The bullying stopped and the grades went up for one Prince George boy who just needed a buddy. The simple act of adult friendship turned Colton's life around, according to his mother, and she wants to tell Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Justice Shirley Bond and the boss of Big Brothers Big Sisters all about it.
Cheri Henderson will tell her family's story at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday attended by those dignitaries, a celebration of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization and all the kids like Colton that Big Brothers Big Sisters has mentored over the past 100 years.
"We are positively influencing children by one-to-one relationships between those kids and mentors who share their time and their personalities with them, that's really as simple as it is," said Jamie Kranrod, executive director of the Prince George branch. "It changes the direction of their lives. The ripple effects are huge."
Henderson saw immediate changes with her son. Colton was about nine years old when he was matched up with 'big brother' Dave, first in half-hour sessions at school once a week, then into an expanded visitation schedule in the community.
"Colton had no friends, he had a lot of social anxiety, no self confidence, no self esteem, his father passed away when he was three and his grandfather died recently and he was Colton's biggest male role model. Colton was not handling that well," she said.
"All it took was someone being interested in Colton and showing up on a regular basis," Henderson added, fighting tears. "Colton was constantly bullied at school. Constantly. It's such a huge change, now, from seeing him honestly so depressed and not wanting to see anybody and scared to go to class, to now rushing out in the morning to head off to see his friends. That's a massive shift. No parent wants to see their nine-year-old crying because they are afraid to go to school."
In addition to the time Colton and Dave spend together, Dave also got his 'little' into an after school program at Kaiten Mixed Martial Arts Academy to add extra activities to his self-esteem collection.
"He is no longer socially awkward, he has higher confidence, his self esteem has skyrocketed," Henderson said of Colton today, now 11. "And, there was a huge, huge change in his school performance. Even over the last six months Colton has gone from barely scraping by to getting Bs. I almost cried when I saw his report card. The change is amazing."
"Mentors are one of society's best defenses against bullying," said Kranrod. "Colton's story is very illustrative, but I would say 90 per cent of our matches have elements of this."
There are currently 75 matches going on in Prince George right now, but many kids on wait lists until new 'bigs' sign on. There are also in-school group programs, a fee-for-service program for after school care, and other ways that Big Brothers Big Sisters is filling mentorship gaps for local boys and girls who need an adult friend.
Henderson stressed that Dave was not a remarkable volunteer, in that sense. What made him remarkable was that he walked into the office and joined.
"He pushes Colton like no tomorrow to think outside the box and just be involved with good times," she said. "Dave's not perfect, it's not about being someone you're not, they just get to have fun together being boys. Dave doesn't make it feel like a push, and I don't even know if he's aware of it himself, but Dave gets Colton to do things he's never done before. He shows Colton that life isn't scary, you can just go out and do things and be happy and regular life can be fun."
On Friday, that will be shown to the audience at the Start Something - Lead the Change - Empower Youth Success luncheon at the Ramada Hotel. In addition to Henderson, other speakers include longtime 'big' Andy Beesley, Big Brothers Big Sisters national president Bruce MacDonald, minister Bond and premier Clark.
Bowl For Kids Sake is an annual findraiser and social event for the bigs and littles of the Prince George program. It is a three-part series, the first happening Sunday at Strike Zone at noon. Part 2 happens Thursday at 6 p.m. at Black Diamond Lanes. The third installment is March 11 at 9:30 a.m. at Black Diamond.
One of the easiest ways to help the Prince George program reach its fundraising goal of $60,000 is to text support. Text "BIGSPG" to 45678 to make a $10 donation to help support the Bowl for Kids Sake efforts.
Those who want to bowl for their dollars can enter a team in one of the events, and gather pledges for the occasion. Each team is asked to bring in a minimum donation of $50.
Call 250-563-7410 or visit www.bbbspg.ca for more information or to sign up.