Big Brothers Big Sisters wait list growing in Grande Prairie

More than 50 boys and girls in Grande Prairie are waiting to meet a role model through the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship program.

Most of the children on the wait-list, 41 out of 52, are boys between the ages of six and 17, said executive director Corinne Patterson.

Finding big brothers in the northern Alberta city is challenging, she said.

“It is the nature of our town that these men are out working for months straight, they don’t feel like they have time to give back to a little boy,” Patterson said. “I’ve heard the comment many times: ‘I wouldn’t want to disappoint somebody.’ “

But even a few hours a month can make a difference, Patterson said.

“We’re not asking you to change your life, we’re just asking you to include him in your life,” Patterson said. 

They need to know that somebody cares and is going to be a consistent, positive influence in their lives.– Corinne Patterson, Big Brothers Big Sisters

“They just need somebody to show up, they need to know that somebody cares and is going to be a consistent, positive influence in their lives.”

Mentorship is especially important for children living in a city like Grande Prairie, Patterson said.

Family members of transient workers often struggle to adjust and make new friends.

“There tends to be a lot of kids that pay the price for that,” she said. “Kids that could really use a positive role model in their lives.”

‘Every child need a mentor’

Big brothers and sisters are paired with a boy or girl who has similar interests. For instance, a sports-loving child will be matched with an athletic adult.

Hunter Anderson, 9, was matched with his big brother in January. The two spend an hour together every week, talking and playing hockey.

They might disagree on NHL teams but Anderson said he wants to be a goalie when he grows up, just like his new big brother.

Hunter Anderson, 9, joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in January. (Supplied/Denise Anderson)

“Everything I want to do, he wants to do, too,” Anderson said. “He’s fun to play with, we always play hockey. He’s a good friend.”

His big brother, Graham MacGillivray, said he can no longer imagine his life without Anderson. 

The 27-year-old signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters after learning about the organization from a colleague who also volunteers.

“We do things that brothers would do, playing mini sticks and laughing and joking around,” MacGillivray said.

“Over time your relationship grows and you start getting into deeper things, if he wants to talk. It’s like any friendship.”

He doesn’t push Anderson to talk about his personal life, he added. Usually, the two spend the hour playing games together.

“You see where he wants to take it, it’s not up to me to push boundaries,” MacGillivray said.

Graham MacGillivray joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2017. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

“He’s asking the questions and if I can be a good influence and mentor in that way, that’s great.”

Anderson’s mother, Denise Anderson, said she has noticed changes in her son since he started spending time with MacGillivray.

“He seems like he enjoys school more and he talks about stuff that he learned from his big brother,” she said. “He just seems more outgoing and I’m very happy for him.”

As a single mother, she said she often worries her son doesn’t have a male role model at home.

“Everyone needs a big brother or a big sister to influence them in any way they can and to help them get through life,” she said. “Every child needs a mentor in their life.”

Potential big brothers and sisters are screened and trained by the organization before they are matched with a child.

Applicants must be at least 18, have a clean record and strong personal as well as professional references.

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