Another Christmas come and gone. The push for food banks has somewhat ebbed (although the need continues year round). Christmas credit card bills are rolling in, along with increases on MSP, stamps, hydro and anything else you can think of. Generally, we’re financially tapped out. Who dares to ask for more?
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), that’s who.
But the kicker is this: they are not asking for money, food, or any other form of stuff. What they are looking for is time.
Holly Hatch, BBBS’s Development Coordinator, notes that there are children living right here in Sooke, children (coined “Littles” at BBBS) who are looking for a big brother or a big sister (“Bigs”) to provide mentorship and companionship.
Littles often come from single-parent families with limited social exposure. With incomes flatlining and housing costs burgeoning, parents are taking on more jobs. This frequently means they have less time to spend at homes they are struggling to pay for, be it through rent or through mortgage. It’s not so much that the children are living in isolated locations, said executive director Rhonda Brown, but they are isolated in their exposure to other people in their community.
Ken Dobb, a single father from Sooke who utilizes the services offered by BBBS, finds tremendous value in their program. He has three children, two girls (aged 12 and 10) and a boy (aged 9), all of whom are paired with a Big.
His children have been with BBBS for a couple of years now, and have benefitted tremendously because of it.
“It’s really improved their attitude,” he reflected in conversation. “They’re a lot happier now.”
Hatch offered the stories of three children from Sooke who are looking for a big brother or sister.
One. There is a nine-year-old boy who has been waiting for a year now for a Big Brother. He loves swimming, soccer, hockey and video games. He is being raised by a single mom and is being challenged with bullying at school. There is no father in his life.
Two. There are also seven-year-old twins – one boy, one girl – waiting for a Big Brother and Big Sister. They have many interests they would like to explore but are being raised by a single mother and don’t have any other family on the West Coast. Neither of these kids have their father in their lives.
Three. There are also two sisters in Sooke who share a Big Sister because of the lack of volunteers in Sooke. This Big Sister drives from the Westshore each week and goes out with one of the sisters one week and the other the next week. Their favourite activity is baking but they’ve been to hockey games together, they play board games and spend time outdoors.
Victoria’s BBBS works closely with EMCS, and pairs students from the high school with those from Saseenos elementary. But, as Brown points out, they also need community mentors — Bigs that are 19 and older, to work with Littles from throughout Sooke.
The application process takes about eight weeks. While the screening does take some time, BBBS wants to ensure that those who volunteer are ready for the scope of commitment required.
“We don’t want to be one more person who lets down a child,” summed up Brown.
BBBS requests a minimum commitment of one year. As Hatch states in correspondence, “The commitment time is 2-4 hours/week, for one year. Typically matches will do community events, sports, arts and crafts, baking, or board games together.”
Brown says the rewards for the Bigs are tremendous.
“They feel they get way more out of it than the child does,” said Brown in conversation. “Benefits to vulnerable children are life saving.”
The good influence of a Big can have a positive impact on a Little for life.
The process involves completing an application form (online), having a Criminal Record Check done (at no cost to you), submitting references, and completing the volunteer orientation. Brown said they might be able to complete some of the process here in Sooke, through EMCS. Once approved, a Big has a one-on-one interview and is then matched with a child.
By matching Bigs and Littles, the social isolation decreases, especially for single parents going it alone. As Brown likes to say, BBBS is “changing communities, one relationship at a time.”
Brown adds that one is never too old to be a Big. If you have time on your hands and an interest in helping a child flourish, this program might be a good fit for you.