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Helpers: A tale of two Brunos

When Bruno Wennerstrom became a Big Brother to an eight-year-old Bruno Lalonde, neither probably figured their friendship would last a lifetime

Bruno Lalonde was eight years old when he was matched with his Big Brother. Their relationship has endured close to 30 years.

He continues to rely on his Big Brother's friendship and mentorship; hallmarks of the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) organization.

His mother sought out BBBS to connect her son with a positive male role model. The energetic boy had become a bit of a class clown.

"My mom wanted me to have a father figure, a brother figure, someone in my life who would influence me," he said.

Their first awkward meeting was made easier for Lalonde because his Big Brother was also named Bruno. Initial awkwardness aside, they clicked.

"He (Lalonde) was not shy. He was very energetic,” Wennerstrom said. "At first, we tried to meet once a week. We would get together on the weekends for a few hours to do something. Go to a movie, bowling, just hang out and do something fun.

"We would go snowmobiling. He would sit in front of me because he was not big enough to sit in the back. He'd fall asleep and his head would hit the kill switch, then we would glide to a stop."

Their relationship persists to this day.

"He (Wennerstrom) was my first and only (Big Brother)," said Lalonde. "We are still very close. We just got back from a family trip to Jamaica."

Wennerstrom said it’s out of the ordinary for a Big Brothers relationship to continue into adulthood, but he explained it wasn’t just the two Brunos who got close.

"It is unusual to continue a lifelong relationship (like ours)," said Wennerstrom. "It depends on how you connect with the mother and the Little Brother. In our case, Bruno's mom, Carol, became good friends with my wife, because my wife was involved in our activities. 

"We have done a lot of things together … they became part of the extended family."

Wennerstrom has three children in their 20s. When they were growing up, Lalonde was their unofficial older brother, coaching them on hockey teams, and later giving them part-time jobs.

Now a father to two small children, Lalonde said his kids think of Wennerstrom as their Uncle Bruno.

"Bruno molded the human being I became. He is a role model," said Lalonde. "I try to be the best person I can be and I instill that into my kids.

"When I acted up (in high school), he set me straight and put me on the right path."

Wennerstrom did not have children when he first became a Big Brother and he credits his experience with Lalonde for helping him learn how to be a good parent.

A retired pharmaceutical representative, Wennerstrom is now vice-president of Greybrooke Private Capital Markets Group, a real estate investment company. He took his Little Brother on occasional sales calls and taught him about business and sales.

Lalonde was a quick learner. He started his own business, NSS Canada, a Sudbury-based company that provides mining and survey equipment solutions. NSS Canada is the developer of MOSS (Miner Operated Survey System), and a Leica Geosystems, Exyn Technologies, and Hexagon Mining authorized reseller.

The two Brunos are not actively involved with BBBS mentoring programs, but they help out when asked with fundraising events and are described as great ambassadors.

BBBS Sudbury is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In addition to one-to-one mentoring, BBBS provides group mentoring programs for teenagers and young new Canadians.

The Friends for the Day program matches a volunteer with a child who is waiting to be matched with a Big Brother or Sister.

BBBS currently has 62 matches, but there is always a need for volunteers, especially men. There are 15 boys in the Sudbury area on the waiting list.

"You have to be 18 to become a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The age range for children starts at six years old and they graduate from the program at 18, unless further support is needed," said Samantha Tolsma, enrolment and activity co-ordinator.

Chantal Gladu-Depatie is the executive director of the agency that operates out of an office on Pine Street. Kevin McCormick, president of Huntington University, is the chair of the BBBS Sudbury board.

Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Canada merged in 2001. Its roots date back to Toronto in the early 1900s and the agency was inspired by a youth mentoring movement that began in the United States in 1904. 

It is estimated BBBS provides friendship and mentoring to as many as 40,000 young people in more than 1,100 communities in Canada.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Helpers is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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