by John Copley
(ANNews) – Today we live in a complex world where permanent employment isn’t always available, where single parent families struggle to make ends meet, where children sometimes fall through the cracks and suffer consequences that we can’t always attach blame to.
If you are a single mom or dad or even a couple with a family, you’ll have instances when a helping hand could come in very handy, even life changing. But there is an organization that can make a positive difference in your life and in the lives of your children; it’s the Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters (BGCBigs) and if you live in Canada chances are there’s a chapter close by.
“We have many youths who come through our doors who need additional guidance, mentoring and positive, reinforcing support,” noted Amy Jeske, Mentoring Manager at the BGCBigs, Edmonton and Area.
“We work hard to meet these challenges by providing solutions for young people today that are proven, effective, and life-changing.”
“We realize that when children are matched to a caring mentor, our community changes for the better and so do the lives of the children and youth who utilize our programming,” noted Jeske.
BGCBigs has a vision and a mission. The organization would like to see that every child who needs a mentor, has a mentor, thus the mission: Empowering Youth Through Mentorship. BGCBigs is committed to the healthy development of all children and to help ensure that this mission is met, the organization provides a diverse array of mentoring and after school programs that have the tools and supports children and youth need to be successful both in school and in life.
“Young people can find themselves in vulnerable situations and facing adversities such as mental health issues, family violence, identity issues or poor living conditions,” explained Jeske, who said that these and other issues put youth at risk of not being able to reach their full potential.
“With the guidance and support of a mentor, these risks can be avoided, and our young people can gain the confidence they need to achieve their goals.”
This is accomplished with the support of the organization’s funders and volunteers who donate their money, time and energy to make positive differences in the lives of children and youth. Through life-changing programs, community-based services and relationships with peers and caring adults, BGCBigs helps children and youth develop the skills they need to succeed.
BGCBigs has been making this positive difference in the lives of youth for more than a century; in fact the roots of the organization date back to the turn of the 20th Century when the “Every Day Club” was established in New Brunswick with a mission to “give youth a chance to have some recreation and to see beyond the confines of their immediate situation.” There have been many adaptations to the club over the decades. The Boys and Girls Club of Edmonton changed its name to: Big Brothers Big Sisters Society of Edmonton and Area in 2003 to match other Big Brother Big Sister agencies across Canada. The organization offers numerous programs and initiatives geared toward ensuring that children have someone in their lives that can help them participate in activities that might otherwise be out of their reach.
One of the biggest needs of BGCBigs today is additional support, not only from possible funders, but also through the training and development of additional mentors, adults with the skills needed to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
“At the moment,” explained Jeske, “we have about 1000 kids waiting for a mentor with our agency; about 650 are boys. Volunteers coming through our doors at the moment are mostly female, so we are currently seeing more male volunteers.
“About 200 families currently seeking mentors are identified as Indigenous families.”
Many of the Indigenous families who need support are requesting a mentor from their own communities. The biggest reason for this is cultural identity; these parents want their children to maintain and learn more about their own culture, traditions and lifestyle.
“At the moment,” noted Jeske, “we are not seeing the numbers of Indigenous volunteers we need for the children and youth on our waiting list. We are currently in the process of reaching out to Indigenous communities, organizations and agencies in an effort to increase the number of Indigenous volunteers needed by our families. We have been working very closely with the Bent Arrow Society and in fact do utilize some of the events they share in their community; we are closely networked with them and they have been very supportive. We haven’t been as strong with that in the past, but we are now increasing our involvement with Bent Arrow. We’ve also worked with some smaller agencies in the city and are in the process of doing even more.”
BGCBigs is also in the process of working with the Indigenous mentoring program at MacEwan University; they also give many presentations year round in various locations such as businesses, post secondary institutions and organizations.
“We also received an invitation from a community member on the Enoch Cree Nation to make a presentation to Council so we can share information about who we are, what we do and how their members can help play an active role with us as mentors and volunteers. We’ve also participated in Wichitowin Family Nights and are seeking more information and input from similar Indigenous programs that work with children and youth.”
Mentors are asked to work with the youth for a couple of hours every two weeks, or more often if possible but the program is flexible. The mentors can take the youth to a movie or a ball game, go swimming, bowling or maybe even to a pow wow or Indigenous festival. The organization also has events that it holds on a monthly basis, such as a yoga night or a family picnic. “We can even help by providing tickets that have been donated to us for some events,” added Jeske.
The Big Brothers mentoring program provides boys and young men with a role model to talk to and share the experiences of growing up with. Through regular outings, a relationship is developed between the mentor and the mentee, which is built on trust and common interests, and is supported by experienced case-workers. The result is a life-changing experience for both the mentor and the mentee.
The process for the Big Sisters mentoring program is similar for girls and young women.
Mentors do have requirements and responsibilities, and a few are listed below. Though there is no upper limit on age requirements, some programs do have a minimum age. Mentors have to provide a satisfactory criminal record check, several references and complete in person and online training. Applicants must be trustworthy, energetic, mature, stable, reliable, accepting, patient, caring and respectful of others and must be supportive and non-judgmental in their interactions with children and youth.
“Our number one priority for mentors is being responsible for the safety and well-being of their mentee at all times during outings, while having fun and building a friendship,” stressed Jeske.
Before matches start, all mentors as well as the children and youth and their parents/guardians must complete mandatory child safety training, which provides important information on how to respond to safety concerns.
For more information about BGCBigs visit www.bgcbigs.ca. Contact and other information is available on the website or by calling 780-424-8181.