Once a week, twenty-five-year-old Coquitlam resident Sara Allen drops into an elementary school to hang out with a friend. On a recent visit they made Christmas ornaments, played basketball and practiced the latest hip hop dance moves in the gym. Allen is a volunteer "Big Buddy" in Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver's In-school Mentoring program. She and ten-year-old Danielle have been getting together for one hour a week at Danielle's school for over three years.
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. Volunteers must be over the age of 19 and commit to seeing their Little Buddy for one year. There are no special skills or experience required to be an In-school Mentor.
Despite a busy lifestyle that includes being a full time student at SFU and working part-time as a support worker for children with autism, Allen thought it was important to volunteer because she says she simply, "wanted to make a difference in a child's life." Allen also thought that because she was pursuing a teaching career, the experience she would gain volunteering with children, "would be invaluable." Going in, Allen expected the program would be fun and rewarding for both she and her Little Buddy, but says, "The rewards surpassed my imagination. Seeing Danielle's face light up each week is amazing. Just knowing that my presence makes a difference in her life means the world to me."
Coquitlam School Counsellor Kimi Combow says that weekly visits with their mentors makes school a bit more fun for students and for many of them, "It is the favourite part of their week. Having a Big Buddy gives them a positive connection at school with a "friend" that they otherwise might not have." She adds, "The positive impact the program has had on their self esteem is noted by everyone."
For Danielle's part, she likes spending time with her Big Buddy because she says, "Sara is nice, helpful, friendly, fun and pretty." With many interests in common, her list of favourite things to do with Allen is long, including playing tag, horsing around on the gym equipment and teaching Allen the hip hop moves she learns in dance class. Danielle says she is "really happy" to have Allen as her Big Buddy and knows there are other children in her school who would like to have one, but are still waiting.
Big Brothers Mentoring Coordinator Sheila Bell wants Tri-Cities residents to know, "There are many more children in the Tri-Cities area waiting for a Big Buddy. We encourage volunteers to give us a call now."
Allen recommends that if anyone is considering becoming an In-school Mentor, to go for it. "It's so easy to get started. And what's one hour a week out of your schedule compared to the positive change you'll be making in a child's life" The sooner you become a mentor, the sooner a child's life will be enhanced."