November’s Spotlight Volunteer is Mikayla Kaulback!

Our November Spotlight Volunteer is Mikayla Kaulback. Mikayla is in her second year of a Social Service Worker Program at Mohawk College and she is passionate about contributing to her community positively. Mikayla helped to facilitate many of our virtual summer girls groups through leading online discussions and activities with a small group of students. Her favourite part about volunteering as a group mentor was having the opportunity to encourage kids to express themselves and be who they are.

Mentoring has always been a BIG part of Mikayla’s life as she has two older siblings that have mentored her and encouraged her while growing up. When she was given the opportunity to be a mentor herself, she was extremely excited. Mikayla truly values the relationships she was able to make with her students throughout her volunteering experience and feels as though they have impacted her life is a wonderful way.

“I have always felt that the work that is being done at Big Brother Big Sisters is very important to everyone in the community and I am so glad I was able to be a part of it,” she said. “With everything that is going on around the world right now, I was so glad to be able to bring these girls together and still take part in our group activities every week while we were all staying home and staying safe.”

Mikayla arrived to her groups every week with an amazing attitude, creating a consistent and positive environment for her girls! Mikayla is awesome and we appreciate all of the time and energy she committed to the virtual group programs.

October’s Spotlight Volunteer is Chelsea Jones!

Chelsea has been meeting with her mentee since October 2019, and together they have shared so many wonderful experiences. “My favourite part about being a mentor is being able to see the difference in your mentee over time,” said Chelsea. “We started as strangers, but soon became close friends. I love being able to challenge my mentee and provide new experiences that they haven’t got the opportunity to enjoy.”

Chelsea is a mother of three who originally joined our agency as a placement student while completing her diploma in Social Service Work at Conestoga College. During that time, Chelsea was matched to a mentee in our In-School Mentoring program, a very shy and quiet child who had experienced some challenges with self-esteem and social skills. Chelsea was extremely patient and kind, affording her mentee the space and time to open up when she felt ready.

With Chelsea’s consistent support and encouragement, her mentee became much more outgoing and confident in herself. “Over the course of this past year, I have watched my mentee grow and flourish,” she said. “I have seen her go from being very shy and skeptical of our meetings to massive smiles when we visited. Our sessions [at the beginning] were usually quiet and filled with lots of activities, [but now she is] talking and opening up about her fears, excitement and goals. She shows more confidence and is starting to understand her strengths but also loves to try new things.”

When COVID-19 school closures occurred, Chelsea took the extra step to continue meeting with her mentee in our virtual mentoring program, despite her college placement with BBBSG being complete. Chelsea recognized the importance of supporting her mentee during a difficult time. “Big Brothers Big Sisters makes it easy to commit to their wonderful cause to help support children and families,” she said. “She adapted tremendously to the virtual meetings and shows up with a positive attitude at each meeting.

“Being a mentor means being a role model that is committed to the best interest of the mentee, being supportive, understanding and patient,” she added. Chelsea has gone above and beyond to make her mentee feel special, and always plans activities with her mentee’s interests in mind.

“If I came across someone interested in volunteering, I would suggest becoming a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters,” she said. “Children need support; whether it’s with school, or building solid relationships where they can learn to trust, share and learn their strengths. It is rewarding for both the child and mentor watching the child grow and flourish throughout your meetings.”

Thank you so much, Chelsea! Your efforts are so appreciated and you have made the biggest difference in helping your mentee realize her full potential!

September’s Spotlight Volunteers are Matt & Victoria!

Matt & Victoria are one of our “Couple Matches” who began volunteering together in August 2016. Matt and Victoria met and fell in love at the University of Guelph, and decided to purchase a house and call Guelph home in 2015. Matt is a food scientist and Victoria is a landscape architect. They both enjoy hiking, biking, camping, exploring new places and spending time with their family, friends and kitty, Pekoe.

Victoria first looked into volunteering, and after realizing the immense needs of Little Brothers, she and Matt decided to volunteer together. They really wanted to help in their community in a personal way, and felt that the BBBSG programs would be a great fit for them. They just recently celebrated 4 years of being matched to their Little Brother, Keagan.

“My favourite part about being a mentor is the fun that we have, the conversations we have and the new experiences we have together,” said Victoria. “I’ve really enjoyed watching him get better and strong at his skills, and I love hearing his view and opinions on things,” added Matt.

Throughout their match, Matt, Victoria and Keagan have shared a lot of memories together, including setting up a tent in their backyard, and changing the oil and working on Matt’s car together. They regularly cook dinner together, and they make sure to get Keagan involved in the whole process. He will pick veggies from their garden, help prepare food, and help set the table. Matt, Victoria and Keagan also regularly go to the skate park together–one of Keagan’s passions. Even though the skate park isn’t always what Victoria is interested in, she will take pictures and videos of Keagan’s tricks, and create new challenges for him and Matt to do. Matt and Victoria have really leaned into Keagan’s interests to encourage him further. Last summer, they toured local skate parks to find the best one, visiting sites in Guelph, Rockwood, Kitchener and more!

