The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto (BBBST) need volunteers for their school mentoring program in the Scarborough area.
The program works in partnership with the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board to provide one-on-one mentors to elementary school children for one hour a week on school property.
The mentor and child spend that hour shooting hoops, making cookies, reading in the library and other activities the child might feel like engaging in that week, said Shauna Klein, director of fund development and marketing with BBBST.
The program is set up to benefit children who may need extra attention within the school setting, but do not always receive it due to large class sizes. It also gives the students something to look forward to, Klein said.
“We see children becoming more confident, more eager to learn, we see children who see that their opinions are valued,” Klein said. “Overall we just see happier children because they’ve got somebody.”
The feeling of belonging is one of the best benefits of the program, said Kenneth Morden, principal of Military Trail Public School.
“Sometimes it’s just the friendship of having someone else that cares about them and makes that connection,” Morden said.
Military Trail Public School has been participating with BBBST programs for several years. Although it began with only one or two volunteers taking part, the program’s popularity has grown over time.
Activities at the school include sports, pizza lunches and even an activity this year where the “Bigs” and “Littles” can interact with a trained dog on the school premises. Morden said they hadn’t begun actual sessions with the dog as of yet, but it promises to be a fun experience for both the children and volunteers.
“The students are absolutely enthusiastic about the program,” Morden said. “They’re very eager waiting for their big sisters or brothers to come and see them. They’ll be chomping at the bit down at the office asking ‘Are they coming? Are they coming?’”
The program has also led to improved academic performance, Morden said.
“Their happiness carries over to their class. They’re more settled because they’ve got something that they can be very excited about in their life.”
Although the school received about 25 volunteers for the program last year, Morden said that there will always be room for more.
The BBBST application process is about two to three months long and includes an interview, an orientation and training, reference checks, and a police record check. Klein said the organization looks for individuals who are prepared to commit to a child once a week at a regular time.
“We would look for somebody who cared and wanted to do something positive for a child,” Klein said.