The Big Brothers, Big Sisters program offers at risk kids one-on-one mentoring.
When Cory Marazzo was a young teen, he had a dream: to play on the same soccer team as the man who introduced him to the game. That man was Big Brother Darryl Goodall. And Cory’s dream came true. For two years before he went away to college Cory was teammates with Darryl, happily playing soccer side by side.
Matched together by the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, Darryl and Cory got together once a week after work and also on the occasional weekend for eight years, to not only play soccer, but also hang around the playground, go fishing, or play winter sports. “As Cory matured, we started to play chess and board games, as well as go on outings organized by Big Brothers, such as to the Ontario Science Centre,” says Darryl.
“I always looked forward to our next get-together,” says Cory, now a freelance designer. “There are lots of benefits for kids in having a Big Brother or Sister. For me, the biggest one was simply having a friend who did things I enjoyed and who introduced me to new activities that I might not otherwise have had the chance to experience.”
Darryl says the relationship was rewarding for him too. The best part: watching Cory grow from being a shy, eleven year old kid, into a confident young man. Cory and Darryl still get together for some fun on occasion.
Big Brothers and Big Sisters provides mentoring for at-risk children and youth aged 5 to 18 years old, says Darlene Evans, executive director of the Peterborough office. Its mission is to promote the growth and development of children by providing the opportunity for a one-on-one friendship with a mature adult. According to their national website, the organization reaches 26,000 children across Canada through its adult volunteers who are active in over 1,000 communities.
Darryl was inspired to become a Big Brother by his friend Roberto, who had been involved with the organization for some time. Roberto connected to his Little Brother, Mark, largely through sports. “Mark and I did a lot of sports together – I taught him tennis and played the game with him from the time he was nine years old,” says Roberto. “I knew it had to happen, but it was still a surprise when he finally beat me! Mark was such a good athlete and enjoyed all sports – we also played basketball, base ball, and hockey together.”
While Big Brothers and Big Sisters is best known for its traditional matched mentoring, (like the examples in this article), the organization offers “a variety of different opportunities for young people,” including in-school mentoring or couples mentoring,” says Evans (see sidebar).
The majority of the children who are mentored are from single parent-led families, and the circumstances of many are not optimal, says Evans. “The youth are referred to us from Children’s Aid, concerned teachers, doctors, or other professionals in their lives who feel that they could benefit from having positive role models,” explains Evans.
The benefits on both sides are immeasurable. “Research has shown that young people benefit greatly from mentoring”, says Evans. “The research organization Project Impact examined both the short-term and long-term benefits of our programs.” The study found that short-term benefits among the at-risk youth included improvements in behaviour and attitude, more motivation academically, more frequent attendance at school and less problematic behaviour on the playground.
For the long-term, the mentored kids identified less with a destructive peer group, were less involved with drugs or alcohol, were less violent and had fewer infractions with the law. In addition, mentored youths were more likely to go on to post-secondary education, and to not rely on social assistance as an adult.
The mentors also benefit from the interaction, says Evans. Roberto says that being a Big Brother has made him more patient in his job as a teacher as well as in his role as a parent. “Mark was a good Little Brother, but we did have some challenges and difficulties as he was growing up,” says Roberto. “The experience has enabled me to better handle issues relating to my own children.”
A Big Brother or Sister is a special kind of person – someone who helps a child develop and grow in a positive way, says Evans. “The adults feel needed and enjoyed and become the child’s special friend – that is the best reward they can have.”
Cory confirms that Big Brother Darryl was one of his best friends, as well as a positive role model in his life. “For people considering becoming a Big Brother or Sister – there are a lot of kids out there who could use a friend like you,” he says.