Little Sisters with Big Dreams

Tricia and Jennifer have had the chance to live one of life’s rarest and treasured experiences – growing up as twin sisters together. Their lives have shared many parallels, not the least of which was getting to go through the Big Sisters program together.

“There were always fun things to do.  When we were matched, we always had someone we could count on to be there for us, someone to talk to and understand us. Being twins it was difficult always being compared and doing the same things.” Said the sisters.

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Tricia and Jennifer Howard with the Big Sisters.

“Our time with our big sister was special because it was our time to be apart, to have someone that was only focused on me, my special time away from my sister. When we got to go together, with my Big Sister and my twin it was like a special outing and a celebration. We absolutely loved being together, but we also loved bragging about the different things we did that were special.” Added Tricia.

Tricia and Jennifer were also both recipients of the Brock University Big Brothers Big Sisters of Niagara award, which had a huge impact on their lives and careers.

“It was instrumental in us achieving our goals, without it we would never have been able to achieve this goal both financially and emotionally. It gave us the ability to be able to enjoy the experience (University) without added stress of never being able to meet financial obligations. As well as the feeling of encouragement from community support. We always had someone that truly believed that we could do it which inspired us to make sure that we lived up to the vision they saw in us!”

If you grow up together, become Little Sisters together, win awards together, and go to post-secondary school together – what’s next? Working together of course!

“We are both very excited to report we both have successfully been employed with full time contract teaching jobs through the Halton Catholic School Board!”

How did their time in the Big Sisters program influence their career path?

“We love to help under privileged children and feel a special connection to those in need and feel that stems from our history, we are so thankful for the support and encouragement from Big Brothers Big Sisters through so many obstacles throughout our growing up. No matter what, we could always count on their support. They helped us to be resilient even when we faced such difficult times in our lives. They gave us a good role model; someone to look up to…someone that came from a more privileged background than we had- more money, better clothes, a strong and happy marriage. Our Big Sisters gave us hope that there were people out there that lived happy without struggle and that could be us one day. They helped give us the tools we needed to be successful, to help others, to be patient and to be kind.”

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Tricia and Jennifer Howard with Big Sister, Karen.

To this day, Tricia and Jennifer are still very close with one of their Big Sisters, Karen.

“We are still very close, her kids are my nephews and we hangout all the time just like family.” Said the sisters.

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Alec and The Zelda Marathon

Alec Jones was just your average teenager, dealing with what most teenagers deal with: school, homework and a part-time job. The last thing he expected was a cancer diagnosis, but it inspired him to do something positive. Alec held his own Zelda video game marathon to raise funds for charity.

“The first Zelda marathon I did on my own was inspired by my journey through chemo. During the process of battling cancer, I was privileged enough to have video games to keep my mind off the illness. I was young enough at the time to attend Sick Kids, yet old enough to choose not to go. I decided not to go to Sick Kids as it would not give me the ability to continue my studies at Brock during treatment.” said Alec.

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Alec during his solo Zelda Marathon at Pet Valu.

The comforts of home during treatment was something that was not lost on Alec, and he knew that many other children were not as fortunate to have those same opportunities.

“After I was cured, I got to thinking about all the kids at Sick Kids that may not have the same distractions as I was lucky enough to have. It was then I decided to hold a fundraiser to get the children new and updated video games. The marathon went on for 7 straight days, with an hour or two in-between for me to shower and get a few minutes of rest. It was held at my work (pet valu) and I stayed there around the clock, other than cleaning up.” said Alec.

"After I was cured, I got to thinking about all the kids at Sick Kids that may not have the same distractions as I was lucky enough to have. "

A video game marathon is an event which runs around the clock, 24/7 until a set list of games has been completed. Typically, the event is broadcast online so that anyone can tune in and donate. Here’s the thing – marathons are usually a team effort. Alec decided to do this one solo.

” It was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. The first few days seemed to go by very easily but when I was coming upon the third day, I could feel my body was not running at full capacity. I took my bathroom and stretch breaks during the cut scenes which became more frequent as I got further into the franchise. I had to keep moving around not only to stay awake but also to stop my body from cramping up. I was also lucky enough to have a coffee shop near by and friends and family willing to bring me drinks and food.” said Alec.

Like all things, a life-changing event can often change a person’s perspective on things. The importance of the Zelda franchise to Alec was no exception.

