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


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