Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates 100th year

It’s the year of the youths, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ centennial year

Shelby Merrill (left) spends part of her free time mentoring Rheona Morrow (right).

Shelby Merrill (left) spends part of her free time mentoring Rheona Morrow (right).

It’s the year of the youths, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ centennial year, and across Canada the organization is making it a year to remember.

In 2013, socially active teenagers from across the county will be given the opportunity to take a stand and a leading role in youth issues as Big Brothers Big Sisters ambassadors.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Summit will be held in Ottawa in April, where the ambassadors will have the chance to discuss with political leaders issues that matter to them.

“This is a unique event that will provide Canada’s political leaders with a rare glimpse into the mindset of today’s youth. It will also showcase how effectively our mentors have instilled the values of giving back, academic achievement and respect for family and others,” stated a Big Brothers Big Sisters media release.

Although Ponoka’s Big Brothers Big Sisters won’t be involved in the Ottawa summit because of the distance, they will be involved with the National Mentoring Symposium held in Banff, Oct. 5 to 7.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ centennial year is also about recognition and inspiring more mentoring across the country — that’s where The Big Shout Out comes into play.

The Big Shout Out, www.thebigshoutout.ca, is an online media campaign people can partake in and share their stories about mentors who’ve made a difference in their life.

“We’re just hoping the whole centennial celebration will increase mentoring,” said Beth Reitz, executive director of Boys and Girls Club of Wolf Creek and the Ponoka Youth Centre.

“I honestly believe it’s the one to one relationships that make a difference in kids’ lives … We just really want the best in our community,” she added.

Between the towns of Rimbey and Ponoka there are more than 100 mentors, and alone Ponoka alone has 58, as of Jan. 1. But Reitz is hoping to see those numbers increase by the end of the way. “We’d love to see 100 matches.”

Last autumn Ponoka Big Brothers Big Sisters also gained eight teen mentors. Students from Ponoka Composite High School are mentoring students at the elementary school. “It’s been just a phenomenal experience for the high school and for us,” said Reitz.

Possibly the biggest component of the centennial year is the release of the national DeWit Study results.

The DeWit Study tracked the experiences of approximately 1,000 children registered in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program over a fire-year period. The study aims to use the results to foster more successful and longer lasting matches between mentors and the youths.

While the results of the study are being released in segments over the next year, those that have been released are what Reitz says was hoped for and expected.

“I believe that as people see these results they’ll buy into how effective mentoring can be.” She says even sponsors want to know their money is being used in an effective means.

Key results of the study indicate girls who study with a Big Sister are four times less likely to bully, fight, lie or express anger than girls without a mentor and girls with a Big Sister more than twice as likely than girls without one to be confident in their abilities to succeed in school.

Boys with a Big Brother are three times less likely than boys without one to suffer from peer related anxiety.  Mentored boys are twice as likely to enjoy school and believe academics are important, and they’re two times less likely to bully, fight, lie, cheat, lose their temper or express anger.

“We’ve always been very strong believers in the mentoring process. It just reiterates that what we’ve been doing works, and it makes us want to do it more,” said Reitz.