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. ”

Sister’s Life Changed by Big Sister

Full credit for this story goes to Craig Sebert and Niagara News, circa 2006.

Aurora Anderson-Short says she loves her big sister, and they are not even related.

Since she was six, Anderson-Short, now 13, has had an adult mentor from Big Brothers Big Sisters. For the past two years, Bev Newton has been her Big Sister.

“I love having her as my Big Sister,” said Anderson-Short.

“We have so much fun together.”

Anderson-Short says she isn’t the only one in her family with a mentor from Big Brothers Big Sisters. “My two brothers have mentors of their own,” she said.

“We are a family of little brothers and sisters.”

Newton, a hotel manager in Niagara Falls says she became a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters about 10 years ago on the advice of a friend.

“It is a wonderful organization,” she said

“There is a real need for volunteers to do this sort of thing.”

The two got paired together based on their hobbies and personalities. As far as the two are concerned, it was a perfect match.

“We go great together,” said Newton.

“She is a very caring and considerate person who I am happy to be with.”

Newton says they spend about four hours together once a week.

“We do so much together,” she said.

“We love doing a variety of things.”

Anderson-Short says they paint, do crafts, go bowling, go to baseball games, sop, watch movies, eat chinese food and hang around.

“There is never a dull moment with us,” she laughed.

Her favourite part about having a mentor is being able to forget about everything and just be able to relax.

Newton says she is very proud of her little sister, and is pleased to see her mature over the two years they have been together.

“She is such a good spirited person and she likes to do things that don’t cost a lot of money,” she said.

Both agree the only bad part about their situation is when their schedules don’t work and they can’t meet.

Anderson-Short says she will definitely become a Big Sister when she gets older, and will still keep in touch with Newton.

For children and youth who haven’t gotten a mentor yet, Anderson-Short says you will have quite an experience ahead of you.

“You are going to have the best time of your life,” she said.

“Your life will change.”

Back to 80in80

A Match Made in Thorold

Original story by Becky Day and all credit goes to Thorold and Niagara News, circa September, 2009.

Ryan Day met Jacob in October 2007. Growing up, Ryan always had a positive male role model to look up to and he knew he would want to help young people some day.

“I wanted to do something to give back.” Day said. “Being a Big Brothers has given me a real look at the impact a positive male role model can have on a young boy. I can visibly see how excited Jacob is when I arrive to pick him up, and that alone makes it worthwhile.”

Day first began with the St. Catharines, Thorold & District agency when he was a student at Brock University and living in Thorold. While most most kids only focus on studies and socializing, he also became a Big Brother.

A full time student that works and volunteers a few nights a week for his church, Day has made time to spend with his Little Brother, Jacob.

“It takes a little effort to make a huge impact.” Day said.

“I’m very busy but it is one more thing I work into my schedule. I make it a priority.”

Both a little nervous for their first meeting, the pair now spend at least an hour a week together skating, going to movies, playing baseball, riding bikes and tobogganing.

“I like playing” said Jacob on why he likes spending time with Ryan. “You get to do more stuff.”

“He’s a fun kid to hang out with.” said Day. “It’s very rewarding to hang out with someone that needs it. It’s not a big time commitment and much of what we do is free.”

“They might not have anyone close to play with and someone to talk to.” said Jacob on why more people should consider Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“There is plenty of opportunity for anyone who wants to get involved in mentoring a child and making a difference in their lives to do so.” said David Hutt, Big Brother caseworker. “There is a need for volunteers like Ryan who can make the commitment to make a life-lasting impression on a child.”

“We also know that there are more children out there that could really use a mentor and we hope that getting the word out regarding some of the positive impacts our programs are having will inspire not only potential volunteers, but also parents or guardians of potential ‘Littles’ to make that call.”

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Something Something Productions’ Theatre Camp

One of the most important things we can do for children on the wait-list for a mentor is make them still feel like they’re part of the program – that they’re not alone. The time between joining our program and being matched with a mentor is called the “wait-list” and it can be a very difficult and stressful time for families.

This is why Something Something Productions, a local theatre production company based out of Niagara-on-the-Lake, decided to step-up and start a theatre camp for children on the wait-list.

“One day I was just thinking how Niagara could benefit with a theatre program that is free for children to gain self-esteem, theatre skills, build relationships, and feel like they are a part of something special with the cost of zero dollars.” said co-founder Rob Burke.

“I am good friends with Adam Maiolo and he chose BBBS for the Zelda Marathon. I felt like BBBS would be a great organization to create something special like a theatre program as well. I approached Dina Mavridis about the idea and she fell in love with it. We both came together and created the program. We also had the help of others like Stacie Primeau to make it happen.”

“We rehearsed once a week on Saturday’s from 10am to 1pm. Second year we did it on Sunday’s. We would do drama games that would allow the children to have the opportunity to build social skills, theatre skills, and to be creative without any judgement of others. Each year we put together a showcase that had songs, skits, and presentations of the games that the children worked on. One year we did it around the Holiday’s so we sang traditional Christmas songs, skits, and games as well. Each year we had about 12-15 children each year. The program ran for two years. We were able to perform out of a church on stage in Port Dalhousie. We could not believe the talent that the children had each year. We observed children who were shy from the beginning and became very outgoing.”

“The changes were so significant and huge from beginning to end. The confidence in the children grew as the weeks went by. The children were able to let themselves go and become characters. We had children who were shy when they first came in and when it came to the showcase performance, they were ready and showed their families how important the program is to them. Parents would come to us and explain how their children are so excited to each week. Each year the children bonded together and it helped their social skills and self-esteem. At times we had children who did not want to perform on stage in the showcase so Dina taught them about stage managing, props, and costumes. Some of the children wanted to be a stage manager and stage hands. Everyone was included no matter what. At the end of each year, we could see the changes in the children and how much it meant to them to be somewhere where they felt safe, a place where they belong, and a place where they could perform for their family members.”

To learn more about Something Something Productions visit https://www.somethingsomethingproductions.ca/

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Meet the faces of the wait-list.

When we talk about the wait-list, it’s often thought about as an abstract concept. Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but the hard truth is that behind every number is a real child who is desperately in need of a mentor in their lives. As part of our Tim Hortons Bowl for Kids Sake campaign, we wanted to introduce you to a few of the children and youth who are currently on our wait-list, and what their dreams and interests are. Your dedication and commitment to helping us hit our $80,000 Bowl for Kids Sake goal will help us take kids like Eva, Justin, David, Hunter, Haileigh, Isaiah, Alina and Kieran off the wait-list and match them with a mentor who could change their lives forever.

Hover your mouse over their face to learn a bit more about each of them!

Register your team today at http://bowl4kids.ca/ to help #EndTheWait