Key to confidence in extending comfort zones

Roman and Aidan streetfront photo

July 2018 marks the start of our regular Big Buddy Interviews, where we share the valuable experience and insights of mentors from Auckland, Wellington and the Waikato.                   

Auckland’s Roman Travers combines a pharmaceutical industry role and time with his young-adult family with writing, radio and TV media work– no one could accuse him of not having enough to do. And yet the dad to two daughters still puts aside enough time and energy for his Little Buddy, 8-yr-old Aidan. Roman has been spending 2-3 hours a week with him since November 2016.

Earlier that year, Roman had made a conscious decision to engage in some regular volunteer work. Obvious options were organisations like The City Mission and The Salvation Army. But it was only when a friend mentioned Big Buddy that he decided to go ahead.

“It felt like a perfect fit,” says Roman.

Mentoring is a great way for a wide range of men to share their own time and wisdom with boys in need of it, but the call to do so is unique to each Big Buddy. Roman found particular resonance in his own childhood; his mother brought up his four brothers and two sisters single-handedly when his father disappeared.

I’m not there to change Aidan, but I do believe I’m there to encourage him to be forthright.”

Once his mentoring application was approved, Big Buddy’s coordinators matched Roman with Aidan, a boy has clearly benefitted from Roman’s love of the outdoors.

“Although he’s always been keen to get in the water, there are plenty of other activities he used to automatically avoid, that are now part of most weekends” says Roman.

The research and experience-based philosophy at Big Buddy has always been that while mums and other female carers do a courageous job, boys develop more confidence and independence when they have a man to relate to.

“Aidan is a shy boy, but as soon as he gets in the car with me nowadays he doesn’t shut-up” says Roman. “He’ll say, ‘Can I tell you something?’ and then he’s off. I might start to tell him something too but he’ll interject with his own story pretty quickly. It’s great to see him animated like this.”

Roman also says everyday communication is an area where boys need to extend themselves beyond their comfort zones. Many are used to mum doing most of the talking.

“When we’re out for lunch, I get him to tell the staff what he wants in a clear voice, even though it takes him a couple of goes. I also get him to try new food. When we first started eating out, he would look at the menu and say, ‘I don’t like that.’ My response would be that you don’t know until you’ve tried it – now he’s eating dishes that he claimed months ago not to like. I’m not there to change Aidan, but I do believe I’m there to encourage him to be forthright.”

There are also age-enhancing benefits for mentors in the process, says Roman, who feels he is far more in touch with his younger-self these days.

“I think, really, it’s a kind of selfishness. I know this sounds harsh, but we’re all so set in our ways. For me, becoming a Big Buddy was a lesson not to become set in my ways. I don’t want to get old before I’m ready!”

“We had our birthday lunch at Burger Burger in Ponsonby and afterwards, we hung out at Western Park, playing on the old ruins. We invented a simple game of climbing onto the stone, throwing a leaf down onto the grass, then jumping down to land beyond the leaf.

“It was such a simple thing to do but it struck me that adults forget to play. This is what Aidan needed I think. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the library, the park, the pools, we shouldn’t forget to play.”

When asked what might commonly prevent a man of good character from applying to be a Big Buddy, Roman is blunt.

“I think, really, it’s a kind of selfishness. I know this sounds harsh, but we’re all so set in our ways. For me, becoming a Big Buddy was a lesson not to become set in my ways. I don’t want to get old before I’m ready!”

Roman’s advice to men who are embarking on being a Big Buddy is to keep it simple. They are not there to be an entertainer; they are present in that boy’s life to support him, to walk alongside him in spoken and unspoken ways. This commitment does not go unnoticed by the Little Buddies, who naturally put men they like and trust on a pedestal.

“I recall a very touching moment in the first year Aidan and I were together. He asked me how long I could be his Big Buddy for. I said I didn’t really know, but that I’d be around for the foreseeable future and maybe even years to come.

“He thought about it for a moment and then asked: ‘Can it be forever?’”

Across the country, we have 91 Little Buddies waiting for a mentor, but only one third of that number in mentors to offer them. If Roman’s insights about mentoring resonate with you, please fill out our mentoring enquiry form and one of our coordinators will promptly be in touch.