A Helping Hand
Hey everyone! I know, it’s been a minute since I’ve written anything on this blog. Between the students coming back and the absolute mayhem that is the UCC, I just haven’t had a lot of time to provide some coverage on local community events; however, I was recently presented with an opportunity to learn more about an organization that I feel everyone should know about.
While I was busy being…well… you know… busy, I was contacted by the lovely people over at Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and Area in regards to a couple great programs they have going on. They reached out to Radio Western as they’re looking for volunteers for their new mentorship programs: Go Girls! Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds and Game On! Eat Smart, Play Smart. Western students happen to fit the criteria they’re looking for, so I asked if there was a way we could talk about the important work that BBBS (Big Brothers Big Sisters) was doing in hopes of recruiting some volunteers. BBBS was gracious enough to get me an interview with Ashley Cottam, Mentoring Coordinator at BBBS London and Area, and Hailey Conrad, a Western student who doubles as a mentor for the Go Girls program. Ashley and Hailey gave me some incredible insight into the important mentorship programs offered at BBBS and the impact that something as simple as volunteering can have on someone’s life.
For those reading this who may not know what your agency does, what is BBBS?
Ashley Cottam: So Big Brothers Big Sisters, we provide mentoring programs for youth in the community who are under the age of 18. Our mission is to provide quality mentoring relationships to young people in need to help them reach their full potential.
What’s your role specifically?
AC: I am a Mentoring Coordinator for our site based programs. So I coordinate Go Girls, Game On, and Conversation Club.
How long have you worked for BBBS?
AC: Not even a year! I started here as a student [as part of Fanshawe’s fast-track Social Service Worker program], and I’ve been employed here for almost a year in October.
And how long have you [Hailey] been a volunteer here?
Hailey Conrad: Just a year. I started this past spring, and I’m doing it again this fall because I really enjoyed it.
What’s an average day like for a volunteer once they become a Big Brother or Big Sister?
HC: With the Go Girls program, you go into their elementary school in London, and the day usually, for me, starts with you [and your mentee] having a snack together. The day each week is a little different; you play different games each week, talk about different important topics surrounding healthy eating, self-esteem, body positivity, but it changes week by week. But yeah, it starts with a snack, and then whatever activities you have planned for that week, and that takes up the rest of the hour. It’s not too structured, you can pick, “Okay, I want to play this game this week” or “Maybe we should talk about this [certain topic] this week”. It’s pretty flexible.
Why do you do it? What made you want to volunteer in the first place?
HC: I really wanted to get involved with the London community outside of campus. I’d done clubs on campus, and there’s lots of opportunities to get involved there but I wasn’t really aware of how else I could get involved outside of my little campus bubble. So I’d heard of BBBS and I actually wanted to volunteer with them for a little while but I didn’t really know what program would fit my schedule as a student, and then I heard about the Go Girls program and I thought “Wow, this is right up my alley!” These are issues that I’m really passionate about, and I think this is a really great way for me to get involved.
Is that why you’d recommend others to join as well?
HC: For sure, yes. Also, with the whole student schedule, it’s very hard to get involved in the community if it’s a huge time commitment. Most students don’t have a full day of open time, or even eight or five hours, where they can go and get involved in the community. Go Girls really attracted me that way because the sessions are about an hour, and they’re once a week so it’s really accommodating for your schedule.
Do you just show up when you want or is it pre-planned?
HC: They’re pre-planned; it’s the same block of time every week on the same day. The agency works with you and says “What’s your schedule like this semester” and “When would you be available to facilitate Go Girls?” And they work with you to try and find a time block in a day that works for you.
Are there any requirements (or limitations) involved when becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister?
AC: For Go Girls and Game On specifically, you have to be between the ages of 18-25. Really, the only requirement [aside from that] is you remembering what it’s like to be a kid in Gr. 7 & 8, and remembering those awkward years because then you can go and give back to kids in the community who are going through that stage of life and be like, “Oh, you know, I remember when that [certain situation] happened to me and this is how I dealt with it” and helping them along those bumps in the road that they experienced in [their] adolescent years.
For sure. So that it’s not too far of a distant memory, correct?
AC: We have that age cut-off for a very specific reason. We want it to be a near-to-peer relationship, so that you’re not too old—where the kids will be like, “You don’t know what I’m talking about”—but you’re old enough to be that mentor in their lives.
What would you say to people who are under the mindset that they, alone, can’t make a substantial difference in someone’s life?
