Little Buddy Nicholas Perano and his Big Buddy, Colin Malcolm, haven't even been matched for a year, but mum Penny Perano says she's seeing positive, tangible differences in her 10-year-old already.
Eleven months ago, the first Hamilton Buddy pair began spending Sunday mornings together. Colin says they've been doing anything from finding a quiet corner to read in the second-hand bookshop — he's discovered his young charge loves to read — to cycling BMX tracks or practising bowling arms for the coming cricket season.
Their most recent foray was a day trackside at the Supercars event in Pukekohe Park, courtesy of ITM and the Supercars team themselves. Mrs Perano said her son struggled to sleep that night, still lying awake at 10.30pm reliving the day.
Not surprisingly, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being 'awesome' and 5 being 'dumb', Nicholas says that life before Colin was around wasn't too bad — he gave it a 2. But since December 12, 2016 it's crept up to somewhere between 1 and 1.5!
"It's just good having one or two hours a week doing what you want to do, away from my sisters and mum. I like it when we do sports together — it's good practice and it's fun," says the dedicated rugby and cricket team member.
Regardless of what has gone on Sunday morning, Penny has noticed that Nicholas is very settled in the afternoon these days. She adds with amusement, that he is mimicking some of Colin's mannerisms and using some of the words he uses. In Big Buddy terms, this is 'modelling' and a large part of how boys become men — being around other men allows boys to absorb the male qualities they need to complete their own sense of self.
"I think what Colin's presence also means to Nicholas is that he has someone 'for himself', someone he can choose what to do with. Looking back, I can definitely say Nicholas's life is better with Colin in it," muses Penny.
Colin, a father of three but with only the youngest teenager at home, says he remembers distinctly thinking it was time to give something back before he applied to Big Buddy. That wasn't actually too long ago. If you'd have asked Colin three years ago if he would be a mentor, he would have said "no way".
He feels it's the extra space in his household that has allowed him to think of mentoring a boy.
"I don't think there is a specific time to be ready though- it's different for everyone."
Colin was the first Big Buddy in the Waikato, an area that the organisation expanded to with a huge amount of support from GJ Gardener Homes and ITM. With an estimated $280,000 in proceeds from the auction of two houses — one in the Waikato and the other in Pukekohe — the programme is gradually developing and area coordinator Andrew McFadden now has 10 matches on the books.
"Almost one year has gone quickly," reflects Colin. "When I think about all the things we've packed into the last 11 months, it's a huge amount! We made lasagne one day — it was a bit like the blind leading the blind as I'm not a great cook, but this is one of the things I get out of being a Big Buddy. I'm trying things I wouldn't normally do. We even got a couple of meals out of that for our families."
Nicholas is a talented sportsperson and this has given Colin the chance to refresh his bowling arm, which after an hour is quite tiring. This has been cemented by Colin's loan to Nicholas of a battered old theory book on cricket. When they get down to the pitch they practice techniques Nicholas has read about.
However, Colin stresses that there are deeper lessons to share with Little Buddies, such as how to treat other people. When Nicholas received a bike as part of a local promotion, he took the boy to the shop it came from and got him to thank each of them in person. The team was very impressed.
"If I could choose personal qualities that I think are important in a boy growing up, they would be the ability to be happy and caring, aware of people less fortunate than themselves, and the willingness to go outside their comfort zone, to try something different."
Colin gets as much out of the relationship as he hopes Nicholas does and highly recommends mentorship to men who are wondering about stepping up.