A Life Lesson

In December, one of our caseworkers did a match closing interview with a Big Brother. Andrew was with his match Nick for 5 years! The reason the match was closing was because Andrew was going away for training to be a police officer. He was also going to be proposing to his girlfriend, then hopefully planning a wedding. Life was getting busy for him. He told his little brother this and it went over well. Nick understood.

During the interview with Andrew I asked if there were any changes in Nick that he noticed over the five years. He stated that one of the highlights was hearing from Nick’s parents about how well he was doing and that they attributed that to his mentorship with Andrew.

However, the biggest success for which Andrew was proudest, came within the first year of the match. During outings to the driving range they would drive by MJ’s (a roadside, fast food, burger joint). One time they stopped in after the range and Andrew treated Nick to dinner and he was happy to do so. Nick loved it there! Then Andrew found out on a separate outing that Nick was a cigarette smoker, at 12 years old. This didn’t sit well with Andrew. They went to the driving range again and knowing how much Nick raved about the food he was treated to at MJ’s and that he would ask to go there after the driving range, Andrew had a plan. When Nick asked if they could go there again after the range, Andrew stated that they are not going there as long as Nick is a smoker. It didn’t take long for Nick to quit smoking and ask again after the driving range if they could stop in at MJ’s. Andrew had a small conversation with Nick about smoking… then took him to MJ’s. As far as Andrew is aware Nick quit smoking as they talked about it and he never smelled it on him again. He felt confident that Nick had indeed quit smoking at 12 years old.

A Big Voice

Everyone has a voice. Everyone has influence. We train everyone who engages in our programs in these things. Our Littles know that they have a voice, and it is always their choice if they use it. Both for good as well as anything negative. One of our Big Sister matches has taken this even further.

Last month, one of our very own Littles entered into her school’s public speaking competition. Not only did she crush her school presentation and win the public speaking contest, she did so well that she made it to the regional competition! She even memorized the entire speech!

Not only is that accomplishment exciting, the even more incredible part is that when this Little first came to the agency, she was experiencing a lot of change at home and really struggled with self-regulation when she was angry. This really impacted her social and relational abilities. Now, almost two years later, she is entering into public speaking competitions and really succeeding! She has also developed a strong, positive relationship with her Big, who is always trying new and exciting activities.

Her Big spoke so proudly of her and was excited to be able to attend the regional competition with the Little’s grandmother. This match has become more than anyone could have anticipated. The Big has encouraged her Little in trying different things that they could work on together and it appears that this has translated beyond the match.

Hailey and Teagan

Hailey and Teagan have been matched together for two school years in In-School Mentoring (ISM). Throughout their ISM match, they enjoyed playing different games, card games, and making up dances. This year they had talked together about moving their match into Big Sisters as they wanted to spend more time together and have the opportunity to do activities within their community.

Last week, Hailey and Teagan officially became sisters in our Big Sisters program! Both Hailey and Teagan were so excited, not just for the match, but that they could also spend their first official Big Sisters visit celebrating Teagan’s birthday together. Immediately following their match introduction at our agency, Hailey and Teagan headed out for a birthday brunch as Teagan’s birthday was the next day. These two are so excited to begin this next chapter of their friendship together. They already know that they want to spend time dancing, getting their nails done, and going to a make-up tutorial.

A Familiar Face: In-School Mentoring

Rebecca and Lynn have been matched for two school years in ISM. Lynn was referred to the program as she was struggling with some challenging dynamics at home, which was causing her to be sadder and more withdrawn. We simply wanted someone that would be her friend, someone she could talk to, someone to be a positive break in the middle of her week.

That is exactly what Lynn got, and then some. Rebecca admits that as she came into the program, she was unsure of what to expect.  After only three months of being matched, Rebecca reflected on the demeanor of her Mentee and expressed that “the fact that I can see what a positive impact this program has on my student as we both look forward to the time we spend together is what makes this satisfying…and I am proud to be a part of it.”

By the end of their first year together, Rebecca found the level of trust they developed was clear in what they could talk about. The Youth Counsellor at the school even remarked to her that Lynn “is much happier since your match began.” To top off all of these positive changes, Lynn reflected on her time with Rebecca and said that she “felt like we were best friends, my best friend forever. I cried when it ended because we are like sisters.”

At the end of each school year, we ask matches if they’d like to continue the following year. In Rebecca and Lynn’s case, they immediately agreed that they would like to continue the following September. Lynn was told that if Rebecca was still available we would re-open their match in September.

There are certainly instances where schedules change or people move, which prevents matches from continuing year to year. Much to Rebecca and Lynn’s delight, they were able to continue their match for a second year.

