A Better Me

Sarah and Ciera have celebrated 2 years together in the Big Sisters program, and man have they covered a lot of ground! When it comes to variety in activities and visits, these two take the cake. From tie dye t-shirts to kitchen camp-outs, these two have done a lot! But, their impressive list of activities is not their coolest feature. It’s the impact that their relationship has had on each other.

For Sarah, Ciera has become a special friendship in her life. So special that even though Sarah has accepted a job over an hour away from Niagara, she and Ciera’s grandma have agreed to meet half way to make visits continue to work.

For Ciera, there is even more to it. Ciera tells others that she and Sarah are sisters. When explaining how important Sarah is to her, she recalled a game she played in french class where the teacher asks questions and you had to stand if your answer is yes. The teacher asked people to stand if they have a sister and Ciera stood up. She asked her teacher if her sister (Sarah) counts, and the teacher said yes.

Since the match began, Ciera’s grandma has found that Ciera has been “more at peace with herself.” She went on to explain that Ciera has also been taking more of a leadership role at school and has found that her teachers have commented on how much she has improved both in the classroom and with her peers. What an accomplishment!

The ripple effects that this friendship or sisterhood, rather, have had are remarkable. The impact and growth that has happened personally for Sarah and Ciera and the impact that it has in their lives as well as in their circles is simply beautiful.

Cally Wins The Ted Rogers Scholarship!

One of the Littles from our agency, Cally Kokoski, was the recipient of the Ted Rogers Scholarship in the amount of $10,000.00!

You may remember Cally from this inspiring story we shared a few months back. She is incredible.

We put together this little video to showcase what some of Cally’s closest peers and teachers think about her, and why she was deserving of this honour.
 
The goal of the scholarship is to ensure the success of future generations of Canadians by helping young leaders across the country succeed in their educational aspirations. Cally is already a young leader, and surely has an incredibly bright future ahead!
 
Congratulations, Cally!

Choir Nation: Tomorrow’s Voices!

One of the Littles from our agency, Julian, recently had the opportunity to be a part of an incredible new initiative in Niagara called Tomorrow’s Voices!

Tomorrow’s Voices, a choir composed of 35 kids between seven and 17 who have been recruited from Niagara groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Community Care and the DSBN Academy. Tomorrow’s Voices aims to open the doors to music and choir to all kids — regardless of social barriers.

It’s been a busy year for Tomorrow’s Voices, including sharing a stage with Serena Ryder, Dallas Smith and performing the national anthem at a Toronto Marlies game.

On Saturday, June 9th, Julian and Tomorrow’s Voices performed their first ever season finale concert, officially putting a bow on season 1 of this initiative!

Photo credit: Courtney Michaud

Spring Picnic 2018

Happy Monday!! Last week, BBBS celebrated our Spring Picnic event! It was a beautiful day filled with sun, fun and laughs ☀️ Thank you to our sponsors: Butler Funeral Home, Virgil Fire Department And Niagara Car Club!

My Sister

My Sister – written by Mentoring Coordinator, Madeline Van Hemert

Every Big Sister match is special and has elements that are unique to them. The Big Sister match for Danielle and Gwen was that and so much more. Having been matched well over a year, their bond truly grew deep. Like most relationships, theirs took time. The first few months consisted of simply getting to know each other by asking a lot of questions as well as bonding over their shared interests of crafting and eating. Their favourite things to do together were Skyzone, hiking at the Gorge, pottery at the Painted Turtle, attending BBBS events and hanging out.

From there, Danielle and Gwen began to not only become closer friends, but sisters as well. Over time, Danielle inspired Gwen to become obsessed with the Harry Potter series as well as eating Pho. In just over a year, Gwen has seen each Harry Potter movie and is currently reading book #5. Pho is a whole other story. Gwen was sincere in saying that Pho will always be her and Danielle’s ‘thing’. Each and every experience they shared, they documented in a beautiful scrapbook that they started early on. Page after page, this scrapbook holds the memories of each match visit including not just photos, but wrist bands, ticket stubs and even the description of Gwen that Danielle received when going through the matching process.

Much good has come from this relationship for both Danielle and Gwen. For Danielle, she was unsure of what to expect from the program but found that she got more than just a friend. She now has a little sister. Danielle said that people would even ask if they were sisters when they were out together. For Gwen, her takeaways were that Danielle became someone the she trusted, could always laugh with and someone that would always listen. Gwen’s mom found that this relationship gave Gwen the courage to come out of her shell, have more confidence and a friendship that was not hard or filled with drama. Everyone agreed that this was “a perfect match.”

As Danielle has needed to move home to Ottawa, she will be deeply missed. Endings aren’t always easy. Saying goodbye is hard. Luckily for these two, this is simply ‘see you later’. Because of the distance, this match has formally closed. However, because of the sisterhood, this friendship will go on. Gwen and her mom hope to make a trip to Ottawa as neither have been. The incentive now, is that Danielle will be their personal tour guide!

Danielle and Gwen had their final goodbyes at the BBBS office. It was an emotional moment where they shared their scrapbook, talked of their favourite memories, took some photos, and said goodbye with a big hug. They were both proud of themselves for not crying, although they knew without a doubt that the tears would come on their way home.

