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Make The World Better: Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver

Mentorship is the key to empowering youth to reach their full potential

/ 6 mins / SparxTeam

A mentor in a child’s life can not only encourage them to reach their full potential, but also create a positive impact in their community. However, for disadvantaged youth, mentors are not always easy to come by. 

Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver draws on the 100-year-old ethos of now-international organization Big Brothers, connecting children and youth with mentors in the Greater Vancouver area. We chatted with Development and Marketing Manager Mandy Wong about Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver’s history, mission, and goals.

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Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver

Tell us about Big Brothers’ mission. 

At Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, our mission is to enable impactful mentoring relationships where children and youth can discover their power and potential, in collaboration with our local communities. Our vision is that all children and youth are empowered to reach their full potential through mentorship.

What inspired your founders to start Big Brothers? 

On July 4, 1903, a Cincinnati businessman named Irvin F. Westheimer started a movement that would grow to affect millions of lives around the world through child and youth mentoring.

When the young professional saw a boy rooting through a garbage can, he took him under his wing and became his “big brother.” He encouraged his friends to do the same with other boys and young men from father-absent homes. Before long, the Big Brothers movement was born.

Fast forward ten years to a growing delinquency rate in Toronto and the need for an innovative solution. Several businessmen became aware of what was happening in the United States to combat the same problem, and after seeing the positive effect the program had for our neighbours to the south, Big Brothers came to Canada.

Four decades later on March 8, 1957, five businessmen met in the boardroom of a bakery at the corner of Boundary and Kingsway for the first meeting of Big Brothers of British Columbia.

With a strong desire to support the children and youth in the Lower Mainland, founding board members Cecil S. Walker and well-known men’s clothier, Murray Goldman, got involved with Big Brothers shortly after the mentoring movement came out west. Goldman was introduced to the idea when one of his clients, former Executive Director Donald Waring, joked that he would agree to buy a suit from him in exchange for his participation.

Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver was established in 1978. We now run our strength-based mentoring programs in Burnaby, Delta, Surrey, New Westminster, the North Shore, Richmond, the Tri-Cities, and Vancouver. We have a broad service area for a diverse group of individuals. Today, young people who need a mentor come from all walks of life.

Although the Big Brothers movement was born out of a need to combat a growing delinquency rate, our mentoring programs now serve a much broader purpose. The notion of our strength-based mentoring programs remains the same, but the driving force behind the concept has evolved. 

We recognize that the mentor-mentee relationship is a shared, meaningful experience for both the child and the volunteer. Everyday experiences mean big impacts for the child, the volunteer, and the community at large.

What were some of the challenges you encountered

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on the lives of the young people that we support. A breakdown of usual routines, schooling, social opportunities, and many other activities has had a profound effect on so many children, the effects of which we likely won’t fully understand for some time. 

At the same time, health and safety guidelines drastically impacted our ability to deliver most of our programs, with some switching to virtual delivery, while others were postponed. As a result, we faced huge obstacles to provide young people in Greater Vancouver with programming and support, just when they needed it the most. 

Funding for the programs became unpredictable with economical impact around the world, and at one point, we weren’t sure if we would be able to keep our agency going.

Other than volunteers, our agency is in need of funding to maintain our programs so we can serve as many children and young people as we can through mentorship.

What do you consider Big Brothers’ biggest success

Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver has been serving local communities for over 40 years. Our teams and mentoring coordinators are trained to serve long-term friendships and provide guidance on mentorship. We believe the knowledge and history we have at Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver has led to our success.

What makes your organization unique, and how do you feel Big Brothers makes the world better? 

Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver believes that when our children are emotionally, socially, and physically healthy, everyone in the community benefits. With over 40 years of serving Greater Vancouver communities, we have worked with numerous community stakeholders to develop a variety of essential mentorship programs to meet the needs of children and families. 

We believe that by providing a mentor to young lives, we will in turn encourage them to live to their full potential and contribute to a better community’s future. We strive for innovative ways of mentoring that meet the changing needs of our children, families, and communities, while maintaining the highest standards of program delivery.

We are committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. We respect and welcome participation of all individuals. We believe that the diversity of our volunteers, families, and staff allows us to collectively strengthen our organization to intentionally support the communities we serve. 

Every child referred to us comes on the basis that they will benefit substantially by forming a continuing bond with a caring mentor. Many children we serve are from low income, single parent households or from struggling families lacking positive role models. 

The presence of a reliable, caring mentor provides support for the families as well as their children, and in many cases, connects the family with opportunities they would not otherwise have. 

In addition, children from new immigrant and refugee families experience considerable isolation and stress due to cultural issues and limited language skills. 

Our strength-based mentoring programs build the self-confidence and capacities of children so that they can develop healthy lifestyles, make informed and responsible decisions, and participate to the greatest extent possible in the social and economic fabric of society.

Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver

Tell us about your organization’s goals. 

Every year, we aim to serve as many children and young people as we can through our mentorship programs. We hope to serve over 1,000 mentees in our next fiscal year.

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects you’d like to share, and what do you most want people to know about Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver

The Big Brother mentoring program is what we’re most well known for at Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, and we are always in need of Big Brother volunteers. The program provides boys with a role model and a friend to talk to and share the experiences of growing up with. 

Through regular outings of two to four hours, once a week, for a minimum of one year, a friendship is developed between the Big and Little Brother that is built on trust, and common interests and values. 

Furthermore, the result is an impactful experience for both the mentor and the mentee. We’re currently offering this program virtually through Zoom, or in-person, subject to provincial social guidelines. Other than the Big Brother program, we also have other programs that support children and youth in Greater Vancouver communities. We are always in constant need for volunteers/Big Buddies to support our site-based programs and opportunities, which can be found at https://www.bigbrothersvancouver.com/our-programs/

Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver

How can people help or contribute to Big Brothers’ mission? 

If you would like to support Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, consider volunteering to become a mentor or donate to support our mentorship programs. We have a waiting list of mentees waiting to be watched with a Big Brother or Big Buddy – with your help, we would be able to make that wait time even shorter. In some areas of Vancouver, children and young people are waiting two to three years to be matched with a mentor.

If you would like to volunteer and learn about our programs, please visit our website at https://www.bigbrothersvancouver.com/our-programs/

To donate and support our mentorship programs, please visit us at https://www.bigbrothersvancouver.com/donate-now/

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This story was featured in the Make The World Better magazine:

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