‘A friendship made in heaven’
It’s the start of another school day, and Garibaldi secondary principal Grant Frend gets his son Brady out of bed and ready for Grade 1.
“I say, ‘Brady, is Jimmy going to visit you today?’ And he says, ‘Yea, yea,’ and he gets excited.”
Brady has a vocabulary, but doesn’t speak in sentences. He goes to school in a wheeled walker. Not the design an elderly person would use, but one he can sit in and scoot around.
Holding someone’s hand, he can walk down the halls of Alexander Robinson elementary.
Jimmy Ferron has just completed the education journey that Brady is beginning. He also had unique learning needs. The 19-year-old has an ever-present smile, and left behind a lot of friends and important social connections at Riverside Centre.
Close to being “typical,” he has moved away from home, supported by a couple. He really wants to get a job, and is getting ready for that. He is a client of Young Husband Resources, and a support worker takes him dog walking, bowling, on bus trips around the Lower Mainland, and to Quantum Gymnastics.
When developmentally delayed students meet at the gymnastics club, Jimmy is the star of the show.
He’s completely fearless in his trampoline stunts, so his support worker is scared for him.
“I tell him, ‘That was amazing. Now, don’t do that again,’” laughs Leah Gordon.
It was at the gym that Jimmy and Brady met for the first time. Despite the age gap, they hit it off.
“They formed a bond, and we thought it was a good idea to get them together,” explained Debbie Carr, a special education assistant who works with Brady at Alexander Robinson.
Carr said the two years of training to do her job cannot completely prepare a SEA for the variety of clients and their special needs. The best way to learn is on the job.
Usually, a buddy or mentor for a special needs child will be a typical student. But after more than 20 years, she had an instinct that Jimmy and Brady would be good for each other.
“I saw the warmth in Jimmy, and Brady has that same warm, happy personality and they just meshed. It seemed to be a good fit instantly.
“He helps Brady, and Brady helps him,” she explained. “Teaching Brady really helps Jimmy’s confidence.”
It’s a fun job for Jimmy.
“I want to be around Brady,” he explains.
“Sometimes I try and help him drink his juice,” he adds, remembering the many aspects of his “job.”
“And we play Playdough all the time – we roll them, and make numbers. I hold his hand, and we play kick the ball.
“And I help him ‘don’t go out the door.’
“With Brady here, I like him, and he’s a good kid.”
Jimmy’s support worker Gordon sees changes, like Jimmy tells Brady how he was able to take the bus by himself.
“Jimmy wants to branch out on his own, and he’s dying to be independent,” said Gordon. “He wants a job so badly, and this is so great for him.”
Alexander Robinson principal Donna Heikkila watches the two from the doorway of the resource room, where they spend their time. Most of the school day, Brady is in his regular Grade 1 class, except when Jimmy visits.
“Jimmy looks at this like his job, and he takes it very seriously,” she said. “It’s a friendship made in heaven. It’s such a win-win.”
Frend says it’s an example of people in the public education system surpassing all expectations.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “For my son, having an older role model is great.”
“I’m so thankful for the SEA and caretaker who make this happen. It’s meeting their needs in a really creative way.”
Learning the alphabet or practicing motor control skills are beneficial, but the relationship between Jimmy and Brady goes deeper than that.
Frend said Brady doesn’t really have a friendship circle. His main playmate is his older sister, Jaelyn, who is in Grade 3.
“The best big sister ever,” Carr calls her.
“He doesn’t run around like the other kids, and he’s not verbal like the other kids,” Frend said of Brady.
“Jimmy’s a friend for him – someone he hangs out with, and it’s about him.”