Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Lacombe is currently two weeks into their 40 Mentors in 40 Days program, but are severely lacking Big Brother volunteers.
The group has given out roughly 70 applications since the program’s kick-start, and of the 14 mentors committed so far, all are female. This is an issue all year long for the district BBBS because there is often more little brothers than sisters who need partners.
“We are desperate for male mentors. We have a high need because we have a lot of boys in our program, and it’s nice to match them with males. We just have a hard time recruiting males. It’s typically a one to four ratio of girls to boys, but so far, this year all 14 mentors are female,” said Chelsey Hudkins of the BBBS Lacombe.
Hudkins said females are of course needed for the programs, but right now they are really hoping to get more males involved.
Those wishing to become a mentor can do so at any time, but currently the 40 Mentors in 40 Days campaign is underway. The idea is to bring awareness to BBBS and to draw in more mentors, both for the traditional mentoring program but also for the in-school mentoring program that runs in 11 schools in Central Alberta.
“We run the 40 Mentors campaign right now because it’s the start of school. We’re trying to get a big push to bring in more mentors for the year, but we’re always looking for more traditional mentors as well,” said BBBS staff member Karissa Zuidhof.
“In the in-school mentoring program, the groups pretty much get free reign of the school they are in. They can do just about anything – they can use kitchens, libraries, gyms – whatever.
“It’s just a chance for them to spend some time together out of the classroom. It’s run during school hours, so we talk to teachers and see where the child is excelling or what class they can miss. The kids can get pulled out for an hour and have some fun.”
This year, BBBS has also placed bins with Lego, board games and card games in the schools for use during the in-school mentoring program. The program is run across the country, with attendance relatively steady in the community.
With the addition of the new Big Brothers Big Sisters office in Blackfalds last year, the campaign was kicked up from 20 Mentors in 20 Days to 40.
“This is our first year of doing 40 mentors. Usually, it’s 20 mentors in 20 days but this year we doubled it. Historically, we’ve always hit that goal so we decided to push ourselves to try to increase it this year,” Hudkins said.
“Now that we have an office in Blackfalds as of June last year, we figured we could probably hit up both communities to get 40 mentors in 40 days.”
For those wishing to become a mentor, either for the in-school program or for traditional mentoring, a rigorous interview session is conducted. This way, BBBS staff gets to know a person and can better match them to the little brother or sister.
“You just need to have an hour of free time to be a mentor. We do have an extensive screening process where we need a criminal record check, three references and people have to hang out with us for an hour. We interview and then the person does another hour of child safety training. It’s a bit to get into the program, but after that all you need is an hour of your time,” said Zuidhof.
“It’s a really rewarding program. Most people go in it for the kids and find that they themselves have grown from it as well. It’s a relatively small time commitment – one hour of your week isn’t too much to ask. The reward of it is huge.”
Hudkins agreed. “We do match people to the kids on a personality basis – it’s not first come, first serve. Some kids wait longer because we want to match people’s personality and likes and interests. That’s why the interview is so extensive.”
Of the approximately 100 kids registered in the local BBBS program, between 30 to 40 of the children are still awaiting mentors.
Mentors must be at least 16 years of age. Hudkins said this year, there seems to be an increase in interest from high school students that she hopes carries into more volunteers.
“We ask for a commitment of a year from the mentors. Ideally, we would love to pair mentors and kids from 6 to 18 – that’s the dream, but not always a reality. We just ask a year commitment,” Zuidhof added.
Currently, the 40 Mentors in 40 Days is taking up most of the time of the volunteers, but additionally the group is maintaining fundraisers for United Way. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a United Way funded group, which means that BBBS raises proceeds for United Way in exchange for program and administrative funding support.
A barbecue will be held outside the Lacombe BBBS offices on Sept. 24th in support of United Way. To become a mentor, visit the Lacombe or Blackfalds Big Brothers Big Sisters offices.
“Right now, we’re trying to raise awareness of the in-school mentoring program, but really we want more mentors all around for all of our programs,” Zuidhof said.