By Petrina Wright | Posted: Thursday July 20, 2023
Lloyd Esler, former Invercargill City and Environment Southland councillor, Southland historian, avid outdoorsman, author, columnist, natural history teacher, tour guide, botanist…and Family Works’ Big Buddy.
You could be mistaken in thinking the man who wears so many hats would not have time to be a Big Buddy. Not so. The 66-year-old invests more time and attention in his relationship with his Little Buddies than what was expected, something he chooses to do because he finds it rewarding, he said.
Rather than setting aside a certain time each week to spend with his Little Buddy, he simply integrated them into his life.
“Whatever I am doing, they can just tag along,” he said.
Family Works’ Buddy Programme matches children between the ages of four and 12 with an adult who can offer them friendship, support, guidance, and encouragement. Through the Buddy relationship, the children develop social skills and their self-esteem and confidence grows, as well as having lots of fun hanging out with their Big Buddy.
The well-known Southland identity joined the Buddy Programme eight and a half years ago after the passing of a friend.
“A friend of mine had been a Big Buddy for several years, and when he died suddenly, I thought I would pick up where he had left off,” he said.
And he hasn’t looked back, having been paired up with six Little Buddies so far.
Each of his Little Buddies did not have their father in their lives for a variety of reasons, such as family separation, prison or their father had died.
However, he said he was not a father figure to the boys, but rather saw himself as a friend, or perhaps at most a pseudo-grandfather.
His first Little Buddy was a 10-year-old boy who had relocated to Southland with his mother where they did not have any friends or family support.
Lloyd said he enjoyed watching the Little Buddy blossom over the two and a half years they were Buddies. They did lots of things together, including walking the Milford and Rakiura tracks. The Little Buddy is now 18 years old and the pair had formed a strong bond and were still in regular contact, as Lloyd was with four of his other Little Buddies.
One strategy Lloyd employed to connect with the boys was to find out what food they liked, food being something all growing boys had an interest in.
“The way to a boy’s heart is his stomach,” he said.
That tactic had worked particularly well with his fourth Little Buddy, who Lloyd discovered loved eating sardines and sausages. One particular day Lloyd was having trouble getting his Little Buddy to agree to get up early to go on a trip but, with the promise of a can of sardines, the Little Buddy consented immediately.
Lloyd said he did not have a television or video games, preferring instead to do outdoorsy things, play board games and cook with his young charges.
When Lloyd talks about his Little Buddies, the joy he gets from the relationships is evident. His face lights up as he recalls a funny incident, or how they have achieved at school or grown in confidence.
“[Being a Big Buddy] gets me out exploring the bush or beaches and doing things I wouldn’t otherwise be doing…and I enjoy seeing the way [the Little Buddies] progress.”
His newest Little Buddy, Jake* (9) said of his experience being Lloyd’s Little Buddy – “It’s fun. I get to go to new places I have never been to before. We do a lot of different things. Otherwise mostly I would be at home on my Play Station. With Lloyd I do funner stuff.”
For more information about the Buddy Programme, or to sign up as a Big Buddy, visit pss.org.nz/family-works/services/buddy-programme/ or phone Family Works team leader Helen Goatley on 03 211 8200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*not his real name. Jake’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.