2017-05-01 / Front Page

Making a genuine connection

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York County men earn 'Big Brother, Little Brother of Year' at event
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Two York County men have been heralded as Big and Little Brother of the Year by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine.

At the organization’s annual “Bids for Kids” auction and award ceremony at the Holiday Inn By The Bay in Portland on Friday, Leo Menard of Biddeford and J.P. Guillerault of Saco, were lauded as the match of the year for their outstanding spirit and advancement of the organization’s mission.

“I feel like it’s pretty cool” to be awarded, Guillerault, 16, said Friday.  “At first I was really confused, like, ‘Should I be excited? Yes?’"

The event was the largest fundraiser of the year for the organization, which serves hundreds of children facing personal hardships in some way, said Executive Director David Perron.

“What a lot of people in the greater Portland area and in southern Maine love is just how simple our mission is,” Perron said. “You take that one kid who needs a little extra something; they’re facing adversity for some reason and you match them with a caring adult and what comes out of that relationship is nothing short of spectacular.”

For Menard, 61, who serves as coordinator of Toys for Tots of Northern York County and who is a former Saco Bay Rotarian, being awarded Big Brother of the Year was a pleasant surprise, but he doesn’t participate in the program for the recognition.

He genuinely enjoys spending time with Guillerault.

“We have a unique circumstance here where J.P. is a lot more technical, and I do handyman work, so he comes to work with me sometimes,” Menard said. “He’s worked with me, he’s volunteered with me.”

Menard has taken Guillerault on home estimate jobs, to Sunday River Ski Resort to learn how artificial snow is made and on volunteer trips. With Menard Guillerault has learned math, life and problem-solving skills.

Menard said, according to Guillerault’s mother, his work is making a difference in the high school sophomore’s life.

“His mother claims his attitude is better, he’s easier to get along with and his grades have been improving. So that’s what she sees,” Menard said.

Guillerault agreed.

“My grades have improved and also just the skills he’s taught me have taught me how to deal with life better.”

Guillerault’s grandmother, Betsy St. Cyr, said in an email that through his participation in Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Guillerault has extended himself into his community.

Since spending time with Menard for the past two — going on three — years, he’s volunteered as a peer supporter for Thornton Academy’s United Basketball, a program that allows kids with disabilities to play a game they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to play.

Guillerault has also volunteered his time as a counselor at Camp Oceanwood in Ocean Park.

“This program is wonderful and should be expanded to serve more kids,” St. Cyr said. “The experience he has had with his ‘Big Brother’ was so valuable ...  I feel that community loyalty, and positive peer support would be incredibly enhanced with more Big Brothers and Sisters.”

Guillerault is just one of the 600 children who benefit from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine each year — and, Perron said, the need for mentors isn’t going away anytime soon.

“Our goal is to be available for any kid that needs or wants a Big and the need, unfortunately isn’t going away. In fact, it’s growing,” he said.

“We’re super reliant on events like this,” Perron added of the fundraiser, which in addition to raising money for the organization also sought to match “Littles” with potential “Bigs.”

“Any type of opportunity we have to tell our story a little bit is super advantageous to us.”

Perron said the decision to choose Menard and Guillerault didn’t come without a fight, but their relationship shined just brighter than the rest.

“Leo and J.P. are just a great match,” he said. “We really just look for matches that have just made that really strong connection. You can tell that’s a relationship that’s going to be in place for a very long time.”

And, although Guillerault can only participate as a Little for about another year, that connection has made all the difference to him and his Big.

“He’s growing up,” Menard said.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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