Nancy Hallowell Scott introduced Altiera Essensa, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Stratford (BB/BS), who shared stories and data illustrating how “Mentoring youth changes lives and communities.” Mentored youth have a huge impact on their communities over the long term. Being mentored gives them hope and optimism. They typically form lifelong friendships with their mentors and many become mentors themselves or give back to the community in other roles. The mentor is both a friend and a role model who inspires and empowers children to reach their potential. For many of these children, it is the first time in their life when they get one-on-one attention from an adult. This instills trust and self-confidence, especially the confidence needed to stay in school.
BB/BS runs two types of programs: community-based and school-based. Community-based programs include the traditional Big Brother mentorship, which has existed for more than 100 years in Canada and since 1970 in Stratford. However, there are several variations on this designed to fit the schedules and levels of commitment that work for the volunteers, the children and their parents/guardians. There are Big Couples, Big Families and Big Bunches. The latter matches groups of children waiting for a one-on–one mentor with two or three volunteers. There are also Big Company programs where employees are given time off to volunteer as mentors.
The school-based program “Go-Girls” is a group program for girls aged 12-14 that focuses on physical activity, balanced eating and self-esteem. Game-On” is a similar program for boys. Individual primary school students, selected by the school, are paired with a volunteer who assists with reading, math, or other skills. Teachers note better attendance and performance in these students, who for various reasons may have no personal assistance at home. Originally children in BB/BS came from single parent families, but today as long as the child has a need for mentorship, they can participate. Both children and volunteers are screened, to ensure everyone’s safety and to ensure that children who need professional assistance get help. In comparison to others with similar backgrounds, children mentored through BB/BS are 48% less likely to misbehave at school and 34% less likely to be bullied. They are twice as likely to commit to school, have higher academic averages and are two and half times more likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Former Little Brothers and Sisters earn $315,000 more in their lifetime and are more likely to have full-time jobs and take leadership roles in the workplace. They give to charities, volunteer and have positive personal attitudes.
There are 117 BB/BS branches in Canada, serving 42,000 children in 2014 (260 in Stratford and District). Currently 43 children are on the local waiting list for community-based programs. Schools will find matches for as many volunteers as are willing. Volunteering as a regular Big Brother or Big Sister requires a commitment of 2-4 hours per week for a minimum of one year. In-school mentoring is 1 hour per week during the school year.
Pat Reavy thanked Altiera. As an in-school volunteer since the fall of 2013, she highly
recommended participation, calling it one of the most rewarding experiences she has had.
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