Article by Rona Fraser
Want to Help Kids in a BIG Way? Stop & Smell the Chocolate
Want to help kids, but don’t have a lot of time? Well, have I got an idea for you! But first you have to listen to a little story.
Life can often seem unfair, especially for kids. I don’t mean the “But JOEY got a new bike for HIS tenth birthday!” type of unfair. I don’t even mean the “Our classroom is very small — when it rains the floor is all slippery mud” type of unfair, that SchoolBOX is working on fixing. I mean the “How come those kids pick on me?” or “I live in a foster home ’cause my mom hurt me,” type of unfair. The type of unfair that has a perfectly lovable kid feeling like they are less than their peers — less popular, less smart, less wanted.
I am of the viewpoint that every child deserves to feel loved and wanted and beautiful and that they belong. Actually, that should apply to every adult as well, but that’s another topic, I think. Children do not ask to be brought into the world and, whatever your religion says about sin, I think we can agree that kids arrive innocent and blameless, and deserve all that we can give, to help them grow into happy, healthy adults — and I mean healthy of mind, body and spirit. Actually, I am of the belief that if we focussed more on kids, a lot of the troubles of society would disappear. But that too, is a story for another day.
So, as I considered how unfair life could be to kids, I tried to figure out how I could help. I couldn’t afford to give money… or much time. Hmm. I ended up looking into Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lanark County <bigbrothersbigsisterslanark.ca>. They are a not-for-profit volunteer organization and their mission is to help “children develop to their unique potential through consistent, dependable and non-conditional adult friendship.” They provide mentors to kids that need them. Oh, and they don’t look around and say “Check out that kid — he is in DIRE need of a mentor!” It is usually a teacher or parent who might suggest a child who needs a mentor and gets the process going. Or an adult volunteers to be a mentor, so BBBS asks at a school in the area to see if one is needed. No one is forced to participate.
Depending on your time and schedule, there are various ways to be a mentor. You can be a traditional Big Brother/Big Sister, where you would meet with your “Little” once a week for three to five hours. Or you can be an In-School Mentor, where you meet with your “Mentee” for an hour each week, during the school day. Hey, you’re taking them out of class for an hour — as long as you don’t schedule it during recess (unless they hate recess), you’ve scored points already! There is also Group Mentoring, where four mentors meet up with a group of boys or girls aged 12 to 14, for 7 to 10 weeks, for 1.5- to 2-hour sessions, loosely structured around physical activity, healthy eating, self-esteem and communication skills.
BBBS asks that you commit at least one year to meeting with your Little. Makes sense, as we are trying to make their life better, not give them abandonment issues. If you think you might like to be a mentor of some sort, check out their website or give them a call. Start now, because it can take up to two months to complete the sign-up process. To be an in-school mentor, you meet with a BBBS worker to discuss your interest, fill in a form, and get a police check, before they find you a mentee. To be a traditional Big Bro/Sis, there is a bit more involved, as they try to match up Bigs and Littles with similar interests.
Myself, I chose in-school mentoring, because I have a flexible work schedule, and, because there weren’t as many unknowns. After all, it had been fifteen years since I last hung out with a kid one-on-one. (I just
looked him up on Facebook. He got married two years ago and is an agricultural trader — I don’t even know what that is!)
I meet up with my mentee weekly throughout the school year. We chat, draw, play games, do crafts… It’s fun! We both get a break from our regular daily routine, and have a stress-free hour of hanging out with someone who enjoys our company. I don’t know that I’ve made any change in her life, but I know — or I hope — that it lets her feel valued. I think we all need that, don’t we? To know that we have someone who will listen and not judge, who chooses to spend time with us and sees us as an individual? In other words, a friend.
My current favourite thing to do, if I finish my drawing first (which I try to do), is read to her from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remembered that I loved the book as a youngster, but couldn’t remember it all. At first I don’t think she liked the idea, but I see her pausing to listen at exciting parts. It’s the tale of a young spoiled grumpy girl who is orphaned and sent to live with her depressed silent uncle and… well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that a couple of kids leading sad lives find some fun and joy.
I highly recommend becoming a Mentor (or a Big). I think I’ve even improved my drawing skills!
To find the BBBS near you, go to <bigbrothersbigsisters.ca> to the About Us page. Click on Local Agencies to input your postal code and presto! If you live in Almonte, Pakenham, Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place or anywhere in between, simply contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lanark at 283–0570, and a team member will be more than happy to help you determine what you can do to help.
by Rona Fraser