Mentoring Outside The Box

The year was 2010. Alva was working for the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation in an office at a local school. Though she was surrounded by kids every day, she didn’t’ get to spend any time with them – her job was to help raise funds to support full-day Kindergarten and success at Edmonton Public Schools. After discovering that Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters (BGCBigs) ran an In-School Mentoring program at her school, she decided to sign up and give some of her time back to a child.

IMG_1736It was not long after that she was matched to Hana, a grade three girl from Ethiopia. But Hana wasn’t what Alva was expecting.

“I wondered why I was matched to this kid,” Alva admits. “She seemed so bright. I thought they would match me with a child who needed more help.” Alva quickly realized that while Hana didn’t need support with her studies, she needed support in other areas. “Hana wanted a friend to introduce her to other people and help her come out of her shell.”

According to Hana, it was her decision to request a mentor. “All the other kids had one, and I was always done my work early and got bored. So I begged for a partner.”

Once a week Alva would leave her office and go spend time with Hana. As their relationship grew, Hana started going to visit Alva during her lunch breaks. They would spend time reading, make crafts, work on beading, draw pictures, and write thank you cards for the Foundations donors.

“Hana would even help me write my speeches,” Alva says. “We’d read them together and she would point out places where I could make whatever I was saying more clear. She’s such an amazing girl.”

Four years later, Alva completely lights up when she talks about Hana. It’s easy to tell that she is incredibly proud of her and is truly invested in their relationship. Eventually they outgrew the formal mentorship structure. Alva became more involved with the whole family and once a week wasn’t always enough time for them.

The two of them often spent time going to different events around the city, and Alva would introduce Hana to everyone she knew to help her build her social skills. They’ve been to things such as the Butterdome Craft Sale, Halloween Festivals, concerts, and Foundation Events. They’ve baked cookies and learned to scrapbook. Hana even wrote a speech and spoke at luncheons with Alva’s support!

Hana’s favourite activity was when she came as Alva’s guest to the Ready to Shine: Student Fashion Show, which is a fundraiser Alva works on and is hosted annually by the Foundation’s partner, Kingsway Mall. “It was really interesting to see students like me making their own clothes and walking on the runway,” Hana says. “Without Alva, I would have never thought to go to something like that.”

Sometimes Alva also brings Hana’s younger brother on outings. “It’s nice to include him in things as well to help them both make friends and become more social,” Alva explains.

“I’ve met lots of new people,” Hana says. “Alva knows different things and it’s nice to surround yourself with people who are different and have different experiences. If I’d only hung out with my family that would be all I knew.”

Over the last four years, Alva has seen Hana change from a shy eight year old into a confident and outgoing young lady. “I think I’ve helped teach her the importance of giving back to the community, even if all you have is a dollar or your time. We volunteer a lot together.”

“I love Alva because she is so understanding about everything,” Hana says. “She never sees the bad in people, always the good. Whenever I’m like ‘that’s really bad’, she’ll point out that the person might be having a bad day or going through a tough part in their life. She taught me to be empathetic.”

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Alva says about becoming a mentor. “I hope I still know her when she is 40.”

To learn how to become a mentor, click here.

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