Steven DeCouto and Claudelle Richardson were respectively named Big Brother and Big Sister of the year by the Bermuda charity. Their “Littles”, Benjamin Edwards and Kristine Sousa, had nominated them for the honour. Each wrote a heartfelt letter detailing why their “Big” should be picked.

Many people say they would volunteer if they had more time; if they were retired they would do something in their community. Both of this year’s “Bigs” have careers. When The Royal Gazettespoke with Claudelle Richardson, the officer manager for the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, she juggled two BlackBerrys while she spoke with us. Mr DeCouto owns Cycle Care. They prove that even busy people, can make a difference.

Big Brother of the Year

Letter from Little Brother Benjamin Edwards, 9.

Steven is without doubt the very best big brother ever. Everybody says that about their Big Brother, but mine is really the best. When I was asked to write something about Stephen, mummy and grammy sat down with me and asked me to tell them why I think he is the best. This is what I told them.

He is the best big brother because we do so much stuff together. We have been fishing and tank diving, jet skiing and cycling. We go to the beach and the park. I have been to parades with him and [the] 24th of May race.

But more than all of the stuff that we do together, he spends time with me. My big brother has the coolest motorcycle shop and is a very, very busy man. But he always makes time for me. He calls me and texts me. When we are together he concentrates on just me. When he goes away he always makes sure that we spend time together before he goes and right after he gets back. And no matter where he goes he always remembers to bring me back something. I am very lucky that way.

So now you know why I think that Steven is the best big brother in the world. He is kind, always on time, always remembers me, is thoughtful and caring. I am very, very lucky.

Big Brother of the Year – Steven DeCouto.

When Big Brother of the Year Steven DeCouto joined the Big Brothers programme three years ago, he thought he was doing it to give back to the community. Never did he expect that his Little would be giving him something big in return.

“Being a Big has taught me to be a child again and have fun doing everything,” he said. “When I got in it I thought it was going to be what I am going to give back. I didn’t realise how much fun I would have and how much he would teach me.”

Mr DeCouto joined the programme because he wanted to be a mentor, and he was concerned about the issues that a lot of young men on the Island were facing.

“I don’t have any children myself so I thought this would be a great avenue,” he said. “I was a bit nervous about taking on a Little to start with, because I did not know what to expect. I didn’t know how it was going to go. I don’t hang around children.”

His Little, who was almost seven years old at the time, was shy when they first met, but warmed up after a few minutes and wanted to touch Mr Decouto’s shaved head.

“He is not a shy kid, normally,” said Mr Decouto. “He will start a conversation with anybody. He is very open-minded.”

He encouraged other men considering becoming a mentor to go ahead and do it. There is currently a waiting list of Little Brothers waiting to be matched.

“I didn’t know that it only requires a minimal of three hours a week,” he said. “Before I started, I thought I had to be a parent. It took a while to realise that it is not part of it. You are just a friend. You are not there to tell the kid what to do. I thought I was supposed to be a father figure, but it was just a friend. We are just friends and I am there to talk with him, and spend time with him. At this age, it is mainly just having fun. I find I teach him a lot of lessons just in the things we do, rather than things I say.”

It made him more conscious about his own behaviour and language, he said. “I have to be aware of that stuff.”

The two share a passion for motorcycles.

“He loves motorcycles and anything fast,” said Mr DeCouto. “He will eventually come and help me in the shop, but he is a bit young now. He got a bicycle and he needed the brakes adjusted so we brought it into the store and worked on it. I have shown him little pieces in the shop. He wants to come and help. We do everything from jet skiing to bike riding to bicycle riding to motorcycle riding. He goes on the back of my bike; we go fishing.

Mr DeCouto was surprised to win Big of the Year, because he thought the award was given to longer serving Bigs. His Little almost gave the surprise away at the lunch.

