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 🙂

Back to 80in80!

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.



Back to 80 in 80!

Laurie Ianetti and the DSBN Connection

The work of our ISM program would not be possible without the dedicated youth counsellors we work with at the DSBN. One such counsellor, Laurie Ianetti, has been a long-time partner of ours, and has seen many at-risk children and youth benefit from the program.

“I have worked in alternative education sites, as well as secondary and elementary schools. It has been my job to work with school staff to identify the need for mentors within a school. “

Laurie agrees that the ISM program is one of the most effective early response programs in Niagara for creating a positive, healthy environment for mentored youth.

“I am so pleased and grateful for the work that Big Brothers Big Sisters does in schools to match students to appropriate mentors. They spend such a good deal of time training the mentors and matching students.  The mentoring program is one of the best programs that I have access to within the community to work with children. “

Mentored youth graduate at a higher rate, are absent less often in school, utilize social assistance at a lower rate, engage less in risky and delinquent behaviours than non-mentored youth, thereby becoming positive contributors to our communities.

“There are positive changes in a child’s behaviour as a result of their match.  Children who are matched look forward to their time with their mentors each week and are sad when their time is over.  Almost always a child asked to be re-matched the following year.”

And sometimes, they do get re-matched.

“I have seen many noteworthy positive changes in children as a result of their mentor match.  Most recently there is a boy in grade 6 who was matched last year and his mentor returned this year.  The time they spend together each week is the highlight of this boy’s week.  The positive changes we have noticed are no doubt a direct result of the time that Mr. Jim spends with him.”

Laurie thanks the talented Mentoring Coordinators at Big Brothers Big Sisters for making her job that much easier.

“Every person has someone in their life who has made a difference.  Positive one-on-one attention from a caring adult is key to all children feeling good about themselves and others.  In school mentoring works because Big Brothers Big Sisters takes the time to properly train and supervise the matches.  For my schools it is Madeline Van Hemert.  Without her it would not be as successful as it is.  Thank you, Maddy, for all the great work you do!”

Back to 80 in 80!

A Mom’s Story

Single mother of three girls under the age of twelve, Jennifer, shares her experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters St.Catharines-Thorold & District and “how much it has positively impacted not only her life, but the lives of her girls as well”. Jennifer never thought that she would be in a situation where she would be a single mother of three girls after her “husband of 21 years walked out on her family after disguising a drug addiction and a hidden affair with her best friend”. That left her and her daughters “depressed, heartbroken and wondering what would happen as they “were in a state of survival”.

Jennifer explained that “the separation had not been easy on her daughters, and as a mother, there is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your children in so much pain and not knowing what to do about it” which is why she “decided to give the agency a call”. Jennifer described her hope that her oldest daughter, “who was eleven at the time and was hurting the most to cope, find someone she could talk to, and spend quality one on one time that I couldn’t provide for any of my children” due to the fact that now all of the “household and financial responsibilities for four people laid on her shoulders” which left almost no time for her to bond with my children.

Jennifer’s daughter “met the most spectacular lady” and she noticed “an instant bond”. She expressed her gratitude for the volunteers as “they all have so much heart, and truly don’t understand the impact they make on these children, going through some struggle in their lives”. After seeing how much her oldest had benefited from having a Big Sister in her life Jennifer decided to try this with her younger two children, and soon enough all three of them had big sisters. She described her decision to call the agency to be “one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life”. She has “seen her girls blossom so much in the short few years they have known their “big sisters” and the impact on their lives is amazing, they are happier, healthier children and that mentality has carried over into their school work and day to day social lives”.

She describes how her “three little girls witnessed their mother lose her best friend who they treated like a second mom and watch her run off with their father.  It was making it difficult for them to see the good in people, especially women”. It was not easy to escape “the fearful, distrustful mentality that everyone would end up betraying their trust in the end, but their Big Sisters have brought new life to their eyes, they are more confident, and independent and much happier”.

