Christian Detzel wanted to give back to a good cause. The 53-year old Burlington resident reached a stage in his life where he felt settled; he was married and had a couple of young children. The passing of his mother soon after the birth of his first child inspired him to give back to children who may not have the support of the incredible parents he had throughout his life.
Therefore, in February of 2008, Detzel joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts, the largest affiliate in New England. The organization matched him with Austin Cormier, a seven-year old boy from Waltham. 13 years later, Cormier is in college but still remains close to his Big Brother.
Detzel’s strong bond with his Little Brother resulted in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts naming him their Big Brother of the Year. He is one of more than 3,000 volunteers, referred to as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, for the nonprofit who are committed to developing caring and life-altering one-to-one mentoring relationships with children.
While Detzel, originally from Germany, didn’t have any specific mentors growing up - he has two older brothers, though - he did spend time with his so-called grandparents who were actually older friends of his mother’s whom he said were there for him as a youngster.
This means he didn’t have a lot of experience to draw from, other than raising his own children. Of course, as a Big Brother, he’s not necessarily raising another child; rather, he spends time with his Little Brother on the weekends by taking him to ball games and museums, among other activities.
Cormier, his only Little Brother, was shy at first and took some time to warm up to Detzel. He said it took a little while before Cormier would come with his new Big Brother. However, Cormier quickly realized the two were having a good time “and the shyness went away,” said Detzel.
Cormier’s mother, Jeanette, enrolled her son in the program to help broaden his horizon’s and self-regulate his emotions as the sometimes non-verbal youth learned to express himself and manage his attention deficit disorder.
“At first I didn’t know if I could trust someone new,” said Cormier of his mentor. “Through this experience, I’ve learned that trusting someone is key. It took us nearly two years to get to know each other. As soon as that trust was built, I knew he was a good person. Our friendship has developed ever since.”
It’s mostly just the two of them. The Burlington resident said Cormier’s mother helps with scheduling and getting her son ready. Detzel called her “very reliable,” which is a necessity as he noted scheduling can be a challenge.
“Austin is always learning something from Christian,” said Jeanette, who credits the program with helping her son to become more verbal. “If he needs homework help, he will reach out to Christian. Last night, we all cooked Chinese food together (virtually) and it was so good! Austin is learning new skills and is always excited to connect with his Big Brother.”
Although he appreciates Cormier’s mother, Detzel said his main focus remains on the relationship between Cormier and himself. In the child’s younger years, the two spent many weekends outdoors cycling or playing basketball and tennis.
“Austin changed a lot, and I’m extremely proud to see him in college,” Detzel remarked about his little brother’s growth from age seven to 21, adding he hopes to had a little something to do with Cormier’s decision to go to college.
A constant support, Detzel helped Cormier to navigate tough transitions into a residential program as a teen, getting into and starting college at UMass Dartmouth and moving back home to take virtual classes during the pandemic. 13 years later, Detzel continues to serve as a mentor for Cormier, now 21, as they maintain their relationship Facetiming, cooking together virtually and more.
Detzel noted the “huge” development Cormier experienced, transitioning from a shy seven-year old to a college student.
“It’s beyond what I would have originally thought,” Detzel expressed.
Because Cormier was a minor for most of their relationship, and then the coronavirus pandemic hit these last two years, the two were never able to travel together. However, with Cormier’s father currently living in Mexico, Detzel said Cormier suggested the two travel to Mexico for a visit. Detzel said he would do it if it works out.
As their relationship grew, Detzel introduced Cormier to his own family. The Burlington resident said his family got to know Cormier a little; he also said he would take Cormier to his children’s sporting events and vice-versa. Detzel’s children are one year younger than Cormier.
For a while, then, Detzel raised two young children (with his wife) and mentored a third. He called it a crazy time, noting how mentoring Cormier could almost feel like raising a third child. Although he loved it, he said he doesn’t have any plans to mentor another child.
“I’m at a different stage in my life,” he said when asked about the possibility of mentoring someone else.
Detzel did note he planned on staying friends with Cormier.
“Throughout life’s many ups and downs, Austin has taught me to appreciate the little things, to think positively and to always care for others,” said Detzel, who like many Bigs reports getting as much or more from their mentoring experience as the children with whom they serve. “I am proud to have him as a Little. It has given me lots of joy and happiness to see him grow and thrive over the years.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts works to inspire, engage and transform local communities by helping youth achieve their full potential through professionally supported long-term one-to-one matches. The nonprofit coaches Bigs, Littles, and guardians to support the development of the six C’s – Curiosity, Character, Connection, Caring, Competency and Confidence. Progress is measured throughout the match and targeted support is provided to solidify growth.
Detzel advises anyone interested to “try it out.” He admitted he never expected to remain in a mentorship/friendship for 13 years.
“Try it and see if it works,” he suggested, noting how fortunate he was to be matched with Cormier.
He added having children of his own helped, especially when it came to relating to a young child. He could draw on his own children’s likes and dislikes to see what types of activities Cormier might enjoy.
With research and proven outcomes at its core, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts creates matches based on shared interests, geography and personality and serves as a consistent resource for Bigs, Littles and their families. The organization welcomes Bigs and Littles of all races, ethnicities, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and physical abilities and serves as a bridge between communities and community partners, helping to address larger social issues, such as race and education gaps.
“Christian and Austin’s 13-year friendship is a testament to the incredible work of our volunteers and staff members who keep kids learning, engaged and having fun,” said Mark O’Donnell, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts. “While every match has their own unique challenges, Austin and Christian are the definition of a match navigating change while maintaining their connection. Christian remains Austin’s champion, while also helping our agency to grow our volunteer base through his employer. He truly supports and lives our mission. “
Currently, community-based matches are meeting in-person and socially distant only when the Big, Little, and guardian are all comfortable, following state and CDC guidelines. All site-based and campus-based mentoring programs remain online. Since March 2020, more than 600 new matches have been made virtually.
In its 70th year, the organization has created and served more than 20,000 matches. The nonprofit is now enrolling and matching Littles and Bigs. For more information, to register your children or to become a volunteer, visit: www.emassbigs.org.
About Big Brother Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts is an innovative, energetic organization that is making a real difference in the lives of nearly 4,000 youth annually by providing them with an invested, caring adult mentor in long-term, professionally supported relationships.
With research and proven outcomes at its core, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts is working to defend the potential of children facing adversity and ensure every child has the support from caring adults that they need for healthy development and success in life.
The organization’s vision is to inspire, engage and transform communities in Eastern Massachusetts by helping youth achieve their full potential, contributing to healthier families, better schools, more confident futures and stronger communities. Throughout its 70 years, the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate in New England has created and served more than 20,000 matches.
For more information about the agency and its mission, visit www.emassbigs.org.