North Vancouver resident Sherry Klassen skips out of work to go to school for one hour every week.During one recent school visit, she played on the spinning tornado until she was dizzy and hung upside down like a monkey from the monkey bars. An Investment Associate with ScotiaMcLeod in West Vancouver, forty-five-year-old Klassen gets time off work to play because she volunteers as a Big Buddy in Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver's In-School Mentoring program. Klassen spends an hour a week at a North Vancouver elementary school trying to keep up with her very active Little Buddy, eight-year-old Kara.
The In-school Mentoring program is a one-to-one encouragement program for boys and girls in grades one to six. A child and his/her mentor meet for one hour a week at the child's school to play games or sports, do arts and crafts, or just hang out in the playground. Volunteers meet with their Little Buddies during the school year, but they do not meet over the summer break or during other school holidays.
Klassen says she decided to volunteer as an In-School Mentor because, "Although I have no children of my own, I have tons of them in my life and have always enjoyed my time with them." Despite leading a busy and full life, including, she says, "spending a lot of time on the North Shore trails with my dog and outdoorsy husband of 17 years", she says that, "no matter how busy I am, I knew I could commit to an hour a week." Klassen hopes that, "spending quality time with Kara doing fun things with no expectations will be special to her and help improve her self esteem."
The In-School Mentoring program was first introduced to North Vancouver schools in 1999. In that time, school principal Yolande Martinello has seen first-hand the positive impact the program has had on both students and staff. She says, "The program has given students the support of outstanding role models, an unconditional friendship and one-to-one quality time that many of them are missing in their lives. Our teachers recognize that our mentors play a key role in making our school a wonderful place for so many of our students."
The program is so well known at Martinello's school, she says some students come up to her and ask if there is a way they can get a Big Buddy. "Usually these students are kids that really do need the support and the very fact they recognize this and are willing to ask for the service speaks volumes to how the mentors are viewed by our students."
Klassen recalls her first Little Buddy, who has since gone on to middle school, was sometimes absent from school due to illness, but never missed the days they were scheduled to be together. "When I mentioned this to her, she said she made a point of never getting sick on our days. This was her way of telling me she looked forward to our time together." Kara, Klassen's current Little Buddy, says she looks forward to the days Klassen comes to the school because, "Sherry is fun and nice and we do so many fun things together." The pair's recent activities have included playing soccer, spirograph and Kara's favourite - horsing around on the outdoor gym apparatus.
Klassen confesses, "If I'd known how much I would look forward to my hour each week, I would have done this sooner", and adds, "Kara is so active, I have to keep a pair of running shoes in my car to keep up with her!"