Life is full of lessons. We are constantly learning from family and friends as well as new environments and experiences that shape our behaviours. Growing up, it can be difficult to process situations out of our control, and express ourselves in a healthy manner. For 12 year-old Brandon, expressing himself has been a journey, one that’s taken a few years and a dedicated mentor to help him get through hard times and learn new skills.

When Brandon was 9 years old his life took a major turn when his mother and father separated, and his contact with his father became limited. “It was a hard time in his life. He held in a lot of emotion… he’d get so angry” says Terri-Anne, Brandon’s mother. Trouble communicating with teachers led to a recommendation of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto’s In School Mentoring Program. Brandon and his mother were familiar with the program, his sister had a mentor when she was in elementary school, so they decided to give it a try and Brandon was matched with Justin.

Through the program, Brandon and Justin started meeting for an hour a week during school. In the beginning, Justin wasn’t sure if their relationship would work out, “he had some things going on when we met. It wasn’t all rosy, we had some fights and difficult times.” Fighting his natural inclination to back out of commitments when things get hard, Justin stuck with it and slowly their relationship grew and thrived. Activities like baking, hanging out on the playground, and just talking about life allowed Brandon to start opening up to Justin, his teachers and mother. “My personality wasn’t the best, it was dropping like a fly,” says Brandon, explaining that since beginning his relationship with Justin he’s learned how to stay present and focused, and how to make and keep friends. “I love taking things he does in his life and put it into my life, now I have some of his personality.”

Looking back at his experience with having an in-school mentor, Brandon says a Big Brother is the “funnest person in the world,” adding “it’s been the best 3 years of my life.” On his experience as a mentor, Justin says “it’s been incredible… it really changes your life