The first time Gwen was told she should become a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters (as we were called at the time), she declined and told us she was just too busy. A year later, she was approached again. But this time something was different.
“I realized I was just making excuses not to. So I signed up and became an In School Mentor (Big in School) for 5 year old Holly. I figured that a tiny piece of me might make a difference in her life.”
That was in 2009. Today, 6 years later, Gwen and Holly are still matched and neither see an end in sight.
Gwen enjoys the Bigs In Schools program because it doesn’t take up too much time. Once a week, she goes into Holly’s elementary school and they spend an hour together. They play all sorts of games, practice their baking skills, and enjoy their delicious creations. Sometimes Holly’s teachers gives Gwen a bit of work for them to go through together to provide Holly some extra support or to ensure she doesn’t fall behind in class.
Plus there’s lots of support from BGCBigs. Gwen tells us that her caseworker has changed over the years, but whoever happens to be in that position is consistently helpful and happy to answer questions or accommodate Gwen’s hectic schedule.
According Gwen the best part of being a volunteer has been being able to watch her mentee grow. “Holly has always been such a happy child even though she’s been through some hard things in her life. She’s so resilient, and getting to watch her mature over these years has been wonderful. And I love getting to take her out of class because I know it makes her feel special.”
One of the really eye opening parts of being a Big is when volunteers discover that the learning really goes both ways. Gwen has taught Holly not to cheat when they play games together and likely many more things that neither of them realize yet. Gwen laughs out loud when we ask her if Holly has taught her anything.
“Oh yes!” she exclaims. “She’s shown me that not all people have similar upbringings or have the same lifestyle. And even though our lives look considerably different, Holly is happier than most other kids I know, happier than I was as a child.”
Gwen agrees that mentoring is important for all kids. “I had a friend who was a Big Sister in the community program years ago. She played an incredible role in the Little’s life. The child would have never seen another side of the world without that relationship and they still have a very strong bond today. For my Holly, the important thing I think I provide her is stability. Even though I’ve been traveling out of Edmonton quite a bit over the last few years, we have a strong enough relationship and a solid foundation of trust so she knows I’m always coming back to visit her.”
For anyone considering becoming a Big In School, Gwen has a message for you: “What you get out of it is incredible. This relationship has made me feel like ordinary people can make a difference. YOU can make a difference in a child’s life.”
Bring a child’s love of learning to life. Click here to learn more about how you could make a difference in the life of a child like Holly through our Bigs in Schools program.