Jennifer expressed her gratitude once again, as “not only have the mentors been amazing to my family, but the entire agency staff, especially our caseworker, who gave her oldest daughter the amazing opportunity to apply for a scholarship, which would take immense financial stress off of her, and help her achieve her aspirations without having to be held back by our financial situations”. The caseworker “was phenomenal and patient” and the agency is “a warm friendly atmosphere full of people who begin to feel like family to you”.

Jennifer wanted everyone to know that Big Brothers Big Sisters is seen as something that “only lower class children headed in bad direction” would benefit from. However, “Big Brothers Big Sisters is an amazing opportunity for any family going through a hard time in their life and want to give their children a positive and healthy outlet and escape from their home life for a few hours, regardless of financial situation”. The agency is made up of “truly amazing people who have made a huge difference in our community”.

Back to 80 in 80!

Answering the Tough Questions

Glen and Cody make sure that there were never any questions left unasked. As part of the Game On program at Power Glen Elementary School, Glen and Cody implement the question box activity. This allows the boys in Game On to anonymously ask the Mentors questions, that they may not be comfortable asking others.

Game On provides boys in grades 6-8 with impactful mentorship through a variety of discussions and active games over 7 weeks. Glen and Cody are hopeful that the mentorship that they are able to provide to the boys at Power Glen Elementary School will help them make positive life choices as they grow up.

Both Glen and Cody are aspiring Police Officers who are generously volunteering their time, to make a positive impact on the lives of the boys in Game On. Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Catharines-Thorold & District would like to thank both Glen and Cody for the unforgettable experience they were able to provide the boys at Power Glen Elementary School.

Glen expressed that he “feel[s] that we were able to help guide the boys in a positive direction as mentors, while having fun as friends”. Cody believes that “through the Game On program, we were able to teach the mentees many life lessons, offer them tips and advice on some very important years they have ahead of them, all while playing sports, forming friendships and having a great time”.

Some Game On! Participants have shared that they “get to learn new things about how people deal with stress” and that “because of Game On [they] get excited for Mondays now”. We’re excited for Glen and Cody to come back and help mentor another group of boys who need guidance at such a critical stage in life.

Back to 80 in 80!

Keegan and Nicole

Some matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters have a way of impacting the mentor as much as the mentee. The story of Keegan and Nicole’s friendship started as a mentorship, but would quickly become something therapeutic for both.

“Keegan, like myself, was a Young Carer, and I saw a lot of myself in her. Young Carers are children, youth and young adults who are in a caregiving role for a family member needing assistance with their daily lived experience due to disabilities, illnesses, mental health issues, and addictions. Young Carers take on extra stresses and responsibilities, and as a result, can experience high levels of stress. Having experienced similar challenges as a youth, I recognized our outings together as a time for Keegan to take to take a break from her care giving roles and responsibilities.” says former Big Sister and friend, Nicole.

“Keegan, like myself, was a Young Carer, and I saw a lot of myself in her."

“Funnily enough, not long after Keegan and I were matched, I switched jobs to a youth agency that supported Young Carers. This position allowed me to connect Keegan to the Young Carers movement in our area. Keegan attended lots of the events I ran and organized with the agency alongside me and eventually volunteered and completed her school placement with the agency long after I left.” continued Nicole.

“Throughout our time together Nicole helped me in so many ways, one in particular was helping improve my self-esteem and showing me that there were other people in the Niagara Region like me. Nicole introduced me to the Young Carers program in St. Catharines, where I was able to attend some events with her and learn more about the organization and what it meant to be a Young Carer.” said Keegan.

Ultimately, the trend that began to emerge from this match was one of compassion and caring for others.

“Throughout our time together Nicole helped me in so many ways, one in particular was helping improve my self-esteem and showing me that there were other people in the Niagara Region like me."

“For me personally, mentoring Keegan mattered because I felt we both learned and grew so much from the experience; how to build and maintain relationships, how to communicate better and have hard conversations, how to problem solve and how to care and be cared for by another person.” Said Nicole.

“I have always been interested in helping at-risk youth and providing them with the support services they need to thrive in today’s society. This was definitely something I learned from Nicole and her experience working with Young Carers and being exposed to that environment.” Said Keegan.

This trend of caring for others would eventually come full circle some years later. While working as a Youth Outreach Worker, Nicole called on Keegan for some professional advice.

