The number of young people waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister has spiked.
Four years ago, the charity said about 4,000 children were waiting for a mentor. Today, the waitlist has more than tripled.
“We have over 15,000 young people waiting to be matched,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada president and CEO W. Matthew Chater.
Chater said across the country, referrals from schools and organizations like the Kids Help Phone have increased and nearly 75 per cent of young people waiting are facing a number of adverse experiences.
They include poverty, violence and pandemic isolation.
Making the situation even more dire are cuts to funding and donations the organization had always counted on. Galas and golf tournament fundraisers had to be put on hold — and while virtual events have been held throughout the year, the charity said it needs a commitment from the federal government.
“Last year alone we experienced a $13-million decrease right across the organization as a federation,” said Chater. “That has posed unique challenges, so we’re really welcoming the new announcement by the federal government of the community relief fund because that will help us modernize services.”
One of the children on that lengthy waitlist was 10-year-old Brooklyn Pollard-Douglas.
“It was kind of a bit sad because I really wanted a Big Sister,” said Pollard-Douglas, “but when the time came, I was really excited and stuff.”
It took two years for Pollard-Douglas to be matched with her Big Sister in Fraser Valley, B.C.
The pair met a couple of months ago and have already gone on a picnic and played sports.
“We played badminton, we played soccer,” said a beaming Pollard-Douglas. “It was so much fun.”
Her mother, Aisha Douglas, said she remembers seeing her aunt as a Big Sister and spending time with “her little.” The mother of three has two younger children at home and wanted her daughter to have “one-on-one time” with another adult.
“It’s nice to know that she can, you know, be herself and have someone that is teaching healthy relationships and just allowing her to be who she is,” said Douglas.
“It’s a very good feeling to know that she just has someone there, to be there, for hopefully years to come.”
Despite the long wait, Douglas said the charity kept Brooklyn engaged in the program. Before the pandemic, there would be in-person activities planned like swimming and fishing. Over the past year, activities and volunteers met up over Zoom events.
Finding the right match can also take time, stressed Chater.
“Life-changing relationships don’t just happen by chance.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters said its focus is on finding an intentional match — a mentor with a personality that will complement the young person.
“Someone who’s able to express care, challenge their growth,” said Chater, “stand next to them and ensure they’re supported, provide and introduce new experiences for young people as well.
“We know life is hard these days. And while there may be strong bonds at home, introducing a non-familial adult who can expand opportunities for young people is critically important, especially right now.”
Every adult volunteer or “Big,” as they are referred to, must also have a police background check. That was critical for Douglas when signing her daughter up for the program.
She wanted to make sure Brooklyn was safe.
“Knowing how their process works just makes me feel much better with allowing her to be going out with another adult,” said Douglas.
Those police checks are part of the volunteer backlog. Chater said in some cities, it can now take up to six months to get a background security check done.
“That has created a lot of challenges for us,” Chater said, “and working with the federal government as well as the provincial governments to see that sped up.”
Chater is urging anyone on the fence about donating their time to a “Little” to reach out and find out more about the program.
He said extravagant outings or spending money are not encouraged, but the gift of time will go a long way.
“The most important thing is just showing up and being there for a young person.”
Pollard-Douglas can’t wait for her next outing and has already started thinking about all their “adventures.”
“I really want to go hiking with her.”
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