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, April 29, 2014

Mentoring: Canada's Changing Face

It was a late night in June 1987, when my family and I landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Arriving late at night meant that the first glimpse of our new home was nothing more than the silhouettes of the never ending pine trees that lined the highway. The next morning, jet-lagged and disoriented, we set out to discover Halifax. After living in the desert and tropical climates, the spring chill of the Atlantic hit us as if it were the middle of winter. The biting breeze was the first of many reminders of the differences between our old home and what would become our new one. Luckily, I had the summer to let the unfamiliar become familiar before starting school and having to contend with the uneasiness of, not only being the new kid, but being the new kid from a different country.

In 1987, over 157,000 (1) people immigrated to Canada, just as my family did. According to the National Household Survey, close to 1.2 million (2) people immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011. One third, or approximately 400,000 (2), of which were children and youth. The rate of immigration is not projected to decline either. In fact, in urban centres such as Toronto, it is anticipated that by 2031, more than three-quarters (78%) (3) of the population could either be immigrants or children born in Canada of immigrant parents.

The face of our cities and towns are changing rapidly, as is the make-up of our schools and the needs of children and youth. Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies are also experiencing the shift in demographics within their communities and mentoring matches. The need to ensure that our mentoring programs are responsive to the needs of newly immigrated (newcomer) children and youth has never been greater.

In 2013, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) received funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to provide mentoring programming to newcomer children and youth between the ages of 6-17. The three-year CIC funded project, called Connections, aims to provide mentoring relationships that assist with English language skills, social integration, self-esteem and support transitioning into a new country, community and school. The project is currently being piloted in Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies in Toronto, Hamilton/Burlington, Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon. To date, we have provided mentoring relationships to 300 newcomer children and youth. By the end of the three year project, we hope to have a total of 1400 successful mentoring relationships.

Sitting in my new school in Halifax in the Fall of 1987, I could have only dreamed of having a mentor to support me in those early days as a new kid in a new land. Today, I am delighted to be working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and CIC on the Connections Project to make it a little bit easier for newcomer children and youth to change the unfamiliar to the familiar.

Nooreen Pirbhai
National Inclusion Advisor
Big Brother Big Sisters of Canada



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mentoring Respect and Humanity — Mirroring Images

by Larry Beyak

Growing up was a lonely, confusing journey. I was the lone male in my dysfunctional family. School was a very intimidating place; fear, severe asthma, and poverty taught me the wrong lessons of life. Growing up was truly a struggle, and being alone offered no guidance, nor the opportunity to share my interests. My mother contacted Big Brothers, and I was partnered up with my Big Brother, Gus.

On the day Gus entered my life, it changed. First impressions are lasting impressions. That initial meeting proved pivotal. Gus was an extremely patient, caring, and gentle giant. He reached out to shake my hand, a firm, warm handshake that immediately forged a bond of trust and friendship. Nobody before or since has been able to establish such an instant bond.

Over the initial few months, Gus taught me about reliability. Every week, he would call without fail on Thursday night, to plan our time together. Whether going to his house or a Ti-Cats game, or helping him do something, I was never alone again.

Our interests were very similar, right down to our choice of vocation. Since the age of nine, my dream had been to become a paramedic. I didn’t know it at the time, but learned later that Gus worked for the local ambulance corps. Although we are decades apart in what has become a deeply respected and educated profession, my career path has coincidentally mirrored his — something that gives me great pride.

Gus also instilled three gifts that I never would have received without him. He taught me respect, for myself and others; humanity, and how to recognize it and live within its shadow; and finally, how paying it forward, in the form of mentorship, allows us to have patience and be tolerant of each other.

Gus didn’t make a difference, he made the difference in my life. This, I think, is the true goal of Big Brothers Big Sisters and should never be taken for granted.

Thank you, Gus.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Year Later- A Social Innovators Update

Where has the year led me? I feel as though the youth summit was 10 years ago mostly because so much has changed in my life this past year, more than ever before.

