Article by Jason Setnyk, Submitted Photos
Cornwall Ontario — Matthew Atchison was the local youth that attended the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada’s Social Innovators Youth Summit 2013. Atchison who was a little brother that graduated the program, is now 19 years old, and attending college.
Atchison and others in attendance had the unique opportunity to meet many famous people over the course of five days.
There were many celebrities that participated in the gala celebrations including Olympic Gold Medallist Donovan Bailey, Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler, Boston Bruins hockey star Bobby Orr, and Governor General of Canada David Lloyd Johnston just to name a few.
Matthew Atchison was only one of a hundred people chosen to attend the organizations 100th anniversary celebrations in Ottawa.
“He knows exactly what it means to give back and was the perfect choice to have at this very special celebration”, says Amanda Brisson who is Executive Director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cornwall and District.
This news worthy event was covered by CTV and the Wall Street Journal, and the Seeker is pleased to have a chance to cover this story from a local angle and to interview Matthew Atchison.
Jason Setnyk Interviews Matthew Atchison who attended the BBBS 2013 Youth Summit
1 – Tell us a bit about having a Big Brother growing up, and what impact did that relationship have on your life?
Overall, I think the greatest thing that my Big Brother taught me as I was growing up was that I was my own individual with my own personality, talents and potential.
I grew up as the second youngest in a large family of 6 kids that were being raised alone by our amazing mother. Such a busy house made it hard for me, a very quiet and reserved child, to really find a voice and feel as though I fit in such a big group of people that I quite naturally knew I was very different from. I didn’t know how to define or place myself, as everything I tried to identify with that my siblings did never really “resonated” with me. I’m sure this continued into my time with my Big Brother.
Looking back, I know that he gave me the attention and time to express myself that I needed to finally realize that it was OK that I wasn’t exactly like my siblings: I was my own person with my own interests and opinions, and even though my voice wasn’t heard in the same way as the others in my home, I still had my own voice that deserved to be heard. From that realization came a deep sense of peace that continues to grow to this day that reminds me that I am who I am, and no one but I can decide who I will become. This peace continues to rid me of fears and insecurities that hold me back from being open to the things that have helped me grow, especially all the opportunities that Big Brothers & Big Sisters has offered me.
2 – What was your reaction to being one of a hundred youth chosen to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada?
My reaction was immediate gratitude and amazement. Big Brothers & Big Sisters had already gotten me mentors and had chosen me to go to the Tim Horton Children’s Leadership camps for six years for the Youth Leadership Program. I was yet again amazed at the influence this organization had on my life with all the unique and extraordinary opportunities that they have given to me, so I was certainly appreciative for them considering me. However this event was something I’ve never heard of before, and I was concerned over the fact that it would interfere with my college schedule, so I was quite reluctant and skeptical as to my ability to participate in the event. However I was fortunate enough to have college professors who were extremely supportive and agreed that it was too great an opportunity to pass up.
I also found out that this event was being facilitated by the Me to We organization and sponsored by many great companies, such as WestJet and MasterCard. I had seen Me to We’s “WE Day” event once before and absolutely loved the simple concept that they adopted for their organization, as found on their website: “a movement of people coming together for the greater good”. I knew right away that this was no small event, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get together with other youth and an organization that shared a passion alongside my own for addressing the social issues our many societies face.
3 – Tell us about the experience, meeting other Little’s, and having celebrities in attendance too.
This experience was amazing and completely irreplaceable. I arrived at the Holiday Inn in Ottawa we were all staying at on Sunday the 14th, we had full days from Monday to Wednesday, and everyone left on Thursday morning. In that time we had 2 main meeting areas within the hotel: the large dining room for all 100 of us and staff, and smaller meeting rooms where we broke off into smaller groups.
The larger dining room was where we ate the meals and gathered to hear from various guest speakers such as Tania Archer (Canadian athlete), Donovan Bailey (Canadian Olympic gold medalist), Richard Bartrem (vice president of WestJet), etc. Their speeches surrounded the theme of the summit: how to become a leader of change in our communities. Their stories and advice for success helped set the tone for the week, as one of high energy with wise ways to turn our aspirations and ambitions into reality.
The smaller rooms were where most of the time was spent. My group consisted of 27 other youth and 2 facilitators from the Me to We team. We would do various activities to increase our level of comfort with each other, and many activities on increasing our understanding on what it means to be a leader, the different styles of leadership, and we also had activities focused on increasing our awareness of the social issues that we are passionate about changing. The time spent in that group was extremely unique and energizing. We were all there for our own reasons but we all had the same common passion for social change and improvement of the collective human experience. Coming together in such a small group made the 5 days that much more personal, where stories could be shared and knowledge could be gained from each other in what we explicitly called our “Safe Space”. Every person’s voice was heard in that genuinely supportive and empathetic group, where ideas were born and plans were set in motion.
Despite this amount of time spent in the hotel, we also went to Parliament for a tour and for Question Period, to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum for a private performance by famous pop stars Kardinal Offishall and Karl Wolf, and to the Governor General David Johnston’s home for a tour and an opportunity to have him speak with our group.
However, I believe the highlight of my time was the other astounding members of my group. I was in aw over the fact that so many caring, selfless and inspired individuals had gone through such painful personal struggles in their lives and yet remained unshaken in their passionate mission of making the world a better place for others. “They stared at their darkest breaking point and turned it into a starting line”. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this said before, but it was certainly going through my mind for much of the time at the summit. I would hear the stories from the other youth and be inspired by their courage, self-determination and resilience to the difficulties they’ve faced, all while focusing their dreams on improving the lives of others.
With all the energy from the participants and facilitators, all the motivation from the guest speakers, and all the inspiration from my group peers, my week was inarticulately awesome. I made great friends, created connections, and learned that I, like every other person, am in possession of more potential for change than I can yet understand.
Thank you Matthew for this interview and sharing your amazing experiences and insights!