At Big Brothers Big Sisters, we believe every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential – both as individuals and citizens. We believe that by changing the course of young lives we can in turn be changing the course of a community’s future.
Start Talking is a place where we want to raise awareness of key issues that face today’s youth. We will sometimes advocate, sometimes educate, sometimes inform, sometimes ask questions and always invite discussion about the pressing concerns that involve the younger generations of today.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It’s All in a Quote...

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear a compelling speaker at a Big Brothers Big Sisters event in the United States. While this individual was not a member of the Big Brother Big Sister organization, his words and story were incredibly compelling. His life growing up in foster care, with the odds stacked squarely against him, demonstrated the plight of far too many children and young people. It was both moving and inspirational. In particular, he had a knack for finding phrases that motivated additional thought and reflection.

“A Collision of Labels”
I was struck how labels turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy and yet, seemed somewhat necessary. When presented with situations ‘the system’ attempted to describe, clarify and give shape to the type of supports that were required for this individual. What resulted was a stifling of potential.

At every turn, the labels preceding this young man shaped the course of how he was received, perceived and treated. His life experience was already challenging enough without the additional weight of pre-conceived ideas about who he was and what he could become.

In our new Strategic Planning Framework, we are discussing how we find the right program for the right young person. I hope we are cognizant of the balance between needing to describe for information purposes and yet not ‘label’ in a way that mutes the potential of every child.

“The Narrative of Our Nation is All Wrong”

Okay, I realize he was not referring to Canada, but it got me thinking. In a recent blog I talked about my fears that the ‘cost of administration’ question was becoming the sole determinant of the value of a charity.

On a related note, Imagine Canada is working on a ‘narrative for the voluntary sector’. This effort will provide a way for Canadians to better understand the impact of the collective non-profit sector, the mechanisms in place for accountability and transparency, the vast reach the sector has and how it transforms our country. In short, Imagine Canada (with active support from groups like ours) is hoping to write a new narrative – one that honours and values the work of the sector.

“A Chance in the World”
The individual to which I am referring is Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer and Divisional Vice-President for Walgreens, Child Advocate, Motivational Speaker & Author. His story is the opposite of the old expression ‘not a chance in the world’. In fact, he is now helping those that came from similar circumstances with this social action initiative – helping young people who are aging out of the foster care system.

It is heartwarming to know that this young man shook off every label to become a university graduate, successful Vice President of a major pharmaceutical company and proud father and husband. Along the way he became a wonderful wordsmith…passing along the thoughts of his life journey for others to contemplate.

Bruce MacDonald
President & CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada


Monday, September 16, 2013

And here we are...celebrating our 100th year.

“Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone.” – Jim Fiebig

So much has happened in 100 years. The world is almost unrecognizable from the one that existed in 1913 and gave rise to Big Brothers Big Sisters in Canada. It is more connected. It moves faster. The needs of children seem to be so much more complex.

And here we are, celebrating our 100th year.

How do we be both old and young at the same time? Few organizations have the reputation and respect that comes with 100 years of stellar service to children and families. In hundreds of Canadian communities, staff and volunteers have been changing the trajectories of young lives. Certainly the relevancy of the mentoring programs that are offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters is not in question. It is, however, more challenging for established institutions to make ongoing and significant change to stay in step with the times.

Perhaps the essence of mentoring doesn’t need to change all that much. As Cirque du Soleil founder, Guy Laliberte said “We didn't reinvent the circus. We repackaged it in a much more modern way.”

While being a centenarian in ‘cause’, Big Brothers Big Sisters is a young person’s movement. Across all community based programs, the average age for volunteers at the time of inquiry is 26.1 and 75.5% of all volunteers in the movement are under the age of 30. When factoring in teen mentors in school based programs, site based average age is 21.5.

The process of repackaging…developing, new meaningful programs while retaining the essence of quality mentoring… is well underway. Big Brothers Big Sisters will continue to balance the wonderful advantages of age – experience, wisdom, knowledge – with the benefits of youth – energy, vitality, enthusiasm – to create a vibrant organization that enters its second century of service with a double scoop cone.

Bruce MacDonald
President & CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Blessing Bags"

In April 2013, I was lucky enough to be one of the 100 youths selected from across Canada to attend Big Brothers Big Sisters Social Innovators Youth Summit 2013. Upon arriving in Ottawa, I spent the week bonding with the 99 other astonishing youths, learning about their passions and the issues that were important to them. I was also able to take advantage of the many guest speakers and workshops that we attended, strengthening my leadership skills and working on my very own action plan. It was incredible to be immersed in this type of atmosphere and to hear others speak about their journeys and the plans that they had for not only their future, but for the future of others around them, were beyond inspiring. Being at the 2013 Youth Summit left me feeling extremely blessed because I now know that my generation is going to be the one that will change the world for the better.

As mentioned previously, while at the Youth Summit, we spent a large amount of our time working on our action plans, which were social innovation projects that were to be carried out back in our communities when we returned home. For me, I decided to work on a project called “Blessing Bags.” Growing up in Toronto, homelessness is really a large issue, but it is also an issue that is quite often swept under the rug. We pass people shivering in the cold almost on a daily basis, yet act as if no one stands there. So often we hear those around us say “never hand out money, you have no idea where it’ll be spent.” So instead, the idea of Blessing Bags were created. I had seen this project advertised on the internet before, on various blogging platforms, and I thought that it would be the perfect way to put to use the generous $100 grant given to me by MasterCard Canada.

Blessing bags are essentially large Ziploc bags that have been filled with items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels, crackers, soap, Band-Aids, and notes of encouragements; small items that are meant to help someone get through a tough moment and remind someone who’s in need that someone else cares. This summer I spent my time collecting a variety of these items and assembling as many Blessing Bags as I could, with the help of my family and friends. In total I was able to create about 50 of these bags and my hope is that, when I return to Toronto from university during my winter break, to hand them out around the downtown core to those in need. Even though it’s been difficult to find the help I need in order to distribute all these bags during the holiday season, I’m hopeful that when I’m away in university I can find more people who are willing to lend a hand. One thing I definitely learned when I was at the Youth Summit is that, as long as you’re willing to reach out and ask for help, there will always be someone out there who will be ready to lend that helping hand. I’m excited to come back to Toronto in the winter and finish off my action plan. I really hope that by doing this one small act of kindness I can make a difference in the life of someone who really just needs to be reassured that someone out there cares, even if it’s in a small way.

Social Innovators Youth Summit 2013 Attendee


What is the most important thing your mentor did for you?