Tears slid down Ryan’s cheeks as his classroom broke into a creative frenzy, construction paper and glitter whizzing past his desk.
An anxious six-year-old, Ryan often felt uneasy in social situations. But nothing was quite as painful as Father’s Day when every kid in his class had a dad to make a gift for—except him.
Ryan was a baby when his dad left, creating a void that only worsened with time. By grade one, his confidence had plummeted. He struggled to make friends or try new things. When his mom encouraged him to try hockey, Ryan had a panic attack as soon as his skates hit the ice.
“He’s always felt really self-conscious,” explained his mom, Tristan. “In his head, the other children were better than him because they’d all practiced with their dad beforehand.”
As Ryan grew older, he sunk deeper into his shell. And despite all the love and support Tristan gave him, she knew her son needed another supportive adult relationship in his life.
Kids like Ryan are more likely to complete post-secondary education, find stable employment, and pursue health lifestyles as a result of mentoring.
That’s when Tristan decided to enroll Ryan with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Winnipeg, a donor-supported agency connecting youth of all genders with open, inclusive, and caring adults in a wide array of programs.* Although mentors don’t replace an absent parent, they offer young Winnipeggers friendship, encouragement, and guidance to help build resilience and inspire growth.
While waiting to be matched with a Big Brother, Ryan joined his fellow mentees on monthly group outings like rock climbing and going to Winnipeg Jets games. As he got to know his peers, he discovered many came from non-traditional families, too.
For the first time, Ryan wasn’t the only one without a dad. For the first time, he felt a strong sense of belonging. And that only deepened when he met his mentor, Dominic.
Also raised by a single parent, 22-year-old Dominic was the perfect fit for Ryan. He quickly became someone Ryan could laugh with, learn from, and confide in—no matter what.
“He’s really fun to hang out with,” said Ryan. “We like a lot of the same things, like football and video games . . . He’s like my dad.”
When Ryan and Dominic first met, all it took was a game of pool to break the ice and become inseparable.
Dominic immediately received Tristan’s stamp of approval, too—and not only because he encourages Ryan to eat his veggies.
“He’s someone my son looks up to,” explained Tristan. “He’s applying to get into med school, so it’s really good for Ryan to see someone so ambitious and who’s working towards their goals.”
After only a few months of spending time with Dominic each week, Ryan’s confidence grew. He held his head higher. He was less intimidated by making friends. He even joined the football team and completed the entire season.
“He’s a totally different kid,” Tristan declared.
It’s called the “mentoring effect.” With a web of supportive relationships, 92% of mentees report feeling more confident. They’re also more likely to develop strong social networks, earn a higher income, and even give back to their communities later in life.
Dominic (right) helps Ryan discover new interests, see his potential, and dream big for his future.
Blown away by Ryan’s transformation, Tristan decided to enrol her 12-year-old daughter, Erica, in the program, too.
“Erica was going through a really hard time,” Tristan explained. “She was struggling with depression and anxiety. I was so lost, and nothing was working. It was a terrible time.”
But when Erica met her Big Sister, Melissa, things started to change.
“We both like to dance,” said Erica (left). “Melissa taught me how to do handstands. And I taught her ballet.”
Melissa, who had been a Little Sister herself, became a crucial source of inspiration and encouragement. They often talk about their dreams and create vision boards together, empowering Erica to imagine a brighter future.
Gradually, Erica became more open to getting help for her mental health—something Tristan considers one of the many positive outcomes of her mentoring relationship.
“As a single parent, it’s made my life easier because doing it all is so hard,” remarked Tristan.
“Honestly, with both of them having mentors in their life, I’ve seen my kids flourish in a way I can barely describe.”
*With the support of generous United Way Winnipeg donors, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Winnipeg helps ignite the potential of as many as 700 youth each year, connecting them with trained adult volunteers to build quality mentoring relationships.