“I have always been a Zelda fan for as long as I can remember but I have to say it was all timing. When I got sick, the Nintendo 3DS had just come out and I got Ocarina of Time 3D for the system. I played it while I was getting chemo and at home to pass the time. This game already had a nostalgic feeling for me but now it had a deeper meaning. I felt like it would also be a great series to do a marathon for because it was an eye-catching series that many people could relate with even if they were not a gamer.” said Alec.

Since 2009 a group called Penguins Marathons have been running an annual holiday Zelda Marathon in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Catharines, Thorold & District. They have raised over $80,000 through these video game marathon since they began. Alec would soon become the newest ‘Penguin’.

" I was super excited to hear that there was a group of people who were doing good with video games."

“I was introduced by a friend of mine who had been a long-time viewer of the Zelda BBBS marathons. I was super excited to hear that there was a group of people who were doing good with video games. I watched some of the Youtube videos that they had up, and I knew right away that these people were great.” said Alec.

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Alec at The Zelda Marathon in support of BBBS, with fellow 'Penguins' Rayna and Millie

“After I had watched a few videos and realized that this group was something I wanted to be a part of I decided to contact them. I contacted Adam who organizes the marathons and I game him my marathon history and asked if I would be able to be involved in some way or another. It wasn’t long before the next marathon came along, and I was invited to come join in.” continued Alec.

And how has that experience turned out for Alec?

"Honestly it has been one of the best experiences I have had. I was nervous going into a group that had been together for so long, but they welcomed me with open arms."

Every treated me as if I had been there since day one and made my first marathon so much fun that I asked if I could continue with the work they do. I have made some great friends that are now apart of my life and I could have asked for a better gaming family. Every year I am excited to see the next marathon schedule and reunite with my gaming family for a really good cause.” said Alec.

The Zelda Marathon 9 takes place on Friday, December 15th at 7 PM EST and can be viewed live at http://thezeldamarathon.com/

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Daniel and Jeremy

All credit and excerpts from this story go to Cathy Pelletier and Niagara This Week. Article published Friday, January 28th, 2005.

When 10-year old Daniel Sutherland of Thorold met Jeremy Smalley, it was a Big day for both of them.

“The only boy in the family.” according to his single mother, Nancy, and an only child. Daniel says he was lonely before meeting his Big Brother. “After my father passed away, I felt Daniel needed a good male role model,” says Nancy. “I knew (Big Brothers Big Sisters) had a good reputation.”

Jeremy finds it rewarding watching Daniel grow up: being his “father figure.”

“We have taken to each other greatly,” says Jeremy. “It can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive.”

"Working in a juvenile detention centre, I see a lot of kids who don't necessarily have positive role models and I see the bad choices they make. I really wanted to influence someone who's at that critical stage."

“It’s great to hear how we affect their lives.” says CEO, Dale Davis. “We have an army of volunteers who are the backbone of this agency.”

Jeremy, who sometimes accompanies Daniel on school trips, says Daniel often asks “What’s going to happen to me when I turn 16? Are you going to say goodbye?”.

“Daniel’s great. It’s a lifetime experience. I don’t plan on ending it.” says Jeremy.

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Phoenix: A Crown for Confidence

As part of our 80 in 80 campaign, we spoke to Phoenix Norris, and her mother, Julia. Phoenix has been a “Little” with our agency for over half of her life, and she has recently begun to branch out into public speaking. A topic that is close to Phoenix’s heart is instilling confidence in young women, which she had the privilege to do at the Women Economic Forum in New Delhi, India in May 2017. We spoke to Phoenix and Julia to find out how that opportunity first came about, and what has inspired Phoenix along the way.

To view Phoenix’s full speech, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGfw7…

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Aly and William

“The Big Brother Program is remarkable!”

A Big was sought for my son Aly as he did not have regular, consistent involvement with his dad. Aly does have two older brothers both embarking on careers and marriages. Aly was very close to the second eldest and felt abandoned when he left home. To add to that, we had to move too (Aly was three at the time). Aly did not speak until he was past three years old and experiences behaviour problems. Aly did not initiate any conversations and when he was spoken to; he spoke in a soft voice, never made eye contact, or used one or two word responses. Aly was in the care of a psychiatrist until recently to try to resolve some of these issues. In January of this year, the doctor noticed a great change in Aly, so-much-so that he no longer wants to see him. He asked what had attributed so significantly to this change. We acknowledged Aly’s involvement in the Big Brother program and he whole-heartedly agreed.

Aly’s marks have climbed, and he looks forward to showing William his achievements and his grades. Aly now initiates conversations. William always encourages Aly.

I have found that I now have time to myself to do something or absolutely nothing.

