"He's fun and awesome because he always helps me with my work and he always helps me find games on the computer," says Jesse.
It's lunch time at Westmount Park Elementary School and Jesse is all smiles as Mukiya teaches him some basketball moves.
'You've got this," Mukiya says, as Jesse shoots for the basket.
Jesse, an energetic, bright-eyed, Grade 3 student at Westmount Park Elementary School, has faced some challenges.
His mother was 15 years old when he was born and Jesse, who lives with his grandparents, does not have a relationship with his father.
Growing up without his own father led Mukiya to volunteer for the in-school mentoring program at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Montreal.
Mukiya was just 7 years old when his father died.
"I always knew how it felt to not have that male presence...It motivated me to say, for sure as a father, I know I'm going to be there for my son. That's the first thing. But if there [are] other ways I can give back to people [who've] experienced the same thing as me, I'm going to find a way to do so as well and Big Brothers is a perfect way," Mukiya said.
Mukiya's interest and investment in Jesse is clear, even as they appear to simply be dribbling a ball.
"Were you good today in class?" he asks.
"Mmmm hmm," Jesse replies.
"Very good? Miss Christine was happy?" Mukiya presses.
"Yeah. Except for when I got mad at my whole class," Jesse admits.
"What happened? What happened?" Mukiya wants to know.
That commitment to Jesse is having an impact.
His homeroom teacher says after spending lunch hour with Mukiya each Thursday, Jesse returns to class more focused in the afternoon.
Jesse's family, which includes 11 aunts and uncles and 25 cousins, notices a change too.
"A lot of good progress...his reading improved very much," said Antoinette Croxen, Jesse's grandmother.
Mukiya says he wants Jesse to see that education can lead to opportunities. He encourages Jesse to stay positive even through disappointment.
Recently Jesse was upset when he did not win an award at school.
"I said to him everyone has right to feel how they want to feel but from now on don't let it frustrate [you], don't let it hold you back. Use it for motivation and try to use it to fuel you to do even better next month and then if you want that award, it'll come. But just keep going," Mukiya said.
Long wait lists
Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations in the Montreal area say many kids are just waiting to be matched with mentors like Mukiya — but there is a lack of volunteers.
"We are looking to match the 33 boys that are waiting for a Big Brother. To make great matches, we need male volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. We need both Francophone and Anglophone, and from Verdun to Rigaud," said Francesca Corso, executive director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Montreal there are more than 100 kids — most of them boys — waiting to be matched with a mentor, says Crystal Alexander, coordinator of its in-school mentoring program.
While 26 percent of kids in the agency identify as black, only 8 percent of our volunteers identify as black, Alexander said.
"I just really want people to get involved, especially men, especially the black community, especially [people] from other cultural backgrounds. [We want them] to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters because we have kids from all types of backgrounds," she said.
Already, Jesse says he wants to be a Big Brother when he grows up. He says he'll teach a little brother to build forts, play basketball and baseball, and "do good art."
Mukiya seems caught off guard when he hears Jesse wants to be just like him — but flashes a huge smile.
"That's cool... I can't explain how exactly how that makes me think but I'm happy to hear that he would want to be a Big Brother too," Mukiya said.Suggest a correction