Now, almost two years in, Lynn has found when she is with Rebecca she can get away from problems with friends and simply enjoys “having someone to talk to.” Rebecca has also found that they have grown to be similar in liking the Came things. She now knows exactly what Lynn likes and can supply those things each week. Rebecca and Lynn are now used to seeing each other each week and find it strange if a week goes by where they don’t see each other.

It’s Okay to Stand Out in a Crowd

It’s Okay to Stand out in a Crowd.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out” – Dr. Seuss

Everyone is unique in their own way, but it is the individuals that are able to not only embrace every unique quality possessed by them, but also those possessed by others that truly stand out in a crowd.

Go Girl Harley is a prime example of this. A previously shy and quiet student working to figure out who she was just 3 short years ago in Go Girls has blossomed into an advocate for those around her. Harley was referred to as a ‘saint’ by her mentors in reference to natural talent to balance the personalities within their Go Girls group. Harley had a way of reigning in the more outgoing personalities, and ensuring students who may have otherwise been overshadowed in their reserved nature were heard and valued by each and every participant.

“Genuine”

It’s been over three years since this Big Sisters match began. This Little and her mom approached the agency as their family had been through some trying times and were wanting someone that she could have to herself. Someone that was encouraging, confident, could be an outlet and would influence increasing her self-awareness and trust. Around the same time, the Big Sister-to-be approached the agency as she had a close friend who had done the program and encouraged her to apply. In reflection, this Big also identified some family challenges growing up that impacted her significantly and had her wishing that she had someone that she felt safe to be open with. In becoming a Big Sister, she hoped that she could be in a match where there was trust, mutual caring, and where she could be a role model and even provide advice.

Little did this Big and Little know what was to come. They have enjoyed many visits that included some kind of creative arts and crafts component or baking. They also ventured out to see movies, IceDogs games, or activities outdoors – in the warmer weather, of course. Their consistent favourites have been the BBBS agency events, specifically the BBBS Halloween Parties and Christmas Parties. As the years passed by, something deeper began to develop. Not only did they share many interests, they began to occupy a special space in a part of their each other’s lives. Although they don’t see each other every week, the time they do share is simple. Now it consists of hanging out; enjoying reading, lounging at home, making crafts, and talking about their week.

Recently, the Little and her mom have reflected on the extent of impact that this match has had on their lives. It was clear that each visit is anticipated with an uncontainable excitement. If the Little said it once, she said it many times that her favourite thing about her Big is that she makes her feel like she matters by “making me happy when I’m sad.” In addition to that, of course they laugh a lot when they are together. The Little said that they have grown so close that they even “have the same reaction to things.”

Mom is at the point with this match where she can’t fully express how transformational this relationship has been for her daughter. At first, she was thrilled with how similar they were. Their affinity for crafting, and the quiet calm nature were a few of the obvious connecters. However, now it is the internal differences that mom loves and appreciates most.  When the two are together she knows that her daughter confides in her Big. Mom believes that her daughter “gets to be her authentic self” when she is with her Big. The biggest changes that have occurred in her daughter, which she attributes to the match, are that her self-awareness has increased, she has gained confidence, and there has been a major increase in her self-perception and body image.

Mom believes that her daughter has truly learned to appreciate her Big and see her as more than just a match. She is “proud to have someone invest in her.” The one word that Mom used to describe their relationship – “genuine”.

“It Takes a Village”

* Some names have been re-attributed for this story *

Many times, the highlights and successes of matches are shared, with only minor focus on the undertones of challenge and struggle. In this story, there is more struggle than highlights, but sometimes it’s about continuing to take another step on this journey called life. A journey where it is clear that it really does take a village to raise a child.

For this family, the concept of ‘it takes a village’ stands true. Tina and her three kids moved to the Niagara Region over a year ago due to changes within the family, specifically with Tina breaking up with her kids’ father and some ongoing custody challenges. What brought them to BBBS was that the kids were hurting from the lack of effort that their father was investing in them and that their mom was starting to have health issues of her own.

Over the course of 2017, I have been able to match two of the three kids. These girls absolutely love their matches. Tina also worked on signing the kids up for a camp within their neighbourhood as well as programs in a church that they began to call home. Tina was always on the lookout for ways that her kids could become involved and connected with others in their community.

When I talk with Tina and the girls about their matches, they are always excited to do so. Not only do they love what they do together, but the kind of person that their mentors are. One of the girls recently reflected on how “bright” her Big Sister’s personality is and that “when I tell her about things that bring me down, she does something that boosts my energy and brings out my good personality again.”