“At the beginning the director, Esme Williams, told the Littles in the audience not to give away the secret of which Big had won. So my Little shouted: “Okay, I won’t”. I wondered what that was all about. Ms Williams started reading the winning essay. I didn’t realise it was his until they got to specifics and he wrote ‘my Big has a bike shop’. I would definitely recommend this programme to other people.”

Big Sister of the Year

Letter from Little Sister Kristine Sousa, 14.

I would like my big sister to win the big of the year because I love my sister so much. I think of her as a good role model and a nice person to be around and I love her with all my heart. She makes me laugh. She makes my day. She brings me joy, she makes me smile, she fits that empty space in my heart. I think of her as a blood sister. She is my heart. I hope she stays in my life forever! I care about her a lot. I think about her a lot as well. Miss [Ms Richardson] and I spend a lot of time together. I hang out with her every week and nobody hangs out with their big or little like we hang out. She is the most wonderfullest person I know; even if that ain’t a word. Nobody can tell me they love me like she does. If I am having a bad day she will fix that problem, because everytime I see her beautiful face it makes my day. I have a big smile on my face. Miss and I have been through so much. She sacrifices everything.

My sister and I have ice-cream together on Fridays most of the time. Every Friday, Miss and I go to a youth group and it is fun. During the week I go to Miss’ job and we go places after we leave her job, like go out to dinner, sit off and talk, walk around town, go watch movies, go ferry on rides. I enjoy everything we do together and I would like to thank the Big Brothers and Big Sisters programme for putting my sister in my life. I appreciate all the outings you take me on. I have fun on all the outings and I would like you to make my sister the Big of the Year because I really care about her and I love her dearly. My sister is a very outgoing person. She understand me. She has been there for me through thick and thin. Even when I was rude she stuck by me and never left my side. So please pick her!

I wish there was more people like my Sister so many people like the young kids can learn so much from her. She is a very very big part of my life and I am proud to say she is my Sister and I love her dearly.

Big Sister of the Year

Claudelle Richardson

“I became a Big Sister because I really value our youth and I think they have a lot to offer,” said Ms Richardson. “I also believe that it takes a village to raise a child. I know when I was growing up we had that village and it was really strong. I see a lack of that village now, very much. I wanted to be more actively a part of someone’s village. I have a lot of young people in my life. They call me and talk. They show up at my house. I saw Big Brothers and Big Sisters who are really seeking someone to have attached to them.”

Ms Richardson is the office manager at the Bermuda Sloop Foundation. She is also a single mother of two children one 26 years old and one nine. She also mentors three girls in the YouthNet programme.

“Being a part of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, I come into contact with a lot of our young people as well,” she said. “You find that you just naturally mentor them, if mentoring is natural to you. From that I could see that children do benefit from having a mentor or positive role model in their lives.”

She said her initial meeting with Kristine, who was 11 at the time, was a challenge.

“I thought, ‘what have I got myself into?’ She was not very receptive of me at all. She was very standoffish. Everything irritated her. Bermuda was boring. She had a lot of negative language.”

But the two stuck together and became very close.

“As time went on it was unbelievable the change in her,” said Ms Richardson. “I think she probably expected I would give up and leave, but I told her, I am here. I made this commitment and this is what I am going to stand by. I have always told her once we get a better understanding of each other it is a two-way. You nurture and I nurture.”

They meet most Fridays and have done everything from ferry boat rides, movies, ice cream to special workshops with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. They even go along to each other’s family events.

“People always ask me how I balance it all,” she said, “especially since I am a single mother. I manage. My YouthNet work is on Wednesdays at lunchtime. I often spend time on Fridays with her when my son, who is nine, goes to a youth group. My son also has a Big Brother. That’s how much I believe in the programme. Sometimes we all do things together, although I’m careful to make sure that everyone understands that I am with Kristine and my son is with his Big. I really think sometimes kids want to be heard, even mine. That’s why I enrolled my son in the programme. He has a wonderful Big Brother.”

 – Article by The Royal Gazette