In 2015, Aaron Hoyland was looking for a change. He had just gotten out of a long-term relationship, and had heard about a volunteer recruitment drive for Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area (BGCBigs) called 100 Men 100 Days. “There’s kind of a chronic shortage of Bigs, but there’s an especially acute shortage of male Bigs,” he says, referring to the affectionate term used for adult mentors (youth mentees are “Littles.”)
Like most potential applicants, Hoyland wondered about the time commitment — and if he was qualified. “They said it was no more than once a week, no less than twice a month, for a couple of hours. But then you start to worry like, I’m just a regular person, right? I’m not the president of the space debate club or anything.”
But Bigs don’t need to be the president of anything, and regular people make a huge difference in the lives of Littles. After an in-depth interview discussing Hoyland’s beliefs, values, interests and hobbies — in order to match him with a compatible Little — and a supervised initial meeting, Hoyland began his one-year commitment with his then eight-year-old Little, the son of a single mom.
That was seven years ago. Today, the relationship Hoyland has built with his Little has become an integral part of his life. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I figured I’d take him out for laser tag, bowling and ice cream and see how it goes. But the hardest part was trying to avoid doing the same thing over and over, so I’ve ended up doing all sorts of things in the community that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
Everything Hoyland and his Little have done over the years, be it grand gestures or simple ones, has been fun. And Hoyland realized early that his role wasn’t to be there “delivering sermons about life, and values and everything else,” it was to just be there. “It’s just the act of showing up. You don’t have to be this amazing person with the perfect life. It’s your presence, and the stability and predictability of being there as support.”
When Hoyland’s Little turns 18, they’ll reach the end of their BGCBigs program mentorship program, but it won’t mark the end of the friendship they’ve built. Hoyland talks about the “incredible privilege” of watching him grow from a child bouncing off the walls of his mother’s home to being a confident, self-assured young man, knowing that he’ll never be too old to hang out together. “He went to my wedding, and we said it will be really cool if one day I go to his.”
And who knows? Perhaps Hoyland will re-apply to become a Big to a new Little, and when his current Little is old enough to be a Big themselves, he might apply as well, so other Littles waiting for their mentee can experience the amazing impact all those Little Big Moments can make.