Big Brothers Big Sisters offers many mentor programs

By Chris Abbott, Postmedia Network

Lloyd and Lynda Plummer (left)  with Tyson and Lana MacDonald. The Pummmers have been matched with Tyson, now 20, since he was six. (CHRIS ABBOTT/TILLSONBURG NEWS)

Lloyd and Lynda Plummer (left) with Tyson and Lana MacDonald. The Pummmers have been matched with Tyson, now 20, since he was six. (CHRIS ABBOTT/TILLSONBURG NEWS)

Lloyd and Lynda Plummer are more than just 'Bigs', they are Couple Mentors.

That's Big Brothers Big Sisters terminology for Couple Matches.

The Plummers, now 65 and 63 years old, have been Couple Mentors for the past 19 years, and during that span they've been matched three times. Their current 'Little' - Tyson MacDonald - is not so little any more.

"Tyson has been our Little Brother for 13 or 14 years," said Lynda. "He was 6 going on 7."

When the Plummers moved to Ingersoll they had one daughter married, one in her teens.

"We were thinking it would be nice to be able to stay connected with kids - we really love kids - and this was something Lloyd had done at one time. He was a Big Brother, but it seemed to take away from the family time."

Coincidentally, they both started thinking about trying a couples match.

"I had seen it in the paper and I found out he had just picked up a pamphlet on it. So it was kind of neat, we were both thinking the same way."

"It was suggested to me that this was an awesome couple that was interested in spending time with Tyson," said Tyson's mother, Lana, recalling her first introduction to Big Brothers Big Sisters. "I thought, 'that would be awesome for Tyson to experience that.' A couple - a husband and wife - in a loving relationship, seeing how a two-parent family works versus a single parent family. Just seeing how their dynamics worked. Different perspectives on everything, really. It was a chance for Tyson to share his struggles and thoughts with somebody other than me or grandparents - another adult."

The MacDonalds lived in Ingersoll when the match started, later moving to Tillsonburg, but they were able to continue within the Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Area Big Brothers agency.

Tyson remembers the first couple of years as "basically just having fun, being a kid, playing lots of board games, doing different crafts, making cardboard villages. Just being a kid, really.

"Lynda and Lloyd are always another set of ears to talk to - they're extended family."

"He just turned 20," Lynda noted. "He would have aged out of the program, but because he has a scholarship through Big Brothers, so they kept him on."

When Tyson was younger, they met once a week, but not as frequent today.

"He's a swimmer, so we work around his swim schedule. Sometimes we might miss a week and just talk on the phone. Now that he's older, it's more that we connect by phone, or every few weeks we might try to get together. Just to visit, find out how school's going, his summer jobs..."

"We also connect on Facebook," said Lloyd.

"It's more about grown-up stuff now," Lynda laughed. "It's not about going to fly a kite."

"I was always happy as a match," said Tyson, although he admitted it was sometimes a challenge connecting as he got older, swimming nine times a week and competing on weekends.

As he got older, however, social media became an option. They talked more on the phone. And the Plummers occasionally travelled to swim meets.

"It was just kind of changing the parameters of it," said Tyson, who would say 'this is where my swim meet is, if you'd like to come I'd love to have you watch.' "It was one of those things... it didn't have to be at their house. Let's do it in an environment that I'm in all the time."

These days Tyson said conversations are more about how he's doing at school, his courses, his personal experiences - both at school and in the pool.

"And we talk politics," said Lynda, noting Tyson is a political science major.

"It's a different perspective," Tyson nodded.

"It's been a good match," said Lloyd. "We felt very comfortable with Tyson and his mom (Lana). It was just like family."

When Tyson, now in his second year at Laurier, finishes university the Big Brothers Big Sisters match will officially end. But the Plummers both expect they will stay in touch unofficially.

"We'll just carry on," said Lynda.

"When it's all said and done, I think it will continue on," Tyson agreed. "We probably won't see each other as frequently, depending where we are in life, but I'm sure for things like holidays and birthdays, I'll pop by for a few hours. And just keeping up, talking on the phone or Facebook."

"It's been a rewarding relationship," said Lloyd.

"I think Big Brothers and Big Sisters get as much out of the match as the kids do," Lynda nodded. "They get to be a kid again, just watch a child grow, help shape the direction they're going in a lot of cases."

One of the advantages of being in a Couples Match, said MacDonald, was having two people to connect with.

"Two's always better than one, the way I look at it," he laughed. "Also, just watching how their family has grown. I've watched their grandkids (five grandsons) since... they were born. So just watching that, and how their family developed... I think it's always good to be involved in that."