WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Tyrique Bristol’s maturity jumped out at Cortlandt Manor’s Mike O’Connor the moment he met the boy to whom he would become a Big Brother.
“I could tell at the very first meeting,’’ O’Connor said “that he was sizing me up.”
Bristol, who lives in Yonkers, was just shy of his 8th birthday when O’Connor met with him and his family. “He was quiet, but he was gregarious at the same time,’’ O’Connor said. “He was beyond his years in his ability to size me up. I found that intriguing and interesting. I saw that he was a kid who could benefit from the experiences I could provide.”
O’Connor has been the Big Brother for Bristol, 10, for more than two years. A sales manager for a building and supply company, O’Connor and his wife, Janine, have two children, Ryan and Chloe, in college. Janine suggested to her husband that he become involved in Big Brothers.
“She previously worked at Family Services of Westchester ,’’ O’Connor said. “They run the Big Brothers Big Sisters programs. She said the best thing I’ve ever done is being with children. I think she also thought I needed something other than work to occupy my time. I knew it was a worthwhile cause.”
After registering and undergoing a background check, O’Connor met Tyrique and his mother and other family members six months later. All parties had to agree to the relationship.
“I think his mother saw that my background was similar to Tyrique’s,’’ O’Connor said. “I was raised by a single Mom and came from a similar environment. She liked that by hard work and doing the right thing, I got myself out. That’s an example for her son, that if you work hard, do the right things and behave, good things will come.”
O’Connor has found, however, that his role as a Big Brother is different from that as a parent. He tries to be a counselor and friend more than an authority figure.
“Ty can be challenging at times,’’ he said. “But the job is not to parent. It’s a fine line to walk. The other thing is you have to respect the values and opinions of the parents and their families. Sometimes they might different than your own.”
O’Connor is required to spend at least eight hours each month with Tyrique, but usually does more. They frequently go hiking on weekends, attend sporting events and hang out at parks near Bristol’s home, just talking.
While there is not a gauge to determine Connor’s impact, he believes his messages are reaching Tyrique. “He’s enthusiastic about things, and I didn’t see that before,’’ O’Connor said. “I try to show enthusiasm for everything we do, and I’m starting see that enthusiasm starting to bubble through. He has a lot of ‘call backs.’ He said to me ‘I told my teacher that I climbed Anthony’s Nose.’ That tells me he’s talking about we do and engaging other people.”
O’Connor also finds the role impacts him. He’s enjoying their time together, and making a difference in a young life.
“The best thing is I don’t have to pay for college,’’ he joked. “That’s a big plus. For me, it’s about making a difference and knowing that hopefully, I change the way he looks at the world. He could very well be a statistic. His mother is doing the best job she can, but it’s not easy. Sometimes despite your best efforts, you kids don’t always turn out the way way you want them to. If I can show them that there’s a bigger world out there, that’s the benefit that I get out of it.”
To learn more about becoming a Big Brother Big Sister, visit the Family Services of Westchester website .