Saskatoon’s community enhanced by Big Brothers Big Sisters

NAOMI ZUREVINSKi
Culture Editor

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters provides the Saskatoon community with an experience that is based on friendship — something everyone desires and identifies with.

Their mentorship programs offer a break from schoolwork and the daily grind by creating the opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds and walks of life.

“It’s good for people to have an understanding of other communities and other cultures and even just to reconnect with the elementary level,” said Cheyenne Lawton, a volunteer of the Big Brothers Big Sisters In-School Mentorship program.

Lawton is a first year student in the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She started the program during the winter 2014 term and meets once a week with a grade six girl from St. Michael’s elementary school. They spend an hour together doing various activities like board games, crafts or cooking.

“Every time I leave, I leave feeling really grateful that I’m able to be a part of the program because it’s a different experience from what I experience in school and my regular life,” Lawton said.

Josh Howie, a sixth year Kinesiology student at the U of S, is another volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Howie is involved in the traditional mentorship program and has been paired with his little brother — currently in grade 12 — since 2010.

“I wanted to add more to my life other than just going to school and going home,” Howie said. “I wanted to be committing more to my community than I had previously.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters offers many different programs, suitable for varying commitment levels, interests and personality types.

The In-School Mentorship program calls for adult volunteers who meet once a week for an hour at the school with the child they are partnered with.

“The really neat thing about that program is that the school identifies the kids that need the mentor in their life,” said Kim Megyesi, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Saskatoon.

For the traditional mentorship program, big brothers and sisters are matched to a little brother or sister and are required to commit to a minimum of three to five hours a week for a year-long period.

“They do things in the community and go and hang out and just build a relationship in the way that you would with a friend,” Megyesi said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters also offers the Youth In Care program, designed specifically for kids in foster care, the Club Connect program, a program that began in fall of 2013 for children who are new to Canada and the Go Girls! and Game On programs to provide an athletic twist on mentoring.

One of the stronger assets of the program is the matching process, which takes age, gender and interests into consideration.

“It’s based on best fit, so we find out what the mentor’s activity interests are, we find out what the little’s activity interests are and then we [match] based on that,” Megyesi said.

Due to the thorough matching process, the likelihood of partners forming a friendship is very high.

“I see a lot of similarities in myself and her when I was her age. I’ve really found it easy to connect with her,” Lawton said. “They do a great job.”

The matching process makes for a pleasant experience as partners move into building a relationship.

“It’s not as abrupt a process as people think it is. It’s very smooth because they set it up that way,” Howie said. “Your match is going to be great and you’re going to be set up for a smooth transition.”

One of the largest challenges with the program is the wait list for the little sisters and little brothers. For little sisters the wait time is approximately six months from registration. However, little brothers have a very lengthy wait time — up to three years before they are matched up.

“We currently have a 200 person waiting list for the littles,” Megyesi said. “There are more kids that are coming in that need big brothers and there are less male volunteers. It’s frustrating for a parent when they come in and apply and they find out that it’s going to be three years before their son is matched.”

While mentorship might not be for everyone, there are a variety of benefits that Big Brothers Big Sisters offers mentors, mentees and the wider Saskatoon community alike.

“For these kids it’s having someone that supports them and that mentally they know throughout the whole week that they’ve got somebody who cares about them. They’re going to show up to see them and that’s what it’s all about — it’s about that support,” Megyesi said.

For kids who have mentors, there is an increased likelihood that they will stay in school longer, graduate high school and are less likely to be have certain behavioral issues.

“One of the most staggering statistics is that 78 per cent of kids who came from a social systems background no longer rely on that form of income when they have a mentor in their life,” Megyesi said.

For volunteers, the benefits are also numerous — especially for university students, who currently make up 18.5 per cent of the total volunteers.

“We make it fit for university students, we make it easy on them since its during the school day. It’s easy access and it’s in a controlled environment,” Megyesi said.

Working with someone of a different background and age category also has a significant impact on volunteers’ lives.

“It has solidified my choice in career path. I shifted into medicine and it really drove home that medicine would be the way for me to go because you get to help people on a whole new level and I’m really interested in that,” Howie said.

Lawton plans to continue with the program as long as she can fit it into her schedule and recognizes the importance of letting kids know that university education is a future possibility.

“If there’s a kid that maybe doesn’t know somebody who’s going to university, they can just learn a little bit about what it’s all about,” Lawton said. “I think any experience getting to know somebody is a learning experience.”

As a learning experience where all parties gain, the program is very well-rounded.

“We both benefit immensely. It’s not as one-way as people think it is,” Howie said.

While mentoring another person might seem like a large responsibility, building relationships — which is what mentorship is all about.

“I think a lot of people are nervous because when they hear the word ‘mentor’ they think that they have to be perfect to do it. It’s not about perfection; it’s about having a friendship,” said Megyesi. “We all have friendships and we all know what it looks like to be a good friend or to have a good friend. It’s really about just being a friend and hanging out with somebody.”

Visit bbbssaskatoon.org for information on Big Brother Big Sister programs, events and to apply as a volunteer.