You could be the positive role model every kid needs to succeed — and maybe even build a lifelong connection. Here’s how.
By Michelle da Silva
Candace was seven when she met Marion. Her mom, a single parent, worked full-time and figured Candace and her two younger sisters would benefit from the attention of another grown-up, so she signed them up with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The effect on Candace wasn’t just big—it was huge. “Children thrive with positive mentors,” says Allison Haskins, volunteer coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of York. And the benefits of mentoring can be lifelong: Mentored kids excel in school, their behavioural problems improve, and they tend to set more goals and make better life choices.
An added bonus is that mentors benefit from the relationship, too. Unfortunately, not enough people think they’re suited to the job. Haskins admits it’s a big commitment, but getting involved and becoming a mentor doesn’t require any special talents. “Mentorship is about being a positive role model and friend, modelling good character traits and following through on the commitment,” she says. “There’s no expectation to be or do anything other than that.”
Photography By Shawn McPherson
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, potential mentors go through a screening process that includes an interview, reference check, police vulnerable sector screening and interview before they’re matched with children. Mentors can request a particular age group (Big Brothers Big Sisters serves kids aged six to 18) and can choose a volunteer program that best suits their schedule. In one-on-one community-based programs, mentors spend three to four hours every week or every other week with their mentee, doing things like going to the park, playing video games or hanging out at the library.
There are also one-on-one school programs, in which mentors can spend one lunch hour a week playing sports, crafting or reading. Volunteers can also sign up for group programming. Big Brothers Big Sisters plans the activities for these group sessions, which require an hour or two a week. Volunteers are expected to commit to at least one year, but many continue volunteering beyond that—and often, volunteers in the one-on-one programs remain friends with their mentees for life.
“There’s incredible opportunity for growth as a human being when you act as a mentor,” says Haskins. “Volunteers gain experience and build character, sound judgment and personal discipline.” It’s a good way to boost your self-confidence, too.
The decision to become a mentor shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the benefits well outweigh the work. Just ask Candace: After experiencing how having a Big Sister changed her life, she recently became one herself.