From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

The Silent Breakthrough

The less one seems able to say, the more ways one finds of saying it.

Jeffrey Burke

Having just joined the Charleswood Rotaract Club in Winnipeg, Canada, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. We were there early to greet parents who were dropping off their kids for the afternoon.

The young boys arrived slowly at the Big Brothers Big Sisters office for a special one-day outing. Then suddenly they poured in until we had fifty of them crammed into a small room. These were the Little Brothers not yet matched with Big Brothers, of which there is a constant shortage.

Despite our twenty-something energy and enthusiasm, how were the ten of us Rotaractors ever going to manage these kids at the pool? This thought turned over and over in my head as I watched them pile into the room.

Most of the boys were your typical eight-year-olds. Socks rarely matched; jokes about body functions produced hysterical laughter; and they turned into giggling fools once their parents departed.

Amidst all this mayhem, I noticed one little boy cowering in the corner. Noticeably smaller than the rest, he was not comfortable in this group. He wrapped both his arms around his towel roll and silently stared at the floor. He was even more fearful of this crowd than I was so I made my way toward him.

Just then, the announcement was made to form smaller groups. Since I was halfway there, he automatically fell into my group.

Although the pool was only a couple blocks away, we had to cross a busy street. As the signal changed, I was about to step off the curb when I felt a little hand brush my palm then grasp it. It was the forlorn little boy. He was still staring at the ground and clutching his towel with his other arm.

When we hit the other curb, I expected him to release my hand but he didn’t. He held it the rest of the way to the pool.

The next couple hours were a blur—kids splashing in the pool, whistles blowing, plastic balls flying in all directions. The high-pitched screeches of fifty, sugar-driven, rambunctious boys free of parents and teachers reverberated off the pool walls.

In the middle of all this joyous confusion, I eventually noticed the small boy again. He was still cowering in a corner. This time, a corner of the pool.

As I moved closer, I could see his eyes occasionally lift up from staring at the glaring water to catch a glimpse of a passing ball. When one of the balls landed near me, I threw it toward him. But I purposely threw it short for fear of konking him in the head as he stared at the water.

It startled him. As he reached for it, another boy dove in from the pool’s edge and snatched it away. But it got his attention as he looked for the source of the thrower. He caught my eyes looking back. I gave a little grin, and to my surprise, he returned it with a crooked smile and started wading out of the corner.

I instinctively grabbed another ball and threw it to him. As he caught it and threw it back, his sheepish grin grew into a smile.

Just as I was getting used to the chaos, the whistle blew one last time. In a flash, all the boys ran through the locker with a high sense of urgency: Pizza and sodas waited for them back at the Big Brothers office.

When we organized for our groups to walk back, this time the little boy reached for my hand even before we started walking. He was much different than a few hours earlier.

Although he hadn’t spoken yet, he was bright-eyed, smiling and no longer interested in studying his feet. As we approached the corner where he first took my hand, I was beaming with pride at the day’s accomplishment. By taking just a few moments to share with this little boy by my side, he opened up and had a great time.

He’ll probably cherish this day for months to come, I mused.

A slight tug on the arm broke my cheery visualization. As I looked down at the little boy, I saw he was looking straight into my eyes. He then said the only words I heard from him all day, “Would you be my Big Brother?”

Rod Delisle

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For more information, contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, 3228 S. Service Rd., Suite 113E, Burlington, Ontario L7N 3H8; 800-263-9133; fax: 905-639-0124; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site: For more information on Rotary International, contact One Rotary Center, 1560 Sherman Ave., Evanston, IL 60201; 847-866-3000; fax: 847-328-8554; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site:]

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