“When you volunteer, it doesn’t only benefit and impact you but your entire world and family. Directly or indirectly, your actions will show them what it means to be a volunteer and the impact it has. Whatever you are learning and however you are benefitting from the experience, they, by association, will, too.” 

Paul Henry’s decision to retire from his position as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto’s Chair came after more than a decade of him being on our Board. “I’m about to conclude my fourth 3-year term. So, it’s been almost twelve years since I was first introduced to BBBST.”

In those twelve years, Paul has been right alongside the agency helping to reset its long-term strategy, navigating the pandemic, and helping set us up for growth and development. As he is preparing to pass the reins to Board member Mark Harrison, Paul sits down with us to share some of his thoughts and reflections on the past years.

“When I was first introduced to BBBST, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity where I could engage with the community. As a father of five, one main criteria that I was very passionate about was working with an organization that supported children and youth. In Big Brothers Big Sisters I found something that wasn’t only children-focused but they were also active in my community, the city that I lived in.

When I look at the people who were on our Board and the commitment of the people who have sat where I am sitting now – we all shared the same intention, which is giving back. I want to help because I believe in the cause, and the same desires and objectives were shared by all our Board members.”

Looking back at the journey the agency, the Board, and you have been on together over the past twelve years, is there perhaps a memory or an achievement that stands out most to you?

“Big Brothers Big Sisters has long had this public perception as an agency that creates these friendships that are nice to have. ‘Isn’t that nice!’ ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a Big?’ But we are so much more than that. We have always been much more than that. The matches we help create are transformative relationships that have great impact on the Littles, as well as the Bigs.

So, one of the challenges we faced was to find a way to better represent the mentoring programs we provide and measure the impact those programs have because there is a real cost to deliver our programs. We need funding even though our Bigs volunteer 100% of their time. We were looking for a scientific, more factual framework that would help change the discussion about what we do. That’s where concepts like ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), the 40 Developmental Assets, and the Developmental Relationships came in. When we started to build those research-based frameworks, it changed the discussion and the awareness of our donors and Government. I would say that that’s what I’m most proud being a part of.”

Twelve years on the Board is quite an accomplishment. You have been there for some of the agency’s biggest celebrations and also some of its biggest challenges. During all of this, what was your motivation? What inspired you to keep going?

“At the Big Night Out gala, every year you get to hear the stories of our Bigs and Littles. Each year, you have a new lineup of Bigs who were presented an award for their volunteer engagement; real people with real stories. Hearing those stories – hearing about the time, effort, and contributions these Bigs invest into their match – that’s really what keeps you going.

When you’re sitting in the audience listening to their journey with their Little, it just comes crashing over you. There are two emotions here. On one hand, you feel awful that these young kids are exposed to things that, quite frankly, are unimaginable in the world I live in. On the flip side of this, there is a feeling of “This child now has a real shot at life.”

I’m always in awe of the commitment of our Bigs. I truly think the real heroes of all this are the Bigs (although the Bigs will probably say the real heroes are their Littles). But the commitment it takes to be a Big, to even take that first step to become a Big is huge. The impact they have had on their Littles, you get to see it first-hand at the gala. So, the time and commitment to be a Board member is all worth it when you know there is real social impact.”

As you’re taking us on a trip down memory lane – what would you say the past twelve years have meant to you? What has the experience of being a Chair and Board member given you?

“I would say it has provided me with a more rounded perspective. The main lane I run in is that of Bay Street and high finance. It’s a pretty charmed life I have. Working so closely with the agency has given me a better understanding of what society looks like beyond my world. It’s been a very sobering and interesting learning experience over the years!

The other factor is my own family. When I get to hear Bigs and Littles tell their stories, my family and children also hear these same stories, being exposed to different perspectives of what it is to be a young person within the City of Toronto – I think it’s been an important gift that they have received through my years at BBBST.”   

As you’re getting ready for the next adventure in your life, is there anything you would like to share? Any last thoughts?

“The perseverance of the agency and the commitment of the people is what has allowed us to come out of the pandemic in a good spot. As I pass the leadership of the Board on to Mark [Harrison], I’m pretty excited about the future and what’s coming next for BBBST. 

I remember one of the first chats I had with Leanne [Nicolle, President & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto]. The vision that she had was so clear and she was so passionate, I knew right away that it was going to be a good journey. I feel great about leaving the Board at this point when it is in such a great spot!

While I am stepping aside from the day-to-day activities of the agency and retiring from the Board, I am not going away. I will remain a member of the BBBST Fundraising Cabinet, which will continue to solicit funding from the Donor community. Our Littles need every bit of support we can find for them!”