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‘I hope this relationship can last and never end’

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Big success! The winners and participants of the Big Brother Big Sisters of Bermuda awards. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Kindness, commitment and reliability are among the attributes that earned two youth mentors the top prizes at this year’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda awards.

Jonari Smith, Big Brother to NiJasz Mello, was named Big Brother of the Year and Larissa French, Big Sister to Nya Smith, was named Big Sister of the Year.

About 50 people attended the ceremony for the mentoring charity BBBS yesterday on the steps of City Hall.

Receiving his award, Mr Smith shared how he benefited from the charity when he was growing up – his own mentor Gabriel Wilkinson having won the same award in 2014.

Big Brothers Big Sisters awards: Pictured from left are Big Brother of the Year Jonari Smith and his Little Brother NiJasz Mello (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

He said: “This is a beautiful thing because I was a part of BBBS myself so I’ve always said if I can give back to a charity that helped me get to where I am then I will do it.

“NiJasz is not only a Little Brother to me but he is also a big brother to my daughter as well.”

NiJasz, who lost his father six years ago, said of Mr Smith: “He checks on me on a regular basis. Jonari is the definition of a good man because he takes care of the family he made and the family he came from, and still makes time for me.

“Jonari is a kind and reliable person. I hope this relationship can last and never end.”

Janelle Parson, mother of Nya, read a letter she wrote to Ms French. She said: “It warms my heart to see Nya filled with excitement when she knows she will be spending time with you. You have made a positive impact on her.”

Nya also wrote a thank-you letter to Ms French listing all the activities she loves doing with her, from swimming “even when the water’s cold” to visiting her mother’s farm and eating out. She added: “Everything we do together makes me really, really happy”.

It was revealed that Ms French has also been taking care of Nya’s older sister.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda award ceremony 2023 at City Hall. Pictured from left, Big Sister of the Year Larissa French embraces Janelle Parson, the mother of Ms French’s Little Sister Nya Smith (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

There were seven additional awards given to the charity’s partners who have helped to improve the services provided to young people through various programmes.

Among those recognised were Carika Weldon who raised $3,750, the highest amount raised at the charity’s fundraiser How Much Would You Pay to See Me …?

Dr Weldon, who ran the Molecular Diagnostic and Research Laboratory and is now an adjunct lecturer at Bermuda College, which has partnered with her genomics research company CariGenetics, also opened up to young people as part of BBBS’s Unlocking Our Potential series, sharing some of the secrets to her success.

Philip Vandoninck, chief executive of Fidelis Bermuda, who was described as “an advocate for young people”, also picked up an award.

Patrina O’Connor-Paynter, managing director for BBBS, said: “He is interested in all of the young people ensuring that every young person has someone that can mentor them to the next level.”

MASC Bermuda, a therapy service for men, was commended for the work it had done with the young men in the charity’s programme.

Award winners

Big Brother of the Year:

• Jonari Smith, Big Brother to NiJasz Mello,

Big Sister of the Year:

• Larissa French, Big Sister to Nya Smith

Partnership award winners:

• Lori Dunstan, executive director of the Chubb Foundation

• Philip Vandoninck, chief executive of Fidelis Bermuda

• Dr Carika Weldon


• Phoenix group of Companies

• Acrisure Re

• MASC Bermuda

The awards ceremony was held this month to coincide with National Mentoring Month.

Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said in his opening remarks: “The relationships that are forged through this mentoring opportunity will last far beyond the formative years – they are relationships based on trust, understanding, patience and the need to give back.

“Through shared experiences, the kids that benefit though the programme are afforded a sense of belonging, a safe haven, arms to comfort and protect them.”

The mayor described Ms O’Connor-Paynter as a “tireless crusader for this cause”.

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, thanked the charity for its work with young people.

“You play an invaluable role in mentoring our future generation,” she said.

“To all of the dedicated mentors in Bermuda, thank you for selflessly sharing your wisdom, guidance and positive examples. Through mentorship our young people are provided with the opportunity to grow and improve themselves.

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, championed the work of Big Brothers Big sisters of Bermuda (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“As we recognise Mentoring Month, we hope that more Bermudians are inspired to learn about the opportunities to mentor and consider becoming a mentor.

“Even if you may not be in a position to mentor one-on-one, there are still ways that you can support mentorship. You can contact your previous mentors to thank them, you can make a financial contribution to a local mentoring programme or simply encourage those in your circle to support BBBS.”

• To learn more about mentoring and BBBS, visit www.bbbs.bm

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Published January 27, 2023 at 10:09 am (Updated January 27, 2023 at 10:19 am)

‘I hope this relationship can last and never end’

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