If they had to share some advice with someone thinking about volunteering, Matt and Victoria said, “It is a really rewarding experience. You will grow just like your Little will grow!

“It is important that you are committed because you really do get attached.” Matt would also tell volunteers, “It is a lot more flexible than you may think, but be prepared to think of creative things to do.”

Throughout their 4 years, Matt and Victoria have been able to see Keagan grow, getting to know him and his family. Matt and Victoria have provided consistency and stability for Keagan, and they have been able to expose him to new ideas and experiences. Matt and Victoria, your commitment to Keagan and our organization is deeply appreciated!

August’s Spotlight Volunteer is Tiegan Murphy!

Tiegan began volunteering in the In-School Mentoring program last year, where she got to know her Little by engaging in some of their hobbies with them, such as gymnastics and art. Tiegan described the drastic way her match has grown in just one school year: “My mentee was once a stranger, and now I couldn’t imagine not talking to them. Our time together is the best part of my week.”

While watching her mentee do gymnastics one day, Tiegan had an experience that shifted the way she looks at their relationship and what it means to her: “I always wanted to be able to do a handstand but feared I’d hurt myself if I tried,” she said. ” My mentee encouraged me and talked me through the steps of how to achieve my goals, because they wanted to watch me succeed. This was the first day I realized that our relationship provides me with just as much support as it does them.”

When the pandemic hit, rather than ending their match, Tiegan and her Little continued to talk together each week on a video call, and their relationship became even more conversational than it had been in the past. “I love having someone who is excited to tell me about their life and someone I feel so comfortable sharing mine with,” Tiegan said. “It’s really amazing to build this extremely close relationship.”

Tiegan is proud of the way she’s been able to watch her mentee grow in their self-esteem. She originally found them “…questioning themselves and their worth, [but] now they exude so much confidence and security in knowing who they are and what they want in life. It’s been amazing to watch this transformation.”

We have so enjoyed watching Tiegan and her Little grow this unique relationship. Since it has been such a positive experience, Tiegan has decided to extend her commitment length in their match. We’ve been encouraged to see the incredible level of care Tiegan has expressed towards her mentee, and are excited to see what their future holds!

Thank you, Tiegan, for all you have added to your mentee’s life. We appreciate you!

July’s Spotlight Volunteer is Nathan Brown!

Nathan and Ethin have been matched for 15 months now and like so many of our matches, their relationship has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nathan has a desire to be a positive person in the life of a young person and his passion for giving back to the community is what inspired him to become a Big Brother.

Nathan and Ethin have developed a wonderful bond and because of Nathan’s thoughtfulness and caring nature, they continue to build their relationship, despite the physical distancing. He connects with Ethin online every week and always makes sure he plans creative games, while introducibf educational activities to help Ethin with his spelling and math skills. He even thinks to include Ethin’s brother in their activities to give their guardian grandmother some much-needed respite. She describes their match as “perfect” and acknowledges that during this difficult time, Ethin has something to look forward to each week.

Nathan recently reflected on the significance of mentoring. “Mentoring is both a privilege and a responsibility,” he said. “I believe strongly in the power of influence and want to share the support and guidance I was given when growing up.” Nathan has certainly put this into practice with his commitment creativity and caring despite all challenges.

When asked what he would tell someone who was interested in volunteering as a mentor, Nathan said, “Do it. If seeking to be a Big though, I would encourage them to have reasons that do not benefit themselves personally that compels them. That being said, even if they are just looking to earn hours (high schoolers, resume experience, etc…) I think they will come to see these benefits and it could change them for life.

Thank you, Nathan, for all you have added to your little brother’s life. We appreciate you!

June’s Spotlight Volunteer is Sheena Holzamer!

Sheena works at SunLife Financial and has been volunteering with BBBSG in the Big Bunch program since September 2017. When she is not at work you can find her spending time cooking, and having fun with her step kids, significant other and four fur babies.

“I originally wanted to volunteer due to needing volunteer work for a career I was chasing, but then it became something more valuable,” Sheena said. “I saw the joy it brought to the kids and myself.”

Sheena reflected on the significance of mentoring and said that mentoring to her is teaching children new things, helping them evolve, grow and become more confident in themselves. Sheena has certainly put this into practice with one particular child in her group.

“I have had one [child in my group] bloom like a flower so much,” she said. “When I first meet her, she was so shy, she was in the group with another sibling as well and they would often butt heads. I also noticed she was a bit dependent on her sibling to ‘help’ her or make her feel more comfortable. When the sibling moved on she became more open.

“She was so confident and was a much warmer young girl. She was far more vocal and interactive with other kids and the volunteers of the group.”

This child named Sheena as her favourite group volunteer, and they have built quite the bond. Because of this connection, Sheena is very in tune with this child’s needs and challenges, and works hard to support her.