Big Bunch

In the past, Big Bunch has been poorly attended and many of the sessions had to be cancelled due to lack of attendance. Ridley College has been such a wonderful community partner for our agency, providing access to their state of the art facilities and attending our fundraisers throughout the years and we didn’t want to cancel the program as a result of lack of interest.

This year, there has been a bigger emphasis put on the value of Big Bunch in the parent orientations and the parent training. The process for getting the word out to parents has been streamlined to one person which has resulted in having 5-7 children attend each month. The Big Bunch program allows children on the wait-list to experience positive adults who provide friendship on a monthly basis. It has also allowed the Family Enrollment Coordinator to form relationships with families that we would otherwise not have monthly contact with. The consistent engagement let’s parents know we are working on the wait-list and have not forgotten about them.

Three of our consistent attendees are from a large family that live in an area that is not easily accessed through public transportation. They have one family car and the father works a lot throughout the week, leaving the mom home alone with her 4 children. They would not be able to attend events or Big Bunch if they did not have transportation given to them. Mom had reached out to us for Big Sisters and a Big Brother for the children because the youngest daughter was sexually assaulted and she wanted her to have someone to talk to and confide in. These three children have been a joy to get to know more personally and the Family Enrollment Coordinator has developed a positive relationship with the mom, who was hard for the agency to get a hold of previously. When it comes time for us to match these 3 children with a mentor, we have so much more information on them and our relationship with the family is stronger because of their attendance at Big Bunch. What a beautiful impact this program has!

Meaningful Mentorship

Matt, the little has been matched with Joe the Big Brother for three years, since Matt was 9 years old. At that time, Matt’s dad had moved away and made little effort to see him. He started a new family and often let Matt down by being unreliable and inconsistent. Matt struggled a lot with this and his mom knew she needed to do something for him to help him deal with it. She signed him up for Big Brothers in July 2014 and in December he was matched with Joe.

At the matches three-year annual review with Matt and his mom, she became emotional when she described the importance of the relationship her son has with his Big Brother. She shared that it is a big deal how much Matt likes Joe. He doesn’t talk much about Joe but she understands that it’s their time and she values and respects that for Matt’s sake. She knows that Matt thinks Joe is cool, and he trusts him and feels safe with him. She shared that the role Joe plays in Matt’s life is that of a mentor, role model and Big Brother.

Throughout Matt’s life, Joe has been the longest male relationship he has ever had. He is responsible, positive, consistent and reliable Joe and has made such a difference in Matt’s life. The Mom became emotional when she described how much this relationship is a making a difference in Matt’s life, beyond what she even sees or knows. They buy each other little gifts at Christmas and birthdays and Joe respects Matt for who he is. Other important men in Matt’s life have let him down over and over again, but Joe is reliable. The mom discussed how much Matt has changed. Joe came into his life at a time when he was really missing his father. Matt has gotten better, more accepting and complacent with his father’s choices. Matt has grown quite a bit over the years that he has been matched with Joe. But she stated that Matt would not be who he is today without Joe as his mentor. It is one of the most important relationships of his life, and even though it is not intense, it is so very meaningful.

The Rewards of Being a Big Sister

Maddie and I see each other once a week for 2-4 hours depending on what we are doing.  Recently, we were fortunate to participate in the BBBS Christmas activities together; the Christmas Party, the Jaycees shopping and breakfast, and the NOTL Christmas parade.  One of our favourite things to do is go to the movies.

Our relationship is growing all of the time.  I find her opening up more.  She is a great listener and a real pleasure to be with.

When we spend time with the other Littles like at the Halloween and Christmas parties, I am so impressed with what great kids they are.  I think there is a real misconception about these kids which perhaps makes people apprehensive about volunteering as a Big.  These are some of the sweetest, polite, and compassionate kids I’ve ever been around.  The kids we sat with at the Christmas Party (Jamal, Jevonte, Derek, and Shyann) were so great to Maddie although she was so much younger.  I was very impressed.

Mary

Beautiful Transformation- Seeing What Mentoring Can Do- A Caseworkers Perspective.

When I first met Matt and Keegan for the match introduction at Keegan’s school in January my impression of Keegan was that he was troubled boy with a defensive attitude. He seemed to snarl at authority and had some distain for me as well. He seemed a little intrigued by his mentor Matt, asking questions and finding a few things in common throughout the introduction. They both shared an interest in outdoor survival and the tools that would be handy to have in that situation. Keegan seemed to not be very confident in his responses and communication with Matt.

Fast forward three months… I completed match monitoring last week with Keegan and Matt. The match monitoring went as hoped with both big and little responding with positive feedback about the match and each other. Keegan told me about the activities that he and Matt do together and that he enjoys the time that he has. He also stated that Matt really listens to him and he knows this because of the exchange during conversations they have. However, the most notable point of the meeting was seeing Keegan’s demeanor. This young man who just a few weeks ago had seemed to lack confidence in himself and was defensive, now walked with distinct confidence and was almost buoyant. His head was up and he smiled at me as he approached me. He made eye contact with me and spoke with assurance. He was respectful and kind. It was as if it was a different boy all together. This beautiful transformation in a child, in just a few short weeks.

