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Big Brothers Big Sisters marks 50th anniversary with renewed mission

January 18, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Big Brothers Big Sisters was founded on the principle of providing mentorship for boys and girls in need.

This was the stated mission upon the organization’s founding more than a century ago, and it was the stated mission when Big Brothers Big Sisters was brought to what is now York Region 50 years ago this year. But, as the organization marks its half-century of fulfilling this mandate, they are identifying more ways to support the “littles” they serve and their families.

Last fall, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of York launched a significant rebrand. Gone were the purple figures of two individuals coming together to form a heart. In their place are three threads interwoven, representing “the organization, the family and the mentor coming together to forge a new path,” according to Sarah Dame, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of York (BBBSY).

“It demonstrates the power of the three and what we can do together,” she says.

The rebrand of the organization is significant and intended to let the community know they were “really repurposing, reimagining and reinventing ourselves as a movement across the country to engage a whole new audience in an effort to grow our movement.”

“For us, the fiftieth anniversary ties into our new mission and vision,” says Ms. Dame, noting they are building on what she describes as “40 developmental assets” which will be measured in the kids they serve to make sure nobody is left behind.

“What we know from research, when you look at family and child services, one thing that is the same across the board, a gap, is a lack of a positive adult role model,” says Ms. Dame. “We have always been able to measure self-esteem and self-confidence in some of the pieces, but what we’re going to be doing around these 40 developmental assets is working more with our volunteers so they have a bit more of a specific goal when they are working with their little brother or little sister to be consciously focused on some of the developmental assets that we want to see. If you’re looking at a child who is facing adversities, which is where our focus will really be moving forward, we might be blessed to have all the developmental assets, but when you go down the checklist, looking at a child from a newcomer family or a family who is in financial crisis, experiencing the loss off a parent, someone who is ill or dealing with mental health, we want to be able to measure the differences in some of these assets.

“You might only see seven to ten [assets] in a child who is facing adversities. We want to make sure that children and youth that we serve in our one-to-one program has every benefit of a mentor and that we’re elevating and enhancing them from what I think has been traditionally known. It is so much more than a nice-to-have friendship and that has a lot to do with the new mission statement.”

For the last century, the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters has been to provide those positive role models for children in need, pairing them up with suitable adult volunteers and spending valuable quality time with them. Over the past 100 years, the organization has grown to become a recognized leader in the field of mentorship, but times change. They aim to not only maintain that leadership role in providing mentors, but evolve to meet the needs of a changing community, with an additional new focus working with local school boards to make a difference in southern Simcoe County.

These changes, says Ms. Dame, include an increased emphasis on addressing mental health challenges in our community.

“We want to make sure that we are addressing mental health in an appropriate way, that our volunteers are trained to measure that,” says Ms. Dame. “Our mission statement hasn’t changed significantly, but the power of the wording and the commitment is what is changing. We have always had life-changing mentoring relationships, but we really want to ignite and empower our kids to reach their full potential.”

To this end, BBBSY is strengthening its relationships with like-minded organizations, including Blue Door Shelters and 360 Kids, both of which provide shelter services for youth. BBBSY, Blue Door Shelters and 360 Kids put their heads together this past summer to look at service gaps and how they can work together to support youth who are transitioning back into housing to keep from stepping backwards. The result in an increased effort in providing mentorship opportunities for young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, whereas regular BBBSY programming has typically catered to youth between the ages of six and 16.

“We’re coming together to provide mentors who are trained specifically in those areas by 360 Kids and Blue Door Shelters,” says Ms. Dame. “All of our national standards training still has to exist, everything under our community-based one-to-one matches had to exist in those matches, because it is what we would call a mature match, there are some differences that would allow our mentors to be involved in a different way. It wouldn’t be taking [you]

out weekly on an outing, it is more how am I going to [support someone] who is going into housing, is living in one of the shelters, is living in 360. It can be meeting with them once a month to talk about job opportunities, helping them with their resume, looking more at life past where they are now and what it looks like moving forward.”

All of this, however, will require funding and Big Brothers Big Sisters of York is starting the year optimistically. Having lost some funding from the Region of York in 2018, the past year was a rougher one for the organization. They are going into 2020 buoyed by the fact that some of this Regional funding has been restored to them to spearhead these initiatives, and they are also hoping to get a funding infusion from both the Ontario Trillium Foundation as well as some of their signature annual fundraising opportunities that will be bigger and better than ever to mark their Golden Anniversary.

Next Week: How you can get involved with helping make Big Brothers Big Sisters of York’s vision for the next 50 years become a reality.

By Brock Weir


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