What I have noticed of late, the pride and confidence that Aly exhibits in all aspects of his life. The most significant milestone is that I no longer have to field questions about his father’s lack of concern or care for him (William has never disappointed Aly).

Aly is a very caring and compassionate little boy, and we couldn’t have asked for a better match in William. This was initiated with the caseworker while Aly was on the waiting list.  The caseworker spends time with the Littles and this allows him to have insight into their character and personality which matches such as Aly and William’s so successfully!

Yours Truly,

Donna

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Darcy and Rebecca: ‘Big and Little’ Sisters blossom into true friends

All credit and excerpts for this story goes to Don Fraser and The St. Catharines Standard.

Darcy Ewanchuk first met her Little Sister Rebecca in 1999, when Rebecca was a shy nine-year old girl. Rebecca had just been matched with Darcy by our agency.

It didn’t take long for the two to relax and click – “Big and Little” would check out local attractions, go shopping and walk Darcy’s dogs. Over the years, Darcy watched Rebecca’s confidence blossom.

"She has turned into a wonderful young woman. She has received and achievement award from the Optimist Club and also got a citizenship award at school"

Darcy has been a Big Sister for nearly 20 years at our agency and has been a Big Sister to many girls who have gone through our programs.

"I do think I had a positive influence on them. I also tried to impress on all the girls how important it is to give back to the community. When the matches have ended, they become part of my family. They go on, do their thing and we catch up every couple of months and on special occasions." - Darcy
"Darcy is a really good Big Sister. When we were matched, I was happy because I had someone else to talk to. It's a really good program." - Rebecca
"Darcy is a really good Big Sister. When we were matched, I was happy because I had someone else to talk to. It's a really good program." - Rebecca

Rebecca’s mother, Barbara, has only the highest of praise for Darcy.

"From the first time I met Darcy, there was something about her. I couldn't have asked for a better person." - Rebecca's mother, Barbara

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Kelsey and Isabelle

So it all began a little over a year ago. Isabelle was so excited when she found out a match was found for her. And oh what a match it was! These two girls were made for each other, I swear! They both showed up wearing cute floral dresses, and the excitement of meeting each other was mutual. The first instinct Isabelle had was to hug Kelsey. This was huge as Isabelle usually  takes some time to warm up to people. I could tell right away that they were a match made in heaven.

Since these two have met, they have discovered just how much they have in common. They love to dress up, yet love adventure and action. Their favorite thing to do is go to playgrounds, whether it be a park, or indoor playground. They also both love doing crafts.

Kelsey has become a very important person in both of our lives. She has come through for Isabelle when nobody else has. Her presence has been so special to both Isabelle and I. We have had our own celebrations on holidays. She has shown up for all of Isabelle’s birthdays.

She communicates with Isabelle on Facebook. Isabelle has always felt like Kelsey was a real sister. The love these two share is so genuine and real. Kelsey has gone above and beyond in her role as Big Sister. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match. I cant wait to see what the future brings! It has been so amazing watching the bond they share grow over this past year. I know it will only continue to grow stronger. We are forever grateful to this wonderful program.

– Isabelle’s mom, Karen.

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The Benefits of ISM

This story is a personal account and recommendation from former Principal of Connaught Public School, Mr. D. Walls!

I am writing in support of the “In-School Mentoring” Program sponsored by Big Brothers and Sisters of St. Catharines- Thorold and District.

This program is a tremendous support for the children at Connaught Public School. During my four year tenure as Principal of this building this program has served some thirty socially “at risk” children. We had fifteen of our students involved with nine in-school mentors.

The purpose of program is to support the children in the school setting; as well as provide positive social interaction for the students in an “out of classroom” venue. In all situations the mentors work in partnership with the staff of the school.

Although it is often difficult to measure the impact of programs such as this, I can tell you that the children look forward to the opportunity to meet and interact with their mentor. In fact, we have a waiting list of children wishing to be involved. The positive results are found in the improved behavior and academic success of the students in the program.

The “In-School Mentoring” program has been, an excellent opportunity for secondary school students to be involved with their community. This has a benefit for teenagers seeking co-op experience and a chance to collect their community service hours as required by the Ministry of Education. I have been very impressed with the quality of mentors provided by Big Brothers and Sisters. I highly recommend this agency. Their leadership and monitoring of the program has been essential and the communication and support provided exemplary.

Again, I give my unqualified endorsement for this program. Your financial assistance will ensure that it continues to support our school-aged children.

