Magician, entertainer and former Big Brother Rich Ferguson has shared the story of his early life with people all over the world. With the sudden loss of his mother and a father who was incarcerated, Rich started life with a bad hand of cards. “I lived in a very difficult environment that was not suitable for a child to be growing up in,” Rich said. Fortunately, Rich found a mentor who gave him guidance, support and the encouragement to follow his dreams.
“My mentor’s name was Herbert and he lived down the street from me. He was there for me with a shoulder to lean on during a difficult time in my life, it was a tremendous help that made a significant change,” said Rich.
Due to his firsthand experience with the impact of mentoring, Rich decided to become a Big Brother in his mid-twenties. When he first learned about Big Brothers Big Sisters he thought, “Now that’s the organization for me, it makes sense. Because I can make an impact on one or two people personally and that’s what it’s about.”
Rich was matched with his Little Brother Joshua in 2005. Unlike most of Rich’s previous experience with kids, Joshua did not respond well to the magic themed ice breaking routine that had worked so well over the years. “Being a magician has been such a great tool because kids dig it, especially boys. I can get their attention, and then I can sneak in some real life messages and they just respect me and listen to me,” he said. “But with Joshua, that wasn’t the case at all. It was apparent up front that I needed to gain his trust.”
After Rich and Joshua were first matched, it took around a year before Rich was able to break the ice with Joshua and really start to develop the close bond so many Big Brothers Big Sisters matches have. “Everything I do is big and fast paced. That didn’t align with his lifestyle so I think it was a little too much at first,” said Rich. “It was really more about trust, so we started hanging out, playing pool and doing the typical things.”
As their match progressed, Rich began to realize that Joshua was very business-minded, which became a very popular topic of conversation for the pair. Not only did Rich and Joshua enjoy bonding with various discussions on how to run a business and business strategy, Rich made sure that he was constantly encouraging Joshua to follow his interests. “Rich definitely nurtured that. He was very supportive of my goals and encouraged me to further my education,” Joshua said.
The continuous reinforcement Rich gave Joshua finally paid off when Joshua realized his amazing leadership skills and intellect. “He just got empowered all of a sudden. He started getting into clubs: debate, politics and drama - it was incredible. At age 16, to see him give public speeches at Big Brothers Big Sisters events was just crazy to me. I was so inspired by him as an individual, how he was able to put himself out there,” Rich said.
Not only did Rich see a major transformation happen with Joshua, but Joshua could see a great change in himself as well. “I have become more outgoing. When I was younger, I was very shy, reserved and not very trusting of others,” Joshua said. “Rich is very talkative, incredibly outgoing, incredibly personable, incredibly social and it just kind it rubbed off on me.”
With both of their hectic schedules, Rich and Joshua don’t get to see each other much, but it is Joshua’s hope that his Big Brother will be there to help him celebrate an important milestone. “He was a big part of getting me to college, I think it would be great to celebrate my graduation with him,” said Joshua. Despite not seeing each other much, Joshua also knows that at a moment’s notice, he can pick up the phone and call Rich for help, and that Rich would be right there for him.