Once a week, 9-year-old Heath Lineham spends an hour or two with a couple who until recently were total strangers.

Will and Olya Prosor, from Auckland, take him to the movies, to the library or to the beach. They go fishing or play video games.

They're not family, but they get on very well. That's because they've been carefully matched after an assessment process which takes into account their personalities and needs.

They were matched by the Auckland branch of a global organisation called Big Brothers Big Sisters, which provides mentors to kids who don't have a steady adult presence in their lives.

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"Everything has changed since they came along," Heath said. "I have a more active lifestyle, even started walking to school or riding a bike."

Will and Olya - who call Heath their "little" - also benefited.

"Other than the huge sense of pride in him … the biggest impact is how we view our place within the world," Will said.

"Before having [Heath], it could feel overwhelming in trying to make a positive impact on the world because often you don't see a result.

Olya Prosor (left), Heath Lineham (centre), and Will Prosor (right). Heath was matched with the Auckland couple through the Big Brothers Big Sisters programme. Photo / Will Prosor
Olya Prosor (left), Heath Lineham (centre), and Will Prosor (right). Heath was matched with the Auckland couple through the Big Brothers Big Sisters programme. Photo / Will Prosor

"With our little, it is a constant gratification when we spend time together, or often in between."

Big Brothers Big Sisters started taking referrals in Auckland in January.

It has had no problem finding mentors because Aucklanders have taken to the idea with enthusiasm.

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"Our mentors come from all walks of life - young professionals, retirees, or those whose children have grown up and flown the nest," said programme manager Jessica Finucane.

People volunteer because they didn't have a role model themselves while growing up, and they want to be that person for a child. Or they had experienced the positive impact mentoring has had on their lives.

While it has been easy to find "big brothers" and "big sisters", huge demand for the service has meant the organisation has had to find funding to expand the service. It is launching a fundraising campaign this month.

A grant from Skycity has allowed it to sponsor 40 kids this year. In all, 100 children have signed up for mentoring so far, despite zero publicity for the initiative. The cost of matching them, recruiting and vetting their mentors is around $1500 a year per child.

Finucane said the large number of referrals was partly because of New Zealand's relatively high family violence rate.

But not all referrals were from broken homes. Many kids just lacked a role model or did not get enough adult attention because they were in big families.

Heath Lineham goes fishing during his weekly catch-up with his Big Brother Big Sister
Heath Lineham goes fishing during his weekly catch-up with his Big Brother Big Sister "siblings". Photo / Will Prosor

In Heath's case, he was struggling to manage his emotions and behaviour at home, and he did not have a relationship with his biological father. He is the oldest of four kids.

"Having one-on-one time while doing the activities or his choice is a bit more rare than for some kids," Olya said.

Mentors are expected to commit to at least one year with their matched child. They see them no more than once a week, usually for an hour or two.

Big Brothers Big Sisters began in New York in 1904. The first New Zealand branches formed in 1996. An Auckland branch fell over four years ago because of a funding gap, but it has now been resurrected.

BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS

• Provides mentoring for kids aged six and older. They can enter the programme until age 12, and can get care until age 18.

• Mentors and their kids catch up no more than once a week.

• The service costs around $1500-1800 per child

To donate, go to http://bigbrothersbigsistersauckland.org.nz/make-a-donation/