Many MIT students are searching for a way to help others. Nick Sisler ’11, Course II, has discovered how to make a difference in the life of an 11-year old boy. Nick has been a “big brother” to Evan Wilcox for three years, and was recently selected as a finalist for the Massachusetts Bay Big Brother Big Sister of the Year award. The Big Brother Big Sister program pairs children aged 6 through 18 with older mentors to develop “positive relationships that have a direct and lasting impact on the lives of young people,” according to their website.
During the matching process, Evan’s mom, Trudy Wilcox PhD ’05, who is a single mother, was looking for someone younger and athletic to spend time with Evan.
“Evan’s relationship with Nick has enriched Evan’s life so much,” Wilcox said.
The power of winning
One of the incidents Wilcox cites when comparing the difference from before Nick became Evan’s big brother to afterwards is the two annual pinewood derby car races that Evan competed in.
The first year, she had let Evan build the car alone without any help, not realizing that all the other boys had fathers who built the car with them.
“Evan and I walked into the pack’s meeting room and I was stunned to see a roomful of dads holding their son’s derby car,” Wilcox wrote in her nomination essay for Nick’s award. “I knew immediately that Evan and I were out of our league.” The experience of that failure was a hard blow for Evan.
The next year, Evan had a big brother to help him with his car. Even though the result was a car covered in duct tape, weighing within 1/100th of an ounce of the 5-ounce weight limit set by competition regulations, and initially sneered at by the other boys, it easily overtook the other cars and won the preliminary races.
“With Nick’s help, Evan learned what it felt like to win,” Wilcox wrote.
A new passion
Some of Nick and Evan’s favorite things to do are to go bike riding, to play catch, and most importantly, to play hockey.
When Nick had been on the MIT hockey team (which was eliminated in 2009 along with seven other sports programs), he took Evan to games and got Evan more interested in playing hockey.
“Evan has really blossomed with hockey” said Evan’s mother, “It’s been the first thing that he has felt really good about himself. Last year, Evan wanted to go to every single MIT hockey game. So the team got to know Evan, and they would bang on the wall and fist pound him as they got on the ice.”
Wilcox said that Evan had been a kid who had few friends and struggled in school, and while children like these usually used sports to improve their social standing, Evan did not know how to navigate team sports. Nick also reports that Evan is now starting to do things that kids do normally, like having sleepovers.
Last November, Evan went to a practice with the MIT hockey team at Johnson ice rink. He geared up in an MIT hockey jersey and did drills along with the team. The coach instructed the team to jump over eight hockey sticks on the ice. Evan initially only jumped over the first stick and skated around the others, but the coach instructed him to start at the beginning and complete the entire drill.
Later, Evan had a shoot-out where only he and the goalie were on the ice. The entire team cheered wildly when Evan shot his puck into the goal.
“It’s not too much for us to do,” Nick said “it’s amazing how huge it was for his confidence to go out with a bunch of 20 year olds who are good at hockey and are cheering him on.”
“Evan is [the MIT hockey team’s] biggest fan, and he comes to all of our games, including the away games, so it’s natural for the team to take to him,” Nick said.
A small effort goes a long way
“Being around [Evan] gives me a new perspective and reminds me of how I was as a ten-year-old, which is very refreshing especially at such a high stress environment as MIT,” Nick said.
In Nick’s busy schedule as a student, hockey, and lacrosse player, it is difficult sometimes to have enough time, but that Nick says he can usually find an hour or two to hang out with Evan.
“He doesn’t have a male role model in his life, besides me, I guess, and that’s really good for him to have a male figure to look up to. And he hasn’t played any organized sports until I became his big brother and encouraged his mom to get him involved and he’s enjoying that a lot more,” said Nick.
According to Nick, it is not hard to be a good big brother, it just takes patience and time. “Over time, I find out what he likes…” Nick says, “We started having discussions about school and talk about his friends, and I’ve started to reach in as time goes on.”
Today, Evan says his dream when he grows up is to be an architect. He spends his time with an architectural kit building miniature replicas of famous buildings. His favorites are the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “I like to build things,” Evan says.
“It’s amazing how things that I didn’t think would … actually make a huge deal in his life… It doesn’t take much for much,” Nick says.