Reflections of Ponoka: Big Brothers celebrates century of caring

When you participate and show off your great costumes or sign a pledge sheet for the 24th annual Bowl for Kids event on Feb. 22

Beth Reitz

Beth Reitz

When you participate and show off your great costumes or sign a pledge sheet for the 24th annual Bowl for Kids event on Feb. 22 at the Leisure Lanes Bowling Centre, you are kindly supporting a vital international youth organization that has been caring and sharing for 100 years.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a charitable organization devoted to providing friendship and guidance for boys and girls ages six to 18 years. Most of these young participants of all walks of life come from single parent homes and the sole purpose of the program is to assure that each and every ‘Little’ will be given the opportunity of benefiting, growing, and having fun through the presence of another positive role model during their growing up years in the community.

Success and growth from the beginning

At the turn of the 19th century the sudden influx of new settlers into our nation in all areas of the rural and urban population resulted in a desperate need for the establishment of education and recreation programs for the children of these rapidly expanding families. Along the way there would of course be many boys and girls who, for some unfortunate reason, may need to reach out for a little extra care and the companionship of others to get the best chance to enjoy the precious years of their youth. Because of this vital need the first Canadian Big Sister program was formed in Toronto in 1912, followed by the addition of a similar agency for Big Brothers in 1913, with both organizations finally merging in 2004.

This spinoff from the International program grew by leaps and bounds, and by mid-century there were 170 Big Brothers/Big Sisters Agencies working in over 300 communities across Canada.

The purpose of the wonderful mentorship program that emerged from these humble beginnings is to match little Brothers and Sisters with adult volunteers (Bigs) over 18 years of age to create a warm and trusting relationship between adult role models and children. Their goal is to allow the mature personality of the adult to be an example that the child can admire, trust, and model themselves after, as well as hopefully being encouraged along the way to reach his or her full potential.

The overwhelming success of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization can only be expressed by the fact that going into this 100th birthday celebration more than 33,000 children and teenagers are now involved in the program that features some 25,000 volunteer mentors working in 123 agencies that serve more than 1,000 communities across Canada.

As well as the traditional program where one adult is matched to one same-gender child, many new and exciting partnerships have been introduced, and now include: Couples for Kids, Cross Gender Matching, Internet Mentoring, Life Skills Programs, School mentoring, teen in-school mentoring, pre-match training, summer programs and camps, and other year-round group activities. During this exciting anniversary celebration, Canada’s largest mentoring organization will conduct a year-long public education campaign to give Canadians fresh insights into the societal value of youth mentoring, hopefully encouraging willing adults to join in on this most vital cause now, and long into the bright future of our up and coming future citizens.

The colorful history of our Ponoka youth program

Around the Ponoka district in the summer of 1985 a vital need was identified for a program aimed at helping single-parent families. Family and Community Support Services co-ordinator Barb Nixon contacted Big Brothers of Canada for information about setting up a formal Big Brothers and Sisters support program in this area. As a great deal of preparation would be required to organize this group, the FCSS board hired a staff person to oversee a steering committee for six months, during which time the required steps were implemented to set the wheels in motion for our first Ponoka and Recreational District Big Brothers/Big Sisters Society.

Pat Rowland was hired as the executive director of the new community youth organization, and quickly went out and enlisted the enthusiasm of seven interested individuals to serve on the board: Joyce Crandall, Gwen Jensen, Barb Olsen, Jerry Deckert, Jim Mass, Brian Way and Brian Halladay. Once the feasibility study was completed, application was made to the executive director of Big Sisters in Edmonton, community funding was organized and the Ponoka Big Brothers/Big Sisters program diligently began to work toward their community goals and purpose at initial location in the Ponoka FCSS building at 5006-52nd Avenue.

Progress and success came very quickly for the exciting new program, with matches of Bigs and Littles growing steadily from 12 in 1996, to 35 in 2006, to more than 60 in 2009, and now approaching the magic 100 mark, with a new agency also in operation in Rimbey. As the BB/BS Society grew, a new building was required to expand their activities, resulting in the acquisition of the bright, spacious, and busy Ponoka Youth Centre at 5004-54 Street, just west of the Red Brick School on Highway 2A.

The ongoing success over the years has been led by a dedicated staff and board and directors, who are turn complemented by those countless volunteers who have willingly come forth to serve as mentors or in other roles, as well as a supportive community who believes in the importance of these vital youth programs. Beth Reitz has served as the executive director of Ponoka Big Brothers/Big Sisters since 2006, while the current staff includes program director and case worker Morgen Chernick and administrative assistant Nichole Owen. The present BB/BS board of directors comprises: Alex West, Paul Spate, Tony Ruijsch, Cst. Meaghan Doyle, Joziena Meyer, Nichole Maxwell, Lacey Elliot, Kim McClaflin and Susan Whitecotton.

Everyone is busy preparing for their gala 24th annual Bowl for Kids major fundraiser on Feb. 22nd at Leisure Lanes Bowling Centre. To participate or get more information in this exciting community program, drop in to the Ponoka Youth Centre or phone 403-783-3112. The centennial celebration of Big Brothers/Big Sisters will be the exciting theme of this year’s Ponoka Stampede parade.