Big Brothers Big Sisters comes to Okotoks
By: Tammy Rollie
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 12:13 pm
One Okotoks junior high student can’t wait to return to elementary school on Tuesday afternoons.
At the sound of the lunch bell, Okotoks Junior High School student Brant Schellenberg rushes across the field to Ecole Percy Pegler School to play Avengers, Spiderman and board games with a Grade 2 student he was paired with through the Big Brothers Big Sisters youth mentoring program in Okotoks.
Schellenberg joined the program to act as a mentor to a younger student. The last thing the shy teen expected was how much he would benefit from the program.
“He’s very the opposite of me when I was that age,” said Schellenberg of his young student. “He makes me feel better about myself. He’s such a happy guy no matter what. Someone takes his truck away and he’s like, ‘I’ll find another truck’ or ‘Let’s play Jenga.’”
Big Brothers Big Sisters came to Okotoks last March through a school mentorship program at Ecole Percy Pegler School that paired elementary students with older peers who act as mentors to the younger students.
The success of the school-based program, which now consists of 14 matches, stemmed an interest in pursuing a community-based program pairing children with older youth and adults.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Okotoks program coordinator Laura Padget said mentoring pairs for the volunteer-driven organization was done out of the Calgary office, but as the local coordinator for almost a year she is ready to operate the community-based programs out of Okotoks.
“What we found is we had a number of volunteers in the foothills area that are matched with children in Calgary,” she said. “We wanted to keep the volunteers here at home.”
Two children in the Okotoks area are paired with Calgary volunteers with another six children on a waiting list, said Padget. She said Big Brothers Big Sisters has six Okotoks area volunteers going through the screening process, but they won’t necessarily get matched with those on the waiting list.
Matches are made based on personality and interests to ensure the pair is a good fit, said Padget. Those selected to volunteer go through a rigorous 12-week screening process involving police record checks, child welfare checks, lengthy interviews and background checks.
Volunteers must love being around children, have a sense of fun and be able to commit the two to five hours to spend with their little brother or sister each week, she said.
Padget said she looks forward to further expanding the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in the Okotoks area.
“I believe that every child would benefit from a mentor in order to reach their full potential no matter what their needs are,” she said. “We are striving to match every child that we can with a mentor.”
Okotoks Coun. Matt Rockley was involved with getting Champions for Kids started in Okotoks. The five-member board, of which Rockley is the secretary, supports the Okotoks organization through planning fundraisers and programming.
“When I was approached to be a part of it I jumped at the opportunity because I know the good work Big Brothers Big Sisters does and I think it’s a great benefit to have the program available in Okotoks,” he said. “With our community having such a young demographic with lots of children there is going to be a need for this type of positive mentorship and having that available in Okotoks is going to be a really great thing.”
Rockley said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area gave a strong indication of a greater need for more programming in the Okotoks area and he is eager to see what that will look like for the community.
“I’m proud to be a part of it and hopefully I can help it to be as successful as possible in Okotoks,” he said.
Champions for Kids co-chairperson Marg Cox said she is proud to be a part of the organization.
Having volunteered for a number of initiatives involving children including the Terry Fox Foundation and Youth Justice Committee, Cox said Big Brothers Big Sisters is a natural fit.
She said she finds the program to benefit both youth and the communities in which they live.
“Anytime that you can help kids get on the right track or help them with their decision making through the mentoring program is going to allow them to flourish and be contributing individuals to the community,” she said. “I’m a strong believer that if you live in your community you should give to your community.”
Of course, like any program, it’s going to take money to get it going, said Padget.
Champions for Kids is joining the nation-wide Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser in April by challenging businesses, organizations and individuals in a bowling competition.
Money raised from the fundraiser will help increase resources for more programming.
For more information about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program go to www.bbbscalgary.com