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Big Brothers Big Sisters makes a big difference

If you’re looking to get off the couch and maybe give back to your community, think about giving Big Brothers Big Sisters a call.

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By Karen Aney (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 21, 2012

There are a plethora of activities for students to devote their time to when they aren’t in school – not the least of which are napping and watching reality television. Neither exactly screams job potential, however.

If you’re looking to get off the couch and maybe give back to your community, think about giving Big Brothers Big Sisters a call. The group has a chapter in the Fraser Valley, and you could be their next volunteer.

There are different ways to get involved. The volunteer position that most of us have heard of is the classic mentor program, where an adult is paired with a young member in their community. This involves a two to four hour commitment per week, where the pair engages in an activity that suits their interest – this could mean hiking, biking, swimming, knitting, baking, joining a book club or any number of things.

Gurv Brar, a fourth-year Criminology major at UFV, has had a Little Brother through this program for just under two-and-a-half years. Alex, his “little,” is now 14. Gurv interacts with Alex around 10 hours per week – they typically go out once, and often play football or basketball (something they both enjoy), and finally spend a lot of time texting and on Facebook or FaceTime.

He says that the overall experience has been very rewarding, and he and Alex are at the point where they don’t really need the Big Brothers association to facilitate their time together; they’re close of their own accord.

He says there are two main accomplishments he and Alex have achieved. First, Alex has gotten his grades up in school and understands why it’s important. Second (and more importantly, Brar says) the pair have worked together to develop his little’s confidence.

“When we first met, he was this shy little kid who didn’t talk much . . . [we played football and basketball with friends], and he started building his confidence in there and real life too . . . now, he’s not really afraid to talk to anybody because he doesn’t feel inferior to anyone,” Brar says.

If this kind of volunteering doesn’t seem like it’s up your alley, there are a few other options. One example is the Go Girls! (for girls) or Game On (for boys) program. These are after-school mentoring programs that consist of two-hour classes once a week for up to 10 weeks, where mentors teach grade five and six students about healthy living, including nutrition, physical activity, self-esteem and diversity.

Jessica Warkentin is a social work major at UFV who has been directing a Go Girls! class since September. Along with two other co-leaders, she guides the girls through exercises that encourage healthy lifestyles, inside and out.

Last week, her supervisor visited the class to ask the girls their thoughts on what they were learning. Warkentin said this was rewarding, because she was able to hear them mention all the things she’s been trying to teach them.

“A bunch of them mentioned ‘it’s helped me with my self esteem, and helped me realize that what other people think about me isn’t as important.’ That was really cool, to hear that they were getting the message,” she said.

Though she doesn’t know what career she is aiming for, Warkentin is sure she’ll use her Go Girls! skills in the future.

“Learning to facilitate a group is a big thing,” Warkentin says. “All the girls have their own unique interest and a way of expressing themselves. [I’m] learning to bring them all together as one group.”

Gurv Brar says that his time with Alex has helped him as well – and not just with future employment opportunities. “It helped me get an $800 scholarship from UFV,” he states. He went on to say that it’s always great to have on a resume – it demonstrates that you can be trusted and are able to work with youth, which is a valuable skill in many fields.

If you can’t commit as much time as Brar or Warkentin, there is also an In-School Mentoring Program that involves spending time with a child in their school once per week. This time is used to connect with the child and simply be there as a friend.

Students are welcome to apply for all programs. Potential Big Brothers and Game On leaders are especially needed. Mentoring coordinator Cassie Silva, a recent UFV Bachelor of Social Work graduate, explains that this is an invaluable relationship for young boys.

“Some moms tell me they just want their sons to realize that it is possible to have a genuine relationship with an adult man . . . some of their stories can be heartbreaking to hear while others are very common; I am so fortunate to be in a position where I can match children with a great role model and make a positive difference that will truly impact the rest of their lives.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, phone 604-852-3331 or get in contact through email.

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