“My coworker and I were preparing for the Grow grant application process and needed some advice and support from another agency who had been a successful recipient. We noticed the Kristin French Advocacy Centre on the list. I recalled a Facebook post of Keegan’s stating she had started with the agency and reached out to Keegan for her experience with the Grow process.” Said Nicole.

“Keegan and I met at my office and were able to information share about our roles in the social service sector and the agencies we worked for. Keegan supported me through our application writing process and offered advice based on her experiences with the Trillium Foundation.” continued Nicole.

“I was able to provide Nicole with some insight in regards to the survey’s they ask us to have completed, the data collection needed and what our key areas that we are looking at. During this meeting we were able to share information on current roles in our organizations and what we were currently doing. This was a great way to network and learn more about each other’s roles and how we can assist each other with program referrals and client needs throughout the Region.” Said Keegan.

“Calling Keegan for help in a professional context felt like my mentoring experience had really come full circle. I am so proud of all she has accomplished! I may have walked her around the office introducing her to my coworkers as ‘my little’, with pride!” professed Nicole.

The question of whether or not being matched with Nicole helped inspire Keegan’s future career choice was a no-brainer.

“Calling Keegan for help in a professional context felt like my mentoring experience had really come full circle. I am so proud of all she has accomplished! I may have walked her around the office introducing her to my coworkers as 'my little', with pride!”

“Being in the BBBS program and knowing Nicole did have an impact on my decision to get into the field that I am in… I have always been interested in helping at-risk youth and providing them with the support services they need to thrive in today’s society. This was definitely something I learned from Nicole.” says Keegan.

“Keegan has done some really amazing things in life. It makes me smile to think that perhaps, even in a small way, I may have helped contribute to the accomplished person she is today. As much as I hope my mentoring Keegan had a positive effect on her life, I cannot say enough about how much having her in my life has changed me.” said Nicole.

To learn more about the Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre visit http://www.kristenfrenchcacn.org/

To learn more about the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre visit http://nfchc.ca/

To learn more about the Young Carers Initiative visit http://www.powerhouseproject.ca/

Back to 80 in 80!

Lewis and Zack: from Game On! to ISM

On September 12th, 2014 a young man named Lewis Lau made his first inquiry about becoming involved with Big Brother Big Sisters as a Mentor. Lewis came to Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Catharines-Thorold & District looking to make a positive influence of the youth of his community. Lewis had his application approved on October 23rd, 2014 and began mentoring shortly after in the Game On Program 4 days later. Little did he know just how much of a positive impact he would end up making on the youth of his community.

Lewis started Mentoring in the Game On program at St. Anthony’s Elementary School, as pictured above. Lewis had such an enjoyable experience in Game On, that he has now gone on to mentoring 3 groups of students through Game On. Lewis has now provided irreplaceable mentorship to 41 boys across St. Catharines.

Most recently, Lewis had completed Game On at Edith Cavell Elementary during fall of 2016. While Lewis was mentoring in Game On at Edith Cavell, he eventually began to grow a strong connection with a student named Zack that was participating in the Game On program. Both Lewis and Zack wished that Game On didn’t have to end, as they had really enjoyed each other’s company. Zack was interviewed at the end of the Game On and was asked what it was that he liked about Lewis. He answered by saying “he helps me take my mind off of all of the bad things in my life that I think about.” Afterwards Lewis was told about the significant positive impact that he made had on Zack. Lewis expressed how much it meant to him to be able to have this type of impact on a child’s life. It was at this point when Lewis had mentioned his interest in becoming involved in the In-School Mentoring Program. He shared how he feels that he has more great mentoring to offer. Lewis entailed how he would really enjoy being able to Mentor Zack on a 1-1 basis. As you could have predicted, Zack was ecstatic to hear of the news that he could now be with Lewis in a 1-1 mentoring relationship. Lewis and Zack are scheduled to begin their In-School Mentoring match in January of 2017. It just goes to show you how big of an impact that the Mentors if Big Brothers Big Sisters can have on a child.

Back to 80 in 80!