Since last year’s Youth Summit I graduated high school where I was valedictorian and I also won a few award; Excelling Student Award as well as an Involved Community Citizen Award. This was such an amazing accomplishment for me, and there is no doubt that it was definitely influenced by the Youth Summit!

This year I started Cegep (College) in the Honors Social Science Program where I finished my first semester with academic honours, in the top 10% of my program. Currently in my second semester, I’ve embarked on a wonderful opportunity; I’m studying this semester in Gaspé about a 14 hour drive from where I live! The way of life here is so different from what I am used to, and I am learning new things every day. Thinking about all of this now, I have come to realize how much I have evolved in this past year, and since the summit… it feels wonderful to look back on.

When I think back on my year since the Youth Summit, I truly believe that the Summit thought me many things, and helped me make many decisions but more than anything, during the summit I felt inspired. I still feel so grateful for the days that I spend in Ottawa as it helped shaped the future that I am currently living.

While at the Youth Summit, I started writing my valedictorian speech, I had so many ideas that were filled with so much inspiration that I wrote it down right there and then and I truly believe that the summit added a great element to my speech. When I came back from the Youth Summit, I was super inspired to not only be the absolute best mentor that I could possibly be but to also take being a mentor seriously; that I’ve committed to something for life and if you ask me, that’s pretty amazing.

Every day I still feel the impact of my experience at the Summit and I’m so grateful to have had the experience. After leaving, I remember feeling tired, but so energized; I felt ready to conquer anything that came my way. The best memories I have come from feeling so close to all the people I met, in such a short period of time.

Me to We did a fantastic job of ensuring a concrete group dynamic and allowing us to feel comfortable and enjoy each other's company no matter what. I am grateful that there was a mixture of Littles and Bigs (teen mentors), because I believe we all learned from each other and there was a diversity of ideas and opinions.

I can't express enough how wonderful my experience was. Whatever you did last year, I say do it all again for years to come! Thank you to Big Brothers Big Sisters and Me to We for such incredible memories.

Teneille A.
Social Innovator
Youth Summit 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Award Winning Speech by Little Sister Savannah

As we celebrate National Volunteer Week we would like to say Thank You to our more than over 25,200 volunteers across Canada!

Please note that the following blog was posted last year but as we are celebrating volunteers, Little Sister Savannah's blog describes perfectly the impact that our volunteers have in the lives of the children and youth we serve every day.

Is it Tuesday already? I love Tuesdays. After homework club, I race home and get ready. I stand by the door and just wait for her car to pull in..........I wonder what we will be doing tonight?

Honourable Judges, parents and fellow competitors, I want to talk to you about one of the most precious gifts I have ever received -One that has changed my life, tremendously. That gift is my big sister, Shelby and the organization responsible for connecting the two of us.

Shelby isn’t my big sister by blood but instead she was matched with me through an organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Georgian Triangle. She is VERY special. You see, Shelby chose to commit 2-4 hours of her time, weekly. She went through a screening process to make sure she was a safe adult with positive things to share. And after an interview she was ready for her little sister. Me!

Sometimes when we get together we talk about some of the tough things associated with being a kid..... like school, siblings or bullies..... and other times we are carefree, we goof around and giggle.

Shelby and I love to watch movies together, play games, do crafts, hike, skate, and even bake.

Once we tried baking Pumpkin peanut butter brownies but we substituted many of the ingredients, TRYING to make it healthier. Well.....have you ever heard that expression “it’s the journey, not the destination”? I finally get what that means. We had so much fun mixing everything together but when I bit into those brownies. Ick!!! I did try to pretend they were okay but I was eager to suggest that I should bring them home to share with my family instead. I could tell that my family thought the same thing, they were gagging at every bite. It was like revenge of the little sister and it made the experience that much sweeter.

Maybe you are wondering how someone becomes a little brother or sister. Well, some kids have tougher family situations and need someone positive in their lives and others come from busy families with only one parent......That’s my life in a nutshell. I have a great mom who is very busy trying to take care of everything for everyone. I also have a brother and two sisters and we always have something on the go. It’s really hard to steal some time alone with my mom. Having Shelby in my life gives me the extra 1 on 1 attention I need.

