Somebody that hangs out with your child? Someone who motivates them?”
“Now I can see how important a mentor is. He showed me he was really invested in making a difference in Maverick’s life, and not just a buddy or a babysitter to do fun things with all the time.”
Nowadays Maverick is beginning to plan his future and starting to think about life after high school. He’s had a chance to reflect on the impact that Mark made on his life.
“I don’t know where I’d be without him. Now I’m starting to realize how much of an impact he had on me. Now that I’m applying for post-secondary and thinking about my future; I’m really taking to heart all the things that he unknowingly taught me. I’m so much more confident and independent. I feel reassured about going and doing bigger things.”
The sentiment is shared by Mark, “Mav changed my life too. It was a different type of a friendship the way it was built but ultimately, I don’t look at it differently than any of my best friends my own age or older. In a world where close friends are in short supply, I’ve gained a lifelong friend.”
Thinking about the impact the two have had on each other, Melanie said, “I’m still touched to think that someone who started as this total stranger has done…this.”