Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo
When you hear the name Big Brothers Big Sisters, what usually comes to mind? Some of us may have personal experience with the agency, whether it is through volunteering or perhaps having had a mentor of our own growing up. Others might relate to the stories and themes portrayed in media, such as the annual Curl for Kids event – or if you aren’t in Fort McMurray, Bowl for Kids – and the standard Big Brother or Big Sister relationship.
Unfortunately, many of us draw assumptions about these relationships as well. It is a common misconception that troubled youth or youth from unstable homes are the only youth accessing mentors. If you believe we are only any one of these things, you are missing the “Big” picture.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo is a local mentoring agency that has been serving Fort McMurray for over 37 years. Just as the food and housing programs are essential to a community, so is mentoring. Relationships are the building blocks for helping youth grow into healthy minded adults and it only takes one meaningful relationship to make a difference. Sometimes a family may feel they don’t have the extra time needed to devote to one child as they want to if another in the household is high needs. Perhaps they feel they just are not getting through to their child and want a peer who can be a positive influence to act as a sounding board. Whatever the reason for accessing the programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters, giving the gift of relationship through mentoring is serving a basic human need and the effects of these relationships can last a lifetime.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we strive to honor our name by serving the entire Wood Buffalo region, a goal that has seen its challenges due to logistics and the lack of availability for accessing mentors in remote areas. We were very fortunate in 2016 to reach a partnership with Conoco-Phillips Canada that allowed us to bridge some of that gap and serve Indigenous youth in Janvier through a pilot corporate mentoring program.
The pilot program began running in March 2017, bussing ten junior high students from Janvier’s Father Perrin School to the Conoco-Phillips Surmont site off Highway 881 for two hours a week. The students were met on a rotational schedule by ten outstanding mentors, all eager to teach the students about life in a remote work camp, the operations on an oil site and to simply relate based on similar interests to have fun together. What the mentors weren’t expecting was how much they were going to learn from their mentees in return. During the wrap up of the pilot, one volunteer reported to In-School Mentoring Coordinator Janelle Ormond that the group had an impact on him by giving him a deeper understanding of the Aboriginal communities surrounding Fort McMurray while surprising him in how much he enjoyed getting to know the youth. Another volunteer reflected on how much she enjoyed being a part of something while working and living in camp beyond just the daily grind of work.
The immediate impact the program had on the youth was clear to everyone involved. They were eager and excited to participate each week, opening up more and more as time passed to confidently voice to their mentors what they were interested in doing and learning about. An amazing group of students diverse in personality, they all were offered opportunities through the program that opened their mind to life outside of a remote community while also reinforcing for them through their relationships with the mentors the underlining lesson of the program: they matter. Their voices were heard and with thanks for their enthusiasm, the program was a huge success. The mentors understood in stepping back at times and letting the students lead the way with the direction the program needed to take it would be most beneficial for all and due to this approach, the structure of corporate mentoring has been paved for students, volunteers and the agency alike to move forward in a positive direction together.
Mentoring Coordinator Janelle Ormond took pride in witnessing first hand each week the manner in which the mentors and mentees stepped up to make a unique program work, feeling that the success of the program was an inspiring step towards outreach for more mentoring programs in the Wood Buffalo area, specifically for our youth in rural communities. She stated on the topics, “now that we know this can work, that is has worked, the limits and possibilities feel endless. It is an encouraging movement to be a part of and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo feels passionate about ensuring we are able to make mentoring a resource that is accessible to all of our youth who may need it. Partnerships such as the one we have secured with Conoco-Phillips are invaluable and we feel deeply grateful for the door that it has opened to corporate mentoring and mentoring for rural youth.”
Mentoring is very much a serve and return investment. By giving relationship to youth and providing this resource to the community, the youth give back through the impact they have on their mentors as well as the influence they will one day have on a community that took care of them. Through the development of safe and engaging environments, youth centered programming and caring relationships with mentors, the short term to long term outcomes are vast. When mentees feel secure in a mentoring relationship, they will gain an increased self-awareness, improved pro-social behaviors, strengthened motivation for learning and strengthened interpersonal relationships. One cannot argue or discount the impact of positive well-being and it is just one of the many benefits of youth involvement in mentoring programs.
In addition to the newly founded corporate mentoring program, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Wood Buffalo offers three essential mentoring services. Community-Based, Full-Circle Mentoring and In-School Mentoring are all programs run under the umbrella that provides supportive relationships to encourage positive well-being. Beginning in the fall of 2017, the agency will also be offering two nationally founded programs to Wood Buffalo titled Go Girls! and Game On, youth centered programs that focus on the importance of physical well-being facilitated through a mentoring group.
The success of these programs is the success of youth, and without amazing sponsors, partners and volunteers they are successes which we would be without. We are counting on everyone we can to step up and help us reach the ultimate goal of ensuring that every child that needs a mentor has a mentor. It takes a village, as the infamous saying goes, and Wood Buffalo is a village not shy about coming together to look after one another. Big Brothers Big Sisters is proud to be a part of the community and looks forward to being an agent in the community’s growth forward through the continued deliverance of mentoring services and opportunity for youth.