Sincerely,

Mr. D. Walls

[Former] Principal
Connaught Public School

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Dan and Cody

All credit and excerpts for this story goes to Bob Tymczyszyn and The St. Catharines Standard. To read the full version visit: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2014/02/18/the-faces-of-big-brothers-big-sisters

Dan Weatherall, of St. Catharines, has been a Big Brother since 2003 and sees it as a way to give back to the community and make a difference.

“I’ve been matched with Cody since he was nine and he is 17 now. I’ve watched him grow up for lack of a better way to say it. He’s off to college this year.

“What you are doing one-on-one is making a difference in a child’s life. I’ve always been a big believer in mentoring. In life we all need mentors.

“You are changing individuals one-on-one. It’s giving kids a chance that a lot of them don’t have based on their family dynamic.”

Weatherall said his relationship with Cody has changed over the years.

“We used to see each other twice a week. Then it was once a week. Now that we are older, and I have my own children, we find that meeting for lunch works really well.”

He would recommend Big Brothers and Big Sisters to anyone.

“You are making an immediate change in someone’s life. It’s not like we are giving to some charity that is across Canada. This has an effect right in our community. It’s a person who will one day have a job in our community giving something back.”

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CJ: Going Above and Beyond for our Agency

CJ has been involved in our agency in a variety of ways, going above and beyond to assist the agency in our quest for additional funding to support our programs.

CJ was a member of our Ambassador Program. Launched in 2012, the Ambassador Program gave children and mentors in our programs the opportunity to tell their story at our Special Events, third party events and to our media partners to give members of the community a glimpse into the work that we do, and how rewarding it is to be a part of mentorship. CJ had been media trained by the CEO and PR Officer and has contributed her voice to local newspaper articles, television spots and radio interviews to spread the word about our programs. She has also presented at several service clubs to add impact to monetary asks for our programs.

In January 2013, CJ was a guest speaker at our Niagara Regional Tim Hortons Bowl for Kids Sake Media Launch. She was introduced by Niagara Chief of Police Jeff McGuire and spoke candidly about her experiences as a Little Sister. Many local media representatives and major sponsors were in attendance.

In October 2013, CJ was selected as a representative of our agency to take part in a “Take A Little to Legislature Day” at Queens Park, Toronto. She was paired with MPP Monique Taylor who is the NPD Child and Youth Critic. CJ spent the day with Ms. Taylor and was the MC for the “Little’s Panel” at the Queen’s Park Reception that evening. She was responsible for introducing the other Little’s from across the province in attendance and asking them questions about their experiences with their Big.

For everything you did for our agency, CJ, we say a BIG thank you! Thank you for going above and beyond, and being a model ambassador of our agency 🙂

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Robbie and Tim: A Friendship that Lasted a Lifetime

From the words of Ellen, sister-in-law to Big Brother, Tim:

My brother in law Tim lives in St. Catharines. He has been a big brother to a boy named Robbie since Robbie was 6 years old. Robbie has been a part of Tim’s family for all of these years. Robbie had a learning disability and epilepsy. Needless to say, he did not have the greatest luck in life until Tim walked into it.

Robbie and Tim have stayed very close as he got older. Robbie has become part of Tim’s family. Tim has a wife Dianne and two children. Tim has always been there for Robbie through troubled times in his life, school, and helping him through job interviews. Tim has been a great role model for this boy.

Eventually Robbie moved to London, Ontario yet they still kept in touch and seeing each other whenever possible. About 2 weeks ago, Robbie took ill. Tim and his family had been on vacation and returned to a message saying that Robbie was very ill and that he had been asking for Tim. When Tim contacted the family he was told that Robbie has stomach cancer and was given 2 weeks to 2 months to live. When Tim and Robbie spoke, he asked for him to come right away. Tim made the arrangements that he needed and off he went to London.

Over the past week, Tim has been with Robbie almost every day. Robbie was afraid to die and Tim was the one who talked with him to give him the comfort and support that he needed.

On Monday, Tim receive a call from Robbie’s mom telling him that Robbie would be leaving soon and for Tim to come to the hospital. Tim left St. Catharines right away and went to the hospital. Tim was with Robbie when he passed.

I think that Tim epitomizes all that the Big Brothers Big Sisters stands for. He was a positive influence in this boy’s life and was with him until he died. I want you to share this story with other big brothers so that they can see how important the commitment is that they make.

I think that what Tim was able to do for Robbie is wonderful. Robbie left this world with the greatest feeling of all, love, from a man in his life that never let him down.

Sincerely,

Ellen

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