It wasn’t until recently that I learned the extent of Tina’s health issues. I learned that she has been battling cancer as well as a brain condition that really takes a toll on how she can engage day to day. Tina admitted that there are hard days where she is discouraged and tired, but expressed how grateful she is for their church family as well as BBBS. She said that she is happy that two of her girls have Big Sisters as it is good for them to have someone to them self that they can trust, confide in, and have fun with.

Tina doesn’t know what the future will look like, but knows that she has a community that is supporting them.

“The Best Man”

* Some names have been re-attributed for this story *

I met a match who have been together for 7 years. Jordan, the little brother is turning 18 next month and is on the autism spectrum. His parents are wonderfully involved and supportive of him and have planned very well for his future. Next year he is going to Niagara College to become a welder. His big brother Mark came in for match monitoring at the beginning of the month and had such amazing things to say about Jordan and his family. He told me that Jordan is busier as he is getting older with involvement in school clubs and sports. He is really proud of Jordan for that. He feels Jordan is overcoming some of his challenges and becoming more involved in things even though, socially he struggles. Mark has watched Jordan grow up and become more responsible with money, look for a job, mature and learn to drive. He still finds that shocking having known him since he was 10 years old. Mark feels that they are more like friends now and less of a mentoring relationship. He feels the age gap is shrinking somewhat. Mark feels that Jordan is his best friend, almost like family. The relationship and connection that Jordan and Mark have is beautiful. Jordan recently went away with his family and during his trip Mark and him were messaging each other about the trip. Jordan sent some pictures to show Mark while they were away. Jordan looks up to Mark so much that he will sometimes disagree with his parents because it’s not what Dan would do or say. Jordan’s mom said that if Jordan did not have Mark he would have grown up very isolated. Mark gave Jordan so much that he doesn’t even know. The match will be closing next month as Jordan will be aging out of the program. Both him and Mark have expressed that they will remain friends. So much so that Mark is planning his wedding in the coming year. Jordan doesn’t (or didn’t know when I spoke with him yesterday) that Mark is going to ask him to be his best man in his wedding.

Quote: Success is measured in how you treat people.

Dina and Cassidy: A Match Meant to Be

Dina and Cassidy are an example of a “Match meant to be”. Their friendship started through Big Brothers Big Sisters, but not in the typical fashion. Dina first met Cassidy during a camp she had put together with her partner and husband, Rob, that allowed children still waiting to be matched with a Big the opportunity to get involved with theatre.

“We met during the second week of theatre classes the first year we put the camp together in 2010. The first class I had I turned to Rob and said I wish I could be a big sister but I don’t have time. After the first class with Cassidy I turned to Rob and said, “I have to be her Big Sister.” I signed up and became her Big Sister during the camp. I did the training as soon as I could. We were matched quickly.” said Dina.

“We were matched with the agency for about 4-5 years and then we decided to continue being family after. Cassidy is family to us and we see her frequently throughout the year.” continued Dina.

With Dina and Cassidy everything just “clicked” from the very beginning.

“Our connection is very organic. We gelled from the beginning. We can be honest with each other. We can go through spats like real family but unlike family we really listen to each other and learn from what has happened. We grow from each other.  Everything makes it special. We are very lucky to still have each other. This was fate for us to meet. This is waiting for others out there too. I hope others give this opportunity a try in our community. It’s very good for the soul for everyone.” said Dina.

As it turns out that theatre camp may have rubbed off on Cassidy, who frequently assists with Dina and Rob’s theatre production company, Something Something Productions. Cassidy has also begun studying acting at Brock University.

“Cassidy has a lot of confidence now and stands for herself. Cassidy is learning by my mistakes when I was her age so it’s incredible to see her challenge herself and succeed. Cassidy has also gained confidence to go on stage and perform as an actor at Brock University as well.” said Dina.

Dina is an ardent believer in the power of mentorship for the benefit of the community at large.

“Mentoring Matters because everyone needs someone they can talk to, rely on, and trust because more times than not, your family is not television. It’s real life. There are kids who are scared to talk to their parents, peers, and even members in the community. Mentors can make a big difference in a child’s life. I was able to experience that myself with Cassidy.” said Dina.

“It is important because it’s good for the community. It will help give kids more confidence but it also helps the volunteer. If the volunteer is serious and invests in the children, it will change their life.  It really will change their life. It sounds cliche but me and Cassidy are living proof. It proves that this program is important world wide. It starts in our community. It starts right here.” continued Dina.

And what did Dina get out of her experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters?

“I was hoping to help a kid feel good and better about themselves. Give them the advice I never received or took from my Mom. I was able to get a real sister out of this experience.”