AC: We address this question, actually, in the interview process. We ask what changes you would like to see as a result of your mentoring relationship with your mentees, because you do have to have a reasonable expectation. Go Girls and Game On are 7 weeks; you’re not going to change their lives in 7 weeks, but it’s those long lasting impacts that they’re going to remember that will help them later on in life as well.
HC: Yeah, I think a lot of people think that positive impact just stops in between you and the mentee and that’s it; but it can create a ripple effect. That positive impact you made on somebody can go and extend out to somebody else and it can really make a bigger impact on the community than you think. It’s not just between you and the one mentee; it always goes further than that.
AC: As Hailey was saying; we’ve actually had mentors who were in Go Girls when they were in elementary school and that prompted them to apply and become a mentor when they’re old enough to do so because they remember the impact that those mentors had and how great the program was for them and they wanted to do the same for other girls that age.
Now, can you tell me about your new programs: Go Girls! Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds and Game On! Eat Smart, Play Smart?
AC: Go Girls and Game On are both group mentoring programs for kids who are in Grades 7 & 8. Go Girls, specifically, is an all girls program and Game On is the replica, but for boys. They focus on physical activity, balanced eating, and self-esteem, but the most important goal of the program is to build those relationships with your mentees. The goal is to shape the lives of young girls and boys in the community by helping them build that positive self-image and setting them on the path to reach their full potential. The programs are an hour, once a week for 7 weeks. You get a placement for a school, and you’re there, for example, Fridays at noon, once a week for 7 sessions. As Hailey mentioned, they’re elementary school is London and area. The program is usually held during the lunch hour at the school; it’s not evenings or weekends, just usually during the lunch/nutrition break.
What makes Go Girls and Game On different from the other programs that BBBS offers?
AC: It’s the shortest time commitment out of all of our programs. It’s 7 weeks, which is probably the shortest time commitment as opposed to a year for the [other] Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs. It also focuses on, again, physical activity, balanced eating, and self-esteem. It’s based in schools, as well.
Can you [Hailey] tell me what your experiences have been like with the Go Girls program?
HC: Overall, very positive…Obviously [laughs]. I’m doing it again this year so I really liked it enough to come back. It was really good to get experience working with the youth community because I, personally, didn’t have that experience until I volunteered with these girls. It was obviously very rewarding too. I left each session feeling like I had done something positive or, at least, been there and made that hour enjoyable for the group of 8 girls. That was a great feeling every single week. After Go Girls, I always had a great day. I was always excited to come back the next week and be like “How was that soccer game you had?” or “How’s this? How’s that? [And build] that rapport with the girls. That’s why I wanted to volunteer in the first place; I thought it would be right up my alley for something that would make me feel good and something that would help me build skills.
What’s in-store for future volunteers/mentors when they decide to join these programs?
HC: For each of the programs, you have a binder of activities set out for you so you don’t actually have to think of the activities before you go; it’s all laid out for you each week. These are the activities you can pick from [and you choose] whatever you can get to within the hour. The only thing, I guess, that you really have to think about beforehand is providing the snacks for the group. Each week you take turns with your co-mentor to go out and pick a healthy snack for [the mentees]. My day usually starts with the snack and then you go through the games/activities in the binder for that week. Sometimes… we have a question box, or maybe our mentees have questions or something they really want to talk about and we take some time to talk about those things. It’s pretty informal; you can pick and choose which games you can fit into that time [provided] and take the [mentees] preferences into account as well.
Why do you think adding the physical activity aspect to Go Girls and Game On is so important?
HC: I can speak on Go Girls for sure; I think a lot of girls at that age kind of pull away from sports and more structured [team sports] like soccer, basketball, etc. I did at that age; I wasn’t really involved in any team sport activities outside of school. So I think it’s really important to teach girls at that age that there’s other ways to be physically active besides organized team sports because a lot of girls at that age really aren’t that interested in them, necessarily. So we try and focus in the hour [that we’ve got] to introduce them to new games and new activities that aren’t your basic/popular sports that are equally as fun and really good for you.
For people who want to learn more about the programs or donate, how can they go about doing so? Furthermore, how do people who want to apply to become a mentor go about starting that process?
AC: The first step is visiting our website, which is bbbsola.org. You can find a full list of our programs on there. You can donate there as well. The first step to apply [to become a mentor for Go Girls! or Game On!] is actually online; you fill out an application form, we receive it at the agency, and then we set up an interview and go from there!
That's it for me! A special shout out, once again, to Ashley, Hailey, and all the great people over at Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and Area for the important work they continue to do in the London community. If you want to volunteer for the Go Girls or Game On programs, head on over to bbbsola.org and register today!