Brooklyn & Allie

Allie came into the ISM program two years ago. Her parents and her teacher applied to this program for her as she really struggled, in more areas than one. Allie’s confidence was incredibly low. She had very few friends. At times, she was selectively mute and barely said more than two words to anyone. The hope for her in this program was that she would have a friend that would believe in her and be kind to her.

This past year she was matched with a new mentor named Brooklyn. The first few weeks of the match were slow to warm up. Allie was always quiet, yet managed to keep a smile on her face. Brooklyn would ask her lots of questions and would do her best to remember details of what she had shared in previous weeks. Over the next few months, things really began to change.

Allie went from speaking minimally to having full on conversations with her mentor. Not only that, she became so comfortable that she would joke around with her mentor and even tease her at times! Brooklyn found this to be the turning point of their match and was encouraged by this incredible progress. When Allie talks about her mentor, over and over she explained that some of her favourite parts of the relationship are that her mentor listens to her and follows through on each visit.

Upon the closure of their match this school year, the school liaison validated all of the positive changes that Brooklyn had been seeing. She had said that since Allie has had Brooklyn, she has been more positive, joined more clubs and is more confident in talking to other people. She described this change in Allie as a transformation and begged for Brooklyn to continue next year as this had been such an influential factor in Allie’s development.

Many times, mentors wonder at the beginning of an ISM match how one hour per week can really make a significant difference in the life of their mentee. For Brooklyn, the change she saw in Allie as well as the feedback she received from the school, this was proof that came loud and clear.

Rachel and Adam

You can never predict how you’re going to meet your life partner, and that was certainly the case with Adam and Rachel.

Rachel, fresh out of graduating Public Relations at Niagara College, landed the first job of her career with Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Catharines, Thorold & District (BBBS) as their Communications Officer in 2012.

It was during the same time that Adam was in the middle of his own career, but also working with BBBS on running an annual third-party event called The Zelda Marathon. The event is held every December at the agency’s headquarters, and revolves around a group of gamers playing Zelda 24/7 in the BBBS basement for nearly a week straight.

“I remember the first time I saw Rachel was during The Zelda Marathon 4 in 2012. We were on day 5 or 6, and I had been going without sleep for about 24 hours. I also had my face painted orange and black as part of a challenge we did to raise funds during the event.” Said Adam.

“I have no idea how she ever took me seriously after that, but face paint works apparently.” He continued.

“She seemed like a really cool girl, and we hit it off so we decided to grab some drinks a few weeks later and it sort of just built from there.” Continued Adam.

Fast forward 6 years later and the couple are now happily married.

“We own a house together, have a dog, and got married last June. Rachel’s my best friend and partner for life.” Continued Adam.

As fate would have it, their lives would share another intersection in the May of 2017, when Adam was officially hired on as the new Communications Officer with BBBS.

“Rachel had moved on from BBBS a few years earlier, and this was an opportunity that presented itself for me.” Said Adam.

“It’s funny because I am doing my best to try and replicate and carry on some of the excellent work and communications standards Rachel had put in place during her time there. I still have access to all of her old folders and work! It’s pretty bizarre sitting in the same chair she did when we first met.” Said Adam.

“Life has a funny way of coming full-circle sometimes.” Continued Adam.

A Beautiful Transformation

School staff refer students to the In-School Mentoring program for a variety of reasons. In Jason’s case, it was in the hopes that he could form a friendship with someone that will help him to be calm. Jason has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder and in the past year has been struggling with some mental health issues. Jason has been matched in the ISM program before, but this year has been like none other.

In October of 2017, Jason was matched a volunteer named Tim. From the moment Jason met Tim, it was obvious that this was a match made in Heaven. One of Jason’s first comments was “I always wanted a boy mentor!” And that was that. From day one, these two had an immediate connection. Tim quickly became someone that Jason was excited to see and proud to spend time with.

During each visit, Tim was intentional about asking Jason how his week was, if he had anything new going on, as well as any plans for the coming weekend. It took time for Jason to meaningfully answer these questions, but over a few months, these little check-ins grew into conversations that would naturally take place as they spent the first portion of their visit simply walking around the school catching up.

Fast-forward to March 2018, it felt like a transformation was starting to occur. Mrs. K, one of the school staff could not fully express how much this friendship thrilled her. She now sees Jason as a happier, more alert kid. On one of the days that Jason and Tim were scheduled to meet, Jason came bouncing into the school with his stuffed lizard on his head and said through a beaming smile “I can’t wait to show Tim my lizard!” Mrs. K then jokingly asked if they (the school) could “keep Tim forever” and have him continue on to the Big Brothers program with Jason. She explained how beautiful their friendship is and remarked on how patient and kind Tim is with Jason.

Tim also speaks highly of his time with Jason. He believes that Jason is receptive to things he asks or teaches, including the importance of listening, which they had talked about most recently. But, the most moving part overall? When Jason was asked what he likes most about being with his mentor, an uncontrollable grin spread across his face and quickly looked down to his hands, shrugged and said “Tim is a really nice guy and is really nice to me.”