Judith and Kiera

“3 years ago I was googling some possible volunteer opportunities that I could be a part of. After looking through a myriad of websites Big Brothers Big Sisters captured my attention.” says Big Sister, Judith.

“I came into this organization with an open heart, mind and with the intention of volunteering my time and making a difference in a child’s life. BBBS left more of an impact on my life. It taught me time management skills, planning skills and most of all patience.” she continued.

“Dealing with your lil mentee that you are paired up with can be very challenging, but rest assured that it is all fun at the same time. Your social worker will work tirelessly to make sure that the match is perfect. Simply seeing the smile on my Little’s face at the annual Christmas party made me feel that I was doing something right. The past three years with BBBS was life-changing and the best volunteer experience I have ever invested in.” continued Judith.

“When I was first paired with my Little she was very shy and reserved. Now today I can that her self-esteem shines through the books we read together, her speech and overall school experience.”

Lucas and Matt

The following story is credit of Molly Harding, Advertising features writer with the St. Catharines Standard.

At 10 years old, Lucas is a bright and friendly young lad, eager to talk and with a ready smile that’s contagious. Yet this is not how he’s been for the last three years, he says.

“I’ve been sad and not comfortable, and I haven’t done well in school.”

His words were echoes by his mom, Miranda, who became a single mom three years ago and said she has been really worried about Lucas ever since. It has been tough on her son, without male companionship, she says. He’s been unhappy so much, hasn’t wanted to interact with his buddies and has lost interest in school.

“He has needed someone to talk to, someone to take him places” – “and do guy stuff” her son added. What changed?

Matt Dagenais came into their lives. Six months ago, Matt became a Big Brothers with Lucas as his Little Brother. And it has made a significant difference in the lives of both Lucas and his mom.

Miranda has no idea how to help her young son, until she heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters St. Catharines, Thorold & District from a friend, who suggested she look into it.

“It was so easy,” she says. “We went to Big Brothers and talked to them, then had an assessment done. It took a month before they found a Big Brother. Then Matt became Lucas’ Big Brother, and he has been a different boy. Matt is fun, he takes him out every week, and they do things together. And since they have had this relationship, Lucas is doing much better at school.

Lucas tells it this way:

“I can do guy stuff with Matt. I call him Dude or Bro, and he takes me places on Saturdays. We’ve been to Happy Rolf’s and Clifton Hill. We went to Ripley’s Museum and to the moving theatre. And today we;re going to the Pumpkin Patch.”

“Matt and I play tennis – look, there’s my raquet over there. I like to skateboard – I’m just learning, though – and I do cross-country and play soccer. And I have a basketball net, I also collect rocks. It’s nice to be able to do things with my bro. And I can talk to him about anything.”

About girls and stuff?

“Yeah, maybe,” he grins.

Matt tells it this way:

“I’m in my second year at Brock and that’s where I heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters, Brock is very much involved. I dream of being a pediatrician. I love kids and this is my first time as a Big Brother. I thought it would be good to hang out with a Little Brother – I really wanted to make an impact and to be a role model.”

“I feel I’ve taken a leadership role here, but I don’t make all the decisions. We decide together where we will go and what we’ll do. Lucas looks out for me, and I do for him. Our relationship has grown a lot since April and we have a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to our days together.”

Matt and Lucas get together for a few hours once a week and it’s even made a difference in Lucas’ relationship with his mom, he says. They watch movies together and he is much more relaxed and happier in his everyday life.

“I just wish I had known about Big Brothers a lot sooner,” says Miranda. “Lucas would not have been so unhappy for so long.”

Making a “BIG” Difference in the Dominican Republic Part 2

This story is a follow up to our original story.

In that story, we introduced you to Courtney, a BBBS mentor who traveled to the Dominican Republic as part of a group called Live Different, to help build a house for a family. We recently received an update from one of the leaders from Live Different, letting us know that the family has welcomed a new member.

“On December 26th, the family received their late Christmas gift! Ceila Yorleny was born by Caesarian section and weighed 7 pounds. Ceila was born happy and healthy and both Daniella and Ceila are doing great!

Daniella and Ambiorix are such proud parents and told me that the best part of living in their new home has been being able to bring a new baby into a safe dry home and complete the family. Adrian tells me he is now excited to have a little sister, although Ambiorix said he was quite jealous at first.

Even though Ceila wakes up often in the middle of the night and Daniella doesn’t get a lot of sleep she somehow manages to keep her house absolutely spotless! I told Daniela to expect frequent visits from me as I am so excited to watch Ceila grow into the beautiful woman that she will become. ”