It doesn’t take much to make a big positive impact on a kid’s life, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chatham-Kent.
The organization is just one of many Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across Canada and the United States.
The mission of each agency is essentially to make an adult mentor—a “Big”—with a kid—a “Little”—who is in need of a friend.
“A Big will take the Little they’ve been matched with into the community to do fun and engaging activities,” explains Amanda Clark, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chatham-Kent. “This helps to build a developmental relationship with them, provides them support, and helps them to reach their full potential.”
She says that the process to become a Big is thorough, but after they’ve been accepted into the program the weekly commitment is smaller than most think.
“Bigs will often take Littles out for a walk, take them along while grocery shopping or to a community event, playing board games, playing sports—anything that is interesting for both the Big and the Little,” Amanda says.
The time commitment for a Big is typically a couple of hours a week. Amanda says they also host group activities and programs that Littles can attend.
An Important Relationship
“The relationships that a child has throughout their life is very impactful in terms of the coping mechanisms they’ve learned, how they see the world around them, whether they feel like they have a support system, and other things like that,” says Program Development Coordinator Holly Larivée.
Holly says that Big Brothers Big Sisters can be a helpful program for kids who are experiencing a gap in their life.
“A child may not have a support system in place before they’re matched with a mentor. It’s empowering to be able to put someone with them who can help guide them when they need someone,” she explains.
On the Waitlist
South Kent Wind is a proud sponsor of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chatham-Kent.
“We redesigned, redeveloped, and implemented our Big Bunch program thanks to the grant we received last fall from the Chatham Kent Community Foundation and the South Kent Wind Community Fund. It was created to give kids and youth who are on the waitlist something engaging to do. This is important because sometimes they can be on the waitlist for years or they never get matched at all. So this is an opportunity for us to engage with them outside of the traditional program,” Amanda explains.
Over the years, the organization and many like it have struggled with finding volunteers, particularly in smaller towns. Amanda says that’s because while there may be more volunteers in larger urban areas, it’s ideal for a Big to live in the same town as a Little.
While there are continuous efforts to find more Bigs in small towns, some kids and youth can wait a long time. Amanda says that after the pandemic, they expected to see a huge intake in Littles wanting to join the program. While it didn’t happen right away, they’re starting to see more interest now.
“We knew that we needed a new way to engage with kids on the waitlist and provide them with services that would actually be useful to them while they’re waiting. It’s now a life skills program. The original idea was to do one activity per month but the community has really responded well so now we’re doing two every month,” Amanda says.
Because of the program’s popularity, Amanda and Holly intend to continue with it going forward. Some of the skills they’ve focused on so far include career mindfulness, stress management, cooking classes, sewing, literacy, respecting boundaries through martial arts, cyber awareness, and more.
“We’re also looking to develop an activity based on personal awareness of self and engaging with others through working with animals. It’s a different way of looking at building relationships,” Amanda says.
The summer students at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chatham-Kent are hosting a fun life skills competition to test the skills the kids have learned so far.
“They’ve organized a Minute to Win It competition so kids will be folding laundry as fast as they can, a Price is Right type of game where they have to match the item with its price, and following instructions,” Holly explains.
These activities not only provide kids with useful skills that they can use in life today and in the future, it’s also something they can be proud of.
“We’re providing them with certificates each time so they have something to take home at the end,” Holly says.
The organization recently received another grant from the Chatham Kent Community Foundation and the South Kent Wind Community Fund, this time for technology.
“Most people can relate to their technology eventually getting out of date and as a charity, we’re used to making do with what we have. But one time we had a caseworker who had a computer that would sometimes take half an hour just to start up. So to improve our efficiency, we’re updating some of our technology so that we’re not spending time waiting for our computers to work,” Amanda says.
They’re also moving more of their operations digitally so that they can reduce the amount of paper they’re using and making the process of signing up Bigs and Littles more accessible and portable.
“Applications can now be done electronically. Staff can sit in their cars and do their case studying right after. It just makes things so much faster,” she explains.
These aren’t the only big changes for staff. They’ve also completed a full renovation of their office.
“Our office is small, but it has everything we need. We added in a kitchenette, we updated our air quality system, we have a safe room for clients to come in when we do meetings with matches, and generally everything just feels better. Staff morale has definitely increased. When people come in here, they feel comfortable,” says Amanda.