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Big Brothers Big Sisters NZ celebrates 25 years

Thank you to BBBS National Office for sharing snippets of the history of BBBS in Āotearoa... but to truly set the scene, it is only right to first introduce you to United States Army Lieutenant Colonel - Ernest Kent Coulter.

In 1904 while serving as a clerk in New York Children's Court he delivered a revolutionary speech before The Men’s Club of the Central Presbyterian Church of New York.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the American media was exposing the harsh conditions many children were exposed to, particularly in large cities. Issues confronting youth and children - poverty, inadequate schools, delinquency, crime and especially absent parents - convincing people that change was needed.

An excerpt of Coulter's speech resonated deeply:

“There is only one possible way to serve that youngster (who is in trouble) and that is to have some earnest, true man volunteer to be his big brother, to look after him, help him do right; make the little chap feel that there is at least one human being in this great city who takes a personal interest in him, who cares whether he live or dies. I call for a volunteer." -- Ernest Kent Coulter

Coulter’s inspirational speech changed the lives of children everywhere. That evening, forty members of the club volunteered to become a big brother to a youth who needed help to overcome a stressful situation. With this pledge, the Big Brother movement began and from this group of volunteers, the national organisation of the Big Brothers of America was created to provide mentoring to young people in need. In 1904, Coulter’s new movement used "big brothers" to reach out to children who were in need of socialisation, firm guidance, and connection with positive adult role models.

Trevor Gaskell - A Lasting Legacy (Founder of BBBS of New Zealand)

Some conversations really do start something: something that lasts, something big. Sometimes there’s a moment when a seed of an idea is planted, and it germinates, takes root and grows.

When young police officer Trevor Gaskell was out on a routine patrol in Toronto, he had no idea that a conversation he would have that night was to be one of those moments - a catalyst for something far greater.

It was the late 60’s, and Trevor was doing a 3 ½ year stint with the 52nd division of the Metro Toronto Police Department.

This particular evening while on duty with his partner, an officer by the name of Dave Boothby, the usual banter and jokes between the two were not forthcoming. Dave was unusually quiet and seemed distracted. In typical style, Trevor asked Dave what was up.

Dave explained that there had been a house fire at the home of his Little Brother from the Big Brothers Big Sisters programme and that he was so worried about the boy because he’d heard that he’d been burnt. Over the course of the evening, as Trevor and Dave worked the patrol, Dave talked about his mentoring role with Big Brothers and Trevor learned a great deal about the Big Brother -Little Brother relationship as well as the programme itself.

Trevor was impressed by the impact the programme had on one of his police colleagues as well as the potential that relationships like this could have to influence other young lives.

Not long after that patrol together, Trevor and Dave’s career pathways took them in different directions and they lost contact with each other.

Dave Boothby continued through the ranks eventually becoming the Police Chief of Toronto Metro Police, and Trevor Gaskell moved back to his home country of New Zealand and climbed the ranks to become Sergeant.

Trevor never forgot the conversation that night and he held on to a dream that one day he would see the Big Brothers Big Sisters programme established in his country too.

Over the years, now permanently based in New Zealand with the police, Trevor made several attempts to drum up interest in the programme but somehow the time just wasn’t right, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters materials Trevor had collected began to gather dust. Seriously.

In 1996, Trevor quite literally blew the dust off the documents one day and briefed the youth aid officer in his section, Ross Lienert, about the programme with the hope that Ross would also catch the vision and see its potential.

It was then; finally, that a number of things started to fall into place and after nearly two decades since Trevor had originally become so inspired about the programme, a series of events brought it all together.

Trevor’s briefing with Ross was timely as Ross was invited to a meeting called by the Rotary Club of Nelson who were working on an initiative to help children in the area.

Ross, with fresh knowledge about the world’s oldest mentoring programme, was able to inform the Rotary team about the vision Trevor had to bring it to New Zealand. The idea resonated with everyone who heard about it and the project quickly gathered momentum.

Working together, Rotary and the Police went about setting up the organisation and community leaders were recruited, mainly through Trevor’s connections. Trevor became a Trustee for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nelson Trust, and, after brokering recently announced, government crime prevention funding for the programme,

Trevor’s job was then to lead the hiring of Big Brothers Big Sisters first NZ Coordinator.

It was then; finally, that a number of things started to fall into place and after nearly two decades since Trevor had originally become so inspired about the programme, a series of events brought it all together.

Ross Lienert signing the first BBBSNZ agreement - 1996
Ross Lienert signing the first BBBSNZ agreement - 1996


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