Jeff Scull and Justin Brooks-Cadieux greet each other with a special handshake that, to an outsider, looks as if it took considerable practice to perfect. They laugh and banter easily and put off a general air of comfort and affection — a true bond of brotherhood. But Scull and Brooks-Cadieux aren’t actually related. They’ve been matched through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of North and West Niagara mentorship program and have spent the past seven years bonding and supporting one another.

“I look up to him … I feel like I can really talk to him about anything,” said Brooks-Cadieux. “He’s like a real brother for me.” Rayanne Brooks said she agreed to sign her son up for a big brother when he was nine years old, because she wanted a positive male influence in his life.

At that time, he was unable to see his father. “Jeff has always been so supportive of us and really just there for Justin,” said Brooks. “He’s seen a lot with us — probably some he didn’t sign up for, but he still stuck with us. He’s part of our family.” Knowing her son has a consistent role model and consistent friend to hang out with, bounce ideas off of or just talk to has made her feel safer, she said, and she believes has helped to reassure Justin that he has value.

The most rewarding aspect of all is just seeing her son happy, she said. The Grade 11 Beamsville District Secondary student said he only had to wait six months to be matched with Scull. The first day they met, he recalled running up to his new brother and hugging him right away. Their friendship developed pretty quickly from that moment, he said. “I felt not so much alone as before.”

The positive impact has been so great, he said, that he plans to be a big brother too when he grows up. For Scull, who has always been close with his parents and his sister, seeing the impact that his friendship has made on his little brother’s life has been incredible. “It’s been a life changing experience just to see him grow up, to see how much he appreciates it, knowing the impact I’m having on his life.” The St. Catharines man was introduced to the program by a friend who was a big sister. She invited him to the annual Bowl for Kids Sake and told him all about the positive impacts of the program. A co-owner and head coach at Edge Triathlon, a Niagara coaching and consulting business, Scull said being a big brother sounded like a fun and interesting new challenge.

After meeting and quickly bonding with Brooks-Cadieux, he said he knew that he made the right choice. The brothers have spent the past seven years going to Clifton Hill, playing billiards, going to the skate park, going hiking and one of their favourite activities: go-karting. In that time, Scull said it’s gotten much harder to beat his little brother in a race. Conversations have grown deeper over the years, as well. “He’ll call me sometimes if he’s dealing with something, and we can just talk like real brothers would,” said Scull. “He’s a very, very wise kid for his age.” At 16 years old, Brooks-Cadieux is two years from aging out of the Big Brothers program, but neither he nor Scull are bothered by this. “Nothing will change for us. We’ll still get together. We’ll still be brothers … I see it as a lifelong thing,” said Scull.