A Longstanding Partnership: United Way

You’re only as strong as your community partners, and in United Way of St. Catharines and District – we have been blessed with a partnership that dates back 60 years.

They have been our backbone, helped our agency re-group and reorganize after our displacement during World War II, and helped see that Big Sisters was incorporated into our agency in 1983. Much of our history is tied to theirs.

The United Way acts as an “umbrella organization”, raisings funds to support programs offered by community organizations through workplace campaigns, community donors, corporate donations, labour partners, special events and grants. A Community Investment Committee comprised of trained volunteers reviews the funding applications from these organizations, and makes recommendations to the United Way’s Board of Directors on how they should be best allocated.

Currently, the United Way of St. Catharines helps to fund, in-part, our traditional Big Brothers Big Sisters programs and our In-School Mentoring program.
To learn more about United Way St. Catharines and District visit https://www.unitedwaysc.ca/

Back to 80 in 80!

A “Muddy Match”

Nadia and Bella, who both have endless energy and are always up for a fun challenge, took on the Pelham Mudfest on Saturday May 6th sponsored by PenFinancial, and in support of our neighbouring BBBS Niagara Falls Agency.

When Nadia first told her little sister about the event, she noticed the immediate excitement, and knew it was a great fit when Bella added “I ain’t scared of mud”.

The cold and rainy weather that day was less than ideal for an outside event, and even made the match first question their decision to participate.  Nadia first ran the adult 6km course which took about an hour and five minutes to finish while her Little Sister waited with Nadia’s mom. Then it was Bella’s turn, and she completed the kid’s special 1km course.

Nadia enjoyed watching Bella navigate and run throughout the course yelling “OMG!! I didn’t think there would be this much mud!!!”. Regardless, she too completed her course – and they were both happy they chose to participate. They shared lunch with other participants, and Nadia added that knowing it was going to support Big Brothers Big Sisters made it even better.

Back to 80 in 80!

Bowl for Millions

With successful “Bowl-a-thon” tournaments starting to emerge in Toronto and Barrie, discussions began in October 1976 to start one of our own. After deciding there was insufficient time to run a tournament for 1977, it was decided to focus all efforts on making the debut event in 1978, called Bowl for Millions. The kick-off event for the Bowl for Millions campaign was Saturday, February 11th, 1978 at Parkway Lanes. The first-year event was a huge success and ended up making over $6000 and created huge exposure for the agency, leading to an increase in Big Brother volunteers. This event would eventually pave the way for our coast-to-coast Bowl for Kids Sake campaign, and nearly 40 years later we’re still holding a bowling event at Parkway Lanes!

Back to 80in80!

Dan and Justin

Justin first became involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters in the year of 2011, while attending Niagara College in the recreation and leisure program. Through a school placement, he was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer in multiple schools as a Game On! volunteer mentor. What an impactful and rewarding experience it was for him!

After graduating from Niagara College, he wanted to continue making a difference with the youth of the community. In order to do this, he needed to balance multiple part-time jobs, as a full-time position in his field of work was difficult to find. That all changed in 2015 when he came across a job posting with Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Catharines – Thorold & District. Justin knew right away that this was where he wanted to work. He went through 2 intense interviews with Dale Davis and Francis Lettieri.

As good as Justin felt about the interviews, they actually decided on hiring someone else for the position. That person being none other than, Dan Nikkel, a longtime Mentoring Coordinator with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Justin was obviously very disappointed to not get the position. He now looks back to a question he thought little of when it was first asked: “Would you like to be considered in the future for any other openings we may have”. Justin put aside his disappointment and said “Yes, of course.”.

A few months later, he got a call from Fran asking if he would still be interested in joining the BBBS team, as she felt there was position that really suited his skill set. That position was for the Game On! Mentoring Coordinator. Justin was invited for an interview for the position, and shortly after walked out of the office with a brand-spankin’ new job! The best part is that Justin and Dan went on to become incredibly close friends at work, but Dan will always have “I got hired first!” to hold over Justin’s head.

Justin’s last day with us was Thursday, October 19th and we know both him and Dan will be unbelievably successful in whatever they pursue next. Thanks for the memories, you two!

Back to 80 in 80!