The month of September each year is celebrated as Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) month in Canada, with the local BBBS branch located at the Heartland Youth Center (HYC) promoting and spreading awareness about the mentoring program.
According to mentoring coordinator Christel Shuckburgh of Stettler BBBS, September is a time when the matches get back into a routine with the in-school mentoring after the summer break.
“Besides, our community matches also get back into meeting once a week for two to four hours,” said Shuckburgh. “These matches don’t take a break during the summer months, but are quite flexible during that time.”
In Stettler, BBBS month is celebrated by getting new matches up and running in school and beyond.
“We have two matches that have transitioned from an in-school match to being a community match because that is what works best for those matches now,” said Shuckburgh. “Flexibility is what we strive for so that our volunteers and our kids get the best match possible.”
BBBS believes that all children that need a mentor should have a mentor so that they have to opportunity to reach their full potential, said Shuckburgh.
Speaking about the importance of mentoring, Shuckburgh explained “Because it helps to build confidence where it is lacking, it helps to set a child on the right path, it helps kids stay in school and avoid risky behaviour like bullying, and to grow up having more respect for their family, peers and community,” explained Shuckburgh. “A child who knows he/she matters will have a strong future and make a strong community possible.”
BBBS spreads awareness about mentoring by partnering with community agencies and schools, by being available to the public under the umbrella of the HYC, which also houses the Boys and Girls Club.
In September BBBS in conjunction with Association of Communities Against Abuse (ACAA) holds a fundraising BBQ for United Way of Central Alberta to raise awareness for both agencies and to show their appreciation for the support United Way gives them.
“BBBS Stettler has started a Community Boys Group,” added Shuckburgh. “We have many boys and girls on our wait list, however, have a very hard time finding and keeping male mentors.”
Explaining the difficulties that BBBS faces about male mentors, Shuckburgh said, “The girls on our wait list might have to wait up to a year for a mentor, but the boys often have to wait longer, up to four years.”
According to Shuckburgh, the lack of male mentors and strong male role models is a tragedy in the local community and in communities across North America.
“So to alleviate the wait time for our boys. we have decided to start a group that they can come to each month and have the benefit of male mentors in a group setting,” said Shuckburgh.
They will attend activities in and around Stettler that are targeted more for a male audience and interests.
“We have had many generous offers from businesses and organizations that are more than thrilled to help, and our hope is that our community will see the need that exists and step forward to make a difference in these young men’s lives,” stated Shuckburgh.
As the mentoring coordinator, Shuckburgh has been able to see first-hand the difference this organization has made in their lives.
“I get to see the wonderful volunteers every day who make such a difference and has such a positive impact on our great kids,” said Shuckburgh. “I get notes, smiles and hugs on a regular basis from kids who are so very thankful for their Big Sister or Brother, and vice versa.”
One of the many households that has been touched by Stettler BBBS is that of Jodi Bell.
“What is a Big Brother or Big Sister? If you were to ask that question in my household the answer would be that they are people that are amazing in every definition of the word,” said Jodi Bell, the mother of two daughters, both of whom have been matched with Big Sisters.
The Bell family first got involved in the BBBS program three years ago.
“I am very fortunate that through the HYC both of my daughters have been matched with amazing big sisters who were carefully picked just for them,” explained Bell. “When you ask my 13-year-old daughter what her big sister means to her she would not hesitate for a second to tell you that her big sister Marlo is an amazing role model, an amazing person in general, a suggestion box for a new way of life and a sister in every way shape and form.”
According to Bell, Marlo has been there for her daughter Tia through the good and not so good times in her life.
“She has always taught Tia that hatred is envy in disguise, to love herself even if it felt like others didn’t and that where there is pain that there is also strength, love and courage,” said Bell. “Marlo has had a huge impact on Tia’s self-esteem by always being there, giving advice and letting her know that she’s never alone.”
Bell said that she has watched both her daughters flourish while being involved in the BBBS program.
“They were both shy and timid but having a big sister has changed them from being shy kids to girls who can talk in public, in front of groups of people about what their big sisters mean to them,” added Bell. “I can’t thank the HYC enough for giving my girls the amazing opportunity to be involved in such a meaningful program.”
Shuckburgh said that to be a mentor one needs to possess a very strong sense of commitment, the knowledge that what they are doing will make a difference whether they see it or not, a respect for who kids are and what they can achieve and a desire to be a great friend.
“Also, you must be able to smile and have fun,” said Shuckburgh. “The challenge for our local Stettler BBBS has been our ever growing wait list for mentors, we need mentors, we need male and female mentors, we need couples who want to mentor together, we need grandmas and grandpas, we need young adults that want to make a difference, we need middle aged men and women who are emptying out their own nest and might be a little bored, we need good, happy volunteers.”