So what does the big brother or sister get out of the relationship? Well, they get a chance to act like a kid, all over again and they also get the satisfaction of making a real difference for a child and maybe even changing the direction of their life.
Studies show that mentoring helps kids stay in school, avoid risky behavior and grow up displaying respect for all. Helping kids reach their full potential can lead to positive community outcomes too, like lower poverty and unemployment rates. It can also lead to safer schools and communities.

Unbelievable, all of those positive changes simply from an adult choosing to be a friend for a kid who needs them! I bet most of the kids in the program don’t even realize how fast their lives are being transformed, because they are too busy.....just being kids and having fun.

Yep, for me, being part of Big Brothers Big Sisters has been one of the most powerful experiences. Only a few years ago I suffered with a condition that made it impossible for me to talk. It wasn’t until I was matched through the program that I came out of that shell and gained some confidence. And here I am today standing before you with LOTS to say. My marks are good, I was chosen as a star camper at camp last summer for being courteous and caring and I was even chosen to be the junior ambassador for our local fair this year. I’m feeling pretty great about the direction my life is taking. But none of these accomplishments would have been as reachable without the kind of support I have received.

Shelby has shown me the importance of volunteering and I have already decided to do my part. I am currently one of the main fund-raisers for Big Brothers Big Sisters, but what I can’t wait my turn to be the Big Sister and teach a little girl all of the special things Shelby has taught me.

Thank you to everyone at the organization, from the Board members to the Staff members and of course, all of the volunteers. And a very special thank you to Shelby for all of the time you give to me – I will always cherish it and make you proud.

Thank you,

Little Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Georgian Triangle

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Talking About Charities, yes - but are WE listening?

In late 2013 the Muttart Foundation and Imagine Canada released the findings from the most recent ‘Talking About Charities’ report, a research study involving interviews with almost 4,000 Canadians. This is the fifth edition of the report with the most recent version coming in 2008.

The study examined areas such as Familiarity with Charities, Perceived Importance and Attitudes about Charities, Trust in Charities and their Leaders, Fundraising, Information Provision, Business Activities of Charities, Advocacy of Charities and Monitoring Charities.

The report is jam packed with interesting findings. There are a couple of stand-out areas that require our collective attention.

Canadians clearly value hearing from charitable organizations about how the money being contributed is being used. ‘Talking About Charities’ probed these attitudes, relating both to importance in receiving information and how charities are ‘stacking up’ when it comes to reporting back.

There is a startling disconnect.

When asked about the importance of ‘information about the programs and services charities deliver’, 81% of Canadians rated this as Very Important (this skyrockets to 98% when Somewhat Important is included). When asked about ‘the effectiveness of charities providing information related about programs and services charities deliver’ only 7% of Canadians scored the sector as Excellent. There is a 74% gap between the value of this information and how organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters are doing in effectively reporting!

Similar gaps appear when asked about importance and delivery of information on ‘impact of charities’ work on Canadians’, ‘how charities use donations’ and ‘fundraising costs’. The results are layered and vary when geography, age, trust levels etc. are factored in.

There is a clear message in this one series of questions. Big Brothers Big Sisters has an opportunity to provide timely, relevant information and close the gap between expectations and current delivery.

A second telling finding from the report is that “the percentage of Canadians who believe that charities are generally honest about how they use donations is still high at 70% but this has decreased from 84% who felt that way in 2000. Similarly, only about one-third of Canadians (34%) believe charities only ask for money when they really need it, compared to 47% of Canadians who felt that way in 2000.”

The sector is now believed to be in a state of almost permanent fundraising. Many of us will attest to the fact that it certainly feels that way! This significant change in perception, however, could be affecting our donor and sponsor bases in a long-term way.

Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters will need to digest and discuss the information from this report to better understand the subtle, but potentially significant, shifts in public attitudes towards the charitable sector.

Fortunately the future remains optimistic as children’s charities continue to score high with trust levels holding at 82%.

So…are we listening and responding to what Canadians had to say?

Bruce MacDonald
President & CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada