Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grande Prairie & Area is looking for mentors for 24 youths looking for a positive role model in their lives.
“I have been hoping and waiting for a Big Brother for five years now,” reads a social media post from the local Big Brothers Big Sisters’ latest campaign highlighting its youth on its waiting list.
“I would love to find a Big Brother who is patient, kind, helpful and has a sense of humour like I do.
“Some of my favourite things to do include video games, photography, reading and drawing.”
Another post mentions a 9-year-old girl looking for a Big Sister that can match her energy and enjoys the outdoors, swimming and crafts.
A 14-year-old boy mentions he’s been waiting three years and wants to find a Big Brother who shares his same interests in Lego, Youtube, and video games.
“We don’t want youth to sit on our waitlist that long; however, we don’t match on a first-come, first-served basis; we match based on interests and compatibilities,” said Joanne Cousins, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grande Prairie & Area.
The current waitlist has 24 youth, with 17 looking for a male mentor.
“It’s difficult to find male mentors,” said Cousins, noting that the challenge exists nationwide.
Males on the waitlist wait an average of two years while females wait about six months in the Grande Prairie area, said Julie Rogers, Big Brothers Big Sister community mentoring co-ordinator.
Currently, there are 50 matches locally, 27 are Big Sisters and 21 Big Brothers; two little brothers have a big sister as mentors due to the lack of male mentors.
Big Brothers Big Sisters asks its mentors, who volunteer their time, for a minimum of a one-year commitment to spend four to eight hours a month with their mentee.
The time commitment is the biggest hurdle, said Cousins, especially when people work unconventional schedules like many do in the area.
Mentees range in age from six to 17, but the most common age on the waitlist is around 12.
“We find that when they hit that 13 to 14 (age) range, some of our matches start falling off because the kids get part-time jobs or they start falling into friend circles (and) they don’t necessarily want to hang out with an adult as much,” said Rogers.
Still, Big Brothers Big Sisters provides youth on the waitlist opportunities to have fun activities with its Little Bunch program. The Little Bunch program takes mentees on the waiting list on group activities like laser tag and mini golf.
Big Brothers Big Sisters also has the PRISM program, which helps youth part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Rogers explained sometimes parents don’t know how to support their children who come out as gay, bisexual, or trans, and the PRISM program can help youth pair with a mentor who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is comfortable and knowledgeable in supporting the youth.
Rogers said the application process for potential Big Brothers and Big Sisters is thorough and includes an in-person interview, references from family, work, personal life, and vulnerable sector checks. She said it can take around two months for all the checks to be completed.
“I’m sending a child out into the world with somebody that I’ve never met,” said Rogers, “I have to vet them because we have to be diligent.”
She said many people are hesitant to join as a mentor, but they become very excited once they begin.
“There’s really never going to be a perfect time; obviously, if you’re working 90 hours a week, it’s probably not a great time, but there’s never going to be a magical moment in time where it’s the best time to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Rogers.
Cousins also noted that some people in the program become friends into adulthood.
For more information on how to volunteer, interested parties can go to gp.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca or email Rogers at email@example.com.
The Grande Prairie branch covers the Northwestern region of Alberta and includes the surrounding area, including Beaverlodge and Sexsmith.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on May 11, 2023
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