At first, acting as a Camp Simcha Big Brother to a boy with a serious illness posed a dilemma for LSE law student James Joseph. “You think: ‘How can I look after a child who has disabilities?’ But, in the end, you just have to treat them as any other child.”
Mr Joseph, 21, is among a group of volunteers aged between 18 and 23 who are part of the charity’s Big Brothers and Big Sisters programme, which dates back to Camp Simcha’s establishment in 1995.
The programme partners a volunteer with a child (or the sibling of a child) with a life-threatening illness.
They might take the child to a sporting event or a West End show — or visit them if they are in hospital.
Hendon-based Mr Joseph is Big Brother to eight-year-old Adam Pollock, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia three years ago.
“Adam is literally my little brother,” he said. “I went over one day. We played Lego, had a chat and it went from there. I now go to watch him play football and spend as much time with him as I can.
“When Adam was going through chemotherapy I went to the house every day. Sometimes he would talk about it and sometimes he was upset. He’s a very cool boy. When he lost his hair, at first he wore a cap, but then he stopped.”
Adam recalled that “after my treatment began, Camp Simcha asked whether I would like a Big Brother. We have had a lot of fun playing football, Lego and Fifa on the Xbox and doing lots of other things.”
His mother, Rachael Pollock, described the chemistry between the two as “just amazing. If there’s ever anything wrong, Adam wants James. It’s a cliche, but when James came along, there was light.”
Susie Cohen and Elisheva Wulwick are Big Sisters to Adam’s siblings — Katie, seven, and Louis, four. Ms Wulwick, 20, said it was vital that siblings “also feel special by having a friend. Louis sometimes sees Adam get presents and attention and it’s important for him to know that he’s also special.”
Since becoming involved in the programme four years ago, Gideon Glass, 22, has been Big Brother to two children. Mr Glass — who has just completed his third-year war studies exams at King’s College — said he had “tried to not get too attached to the kids. You almost prepare yourself for the worst but you always do get attached.” For him, the key aspect of the assistance “was giving the parents a break”.
Westminster Synagogue member Celia Patterson has three children who are supported by the programme. Her eldest son Oscar, 11, has the brain degenerating condition, spinocerebellar atrophy and ataxia. Siblings Felix, 10, who is autistic, and six-year old Lily are also supported by the scheme.
“It’s so important that they all have Big Brothers and Big Sisters,” Mrs Patterson stressed. “They’re closer in age to the children than I am. It gives the children something other than hospital visits that they can look forward to. My husband Ben also travels a lot so the volunteers have been a huge help to me. Ben and I can walk away from the children and know they’re in safe hands.”
The scheme had “especially helped Lily, having two disabled brothers. It gives her some attention and is a release for her.”