The wonderful folks at the Edmonton Journal have shared their story telling talent by helping former Little Sister and current BGCBigs Volunteer, Jill McLean, share her personal experiences. Thank you Jill, for telling your story of why our community’s support is so very important to young lives.
Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, is famously quoted as saying “children are our most valuable resource.”
A resource is something a living organism requires for growth, health and maintenance. We could then surely say children are the world’s most precious resource. Our present and future rely heavily on the success of children, and this begins from the youngest of ages. The love, guidance and support we offer our children are integral to who they become as adults. Every child is a citizen of the world, our world.
Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area (BGCBigs) is an organization that works to this end; they support our community’s children and families as they develop a strong sense of stability and direction, to feel connected with and confident in the places they live and to have the tools and knowledge with which to find success for their future.
Jill McLean (pictured here second from the right) is one woman who benefitted from the BGCBigs as a young girl.
Her mom was 26 years old when she was diagnosed with lymph node cancer. She found a lump on her neck and the doctors did a biopsy and 34 other tests but couldn’t find anything. They opened her up and found the cancer had spread to all her major organs. She died four months later.
McLean’s father was then tasked with raising three young girls on his own, and McLean herself was five years old at the time. A year later, her dad lost his job and started drinking. They lived on social services and money was always tight, but she says her dad loved them very much and did the best he could.
When McLean was six years old, her dad enrolled her with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“My dad said that he and my mom had talked about it and they both thought it was important to have a female role model in my life so that I could ask her questions that I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking my dad about,” said McLean, who has four children of her own and says she always wanted to be a mom and have a family.
After being matched with a Big Sister who moved away, McLean was matched with Ann at the age of eight.
“Thirty-one years later, we’re still part of each other’s life,” said McLean. “We’re like family. We have our ups and downs. One of my fondest memories was having burgundy cherry ice cream with her at Laura Secord. That was a huge thing for me. I didn’t get ice cream often, so I remember what a treat it was to be able share that with my big sister. She also bought me a dress and arranged for a limo to come and pick me up for my Grade 9 graduation. Without her support, I wouldn’t have been able to get a dress at all.”
When McLean was in Grade 4, social services placed her and her sisters in foster homes because of her dad’s drinking problem.
“We stayed with two families, the first six months being with two staff members from Big Brothers Big Sisters,” she said. “My dad went into rehab for a year and a half. My Big Sister was still there to support me throughout that time, even though our second family lived outside of Edmonton.”
McLean says her fondest memories of childhood always revolve around the agency, quite a compliment indeed.
“I remember the Halloween parties, Christmas parties, sleepovers at Riverdale, summer camps and barbecues,” she recalls. “I wouldn’t be able to experience any of this without Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
It more than the events though.
“The support from the staff at the agency, especially Chris and Liz, has always stood out to me because they always believed in me, they did so much for me,” said McLean. “Being around them was always a safe place for me. I didn’t have a lot of people who genuinely supported and cared about me. Eventually lots of people walk away. People will be wonderful for a while, but then they go. Liz and Chris never left.”
McLean is now a volunteer for Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters. She wanted to feel connected to the agency and knew it would be a positive place for her and a way to give back to people who have made such a positive impact on her life.
“There are a lot of amazing stories with the organization,” she said. “If you need them, they are there. You don’t have to be poor or troubled, they help all kinds of people in different situations. And people in the community give so much, whether it’s food, gifts, tickets or other donations.”
In 2012, nearly 5,000 children, youth and their families found friendship and safe places from BGCBigs and their committed 3,200 volunteers. Their kids are doing better in school and going on to post-secondary education, they are resisting negative influences like drugs and alcohol, they feel part of their community and take pride in themselves and achieving their goals.
With mentoring and after-school programs in Edmonton and additional mentoring programs in Strathcona and Parkland Counties, Camrose, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, Morinville and Vegreville, community support means they can achieve greater outcomes for our kids and, ultimately, our communities.
“I am very blessed with my life,” said McLean. “I thank Chris, Liz, my big sister Ann, my husband, my family, and everyone at the agency who helped me become who I am today.”