Since being formalized in 1995, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cayman Islands has paired over 200 young people with mentors who help guide them in life.
On Thursday, the global organization, of which the local chapter is a part, recognizes International Mentoring Day. Camana Bay will be turning its Town Centre lights purple to mark the occasion. The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization will be campaigning throughout the month to bring more attention to the importance of the work they do.
In addition to providing support, mentors also often become a friend to the children they are working with, enjoying shared educational and enrichment experiences.
Gerardo Ochoa-Vargas met Alex Richardson 10 years ago when Alex was just a boy. He’s now an adult, but Mr. Ochoa-Vargas, 53, and Mr. Richardson, 18, remain close friends and are the Cayman chapter’s longest-standing big brother match.
Mr. Ochoa-Vargas, a professor of medicine at St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine, said he was not sure he and Mr. Richardson were a good match at first. He is more bookish, and Mr. Richardson, like most young boys, was interested in physical activity. It took them a year to really form a good relationship, Mr. Ochoa-Vargas said.
That relationship, he said, has weathered some tough times. Mr. Richardson lost his mother in 2015. Mr. Ochoa-Vargas’s mother died in 2018. And there was a nine-month period where Mr. Ochoa-Vargas did not hear from his mentee.
There were also fun times. The two snorkeled out to the Kittiwake wreck site – even though Mr. Richardson does not much like the water – shot amateur horror movies in abandoned buildings and skated at the Black Pearl Skate Park. Mr. Ochoa-Vargas even became Mr. Richardson’s stylist for his high school prom.
Mr. Ochoa-Vargas, who is single and has no children of his own, said he has learned patience and how to be innovative as a result of their relationship.
Pilar Bush, board chairman for the Cayman chapter, said children age out of the program at 18, but that did not end the relationship between the two men.
“They are part of our BBBS family and regularly come out to our events, speak to groups and share their amazing story,” Ms. Bush said in the release.
Big Brothers Big Sisters was brought to the Cayman Islands by Church of God Pastor Stanwyck Myles and the Lions Club of Grand Cayman in 1995, formalizing what was then an informal community mentoring program.
Officials with the organization said children and adolescents involved in a regular mentoring program over 18 months have been shown to be more confident, more engaged at school, have better relationships with peers and adults and more likely to avoid risky behavior like alcohol or drug use. Studies show they are 52 percent less likely to skip school, 55 percent more likely to pursue higher education, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities, twice as likely to take on leadership roles and 33 percent less likely to engage in violent behavior. Cayman officials said there is an urgent need for male mentors. The organization has 19 boys, aged 6-14, who have been waiting for a big brother, some for as long as 2 years.