“The Big Bunch program is so unique and I really enjoy being able to teach the kids new things, how to work as a team and just have fun,” she said. “I really enjoy the group atmosphere as there is a consistency to who you have (in your group) and you get to interact with so many kids, but also have the ability to meet new ones, as the Littles move on or get matched.”

Sheena said that some of her favourite memories with the group is all of the creative and crafty projects and activities they have done together, including a really fun outing making their own pinch pots at Play with Clay as well as the annual holiday party every year.

“I really enjoy the happiness that creativity brings to the kids.”

Sheena hopes that the children remember the experiences and activities in the group for years to come.

We are so appreciative of Sheena, for her gift of mentorship, and her commitment to us. Thank you for all you do, Sheena. We are glad you are on our team!

May’s Spotlight Volunteer is Lupita Reyes!

Lupita is currently studying Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Guelph. It was in one of her classes that she first became aware of the In-School Mentoring Program. Lupita explains, “I remember hearing about BBBS from a guest speaker in my second year. Right away, I knew that I wanted to get involved. I loved the idea of potentially being able to help someone who was really in need of support. I also love working with children, and I have a strong passion for mental health and wellbeing, so it really did feel like a perfect opportunity. I have done a lot of volunteering in the past, but no placement has ever felt as personal as this one.”

Lupita reflected how much she benefitted from mentors in her own life as well, which motivated her to want to provide that to someone else: “Being the youngest of 4 children, I was always the mentee and not the mentor. I highly valued what my siblings were able to teach me, so I wanted to put that forward and use what I had learned to help someone with whatever they needed.”

Lupita was matched to a student who was experiencing a lot of challenges in her life, including struggles with mental health and self-esteem. This mentee had a lot of difficulties making friends and relating to other people, and therefore spent a lot of time at school alone. Lupita accepted the challenge right away and was able to be compassionate and understanding to where her mentee was coming from. Lupita notes, “I remember when we first began to meet, there was a lot of silence and resistance”.

However, Lupita recognized the struggles her mentee was experiencing and was patient while her mentee built trust with her. Lupita explains, “I maintained a positive attitude, and just allowed her to guide the meetings. Before I knew it, we would spend the whole hour just talking about whatever she wanted to discuss that day.” To Lupita, mentoring is about building a relationship with a mentee. She expanded by saying, “It’s about starting from essentially, zero, and growing together. It’s about listening to your mentee’s needs, and allowing that to direct what you would like them to get out of the whole experience.”

Over the course of just one school year, through Lupita’s support and care, Lupita’s mentee completely opened up to her. Lupita’s mentee told her Caseworker that she feels like Lupita understands her in a way that others don’t, and expressed just how much she appreciates having someone to talk to who “gets” her. Lupita has also noticed a difference in her mentee, saying “She also began to start talking more positively about her future, which was a huge step in my eyes. […] I remember her principal pulling me aside one day to tell me that he was really starting to [notice] a change in my mentee. It was then that it was clear to me that I wasn’t the only one seeing her growth, but that her peers were as well.”

Lupita noted that her favourite part of this experience has been seeing her mentee grow, saying “It’s very rewarding to see that the time you’ve spent together was valuable, and is ultimately helping them for the better. It really does feel like you’ve gained a little sister/brother.”  Lupita reflected how one favourite memory was seeing her mentee become engaged and motivated in school in a way she hadn’t been before: “It was a lot of fun, and it was a day that I really saw a lot of growth. I remember just laughing and joking around, which made doing school work a lot more enjoyable.”

What would Lupita tell someone who was interested in volunteering as a mentor? “If you’re interested I would highly recommend BBBS! It is an incredible opportunity to personally get to know someone, and help them. Not only will you see a change in their life, but I promise you will also see a change in yours.”

Thank you Lupita for all you have added to your mentee’s life. We appreciate you!

April’s Spotlight Volunteer is Eugenio!

Our April Spotlight Volunteer is Eugenio!  Eugenio joined the school-based group programs in January.  He was looking for an opportunity to be involved in his community just as he had been in his home country in Mexico. Eugenio describes himself as “a person that enjoys getting involved in the community and helping out in ways that contribute to positive impacts.”

Eugenio is currently studying finance and looking forward to having a positive impact in the lives of the children and youth in Guelph. He describes mentoring as “a way to guide youth to be active and contributing to the well being of their community.”

Eugenio is a ray of light who always greets mentees and others with a big smile. Eugenio’s favourite parts of mentoring is “understanding where a mentee wants to go and what they want to achieve.” He is witnessing the development of the mentees as they make friends and build community with their peers. He enjoys sharing his knowledge of sustainable business practices, his passion for cooking and nature with the mentees. When asked what his favourite part of his group is, he highlighted the energy his mentees had each week that they were not able to contain.

The SBG team has loved having Eugenio in groups and the warmth he brings. We asked Eugenio if he had any advice for someone interested in getting involved as a volunteer, he said “It is a great way to get involved in the community and get to know people with similar interests as yours.”

Thank you, Eugenio! We are #BiggerTogether

March’s Spotlight Volunteer is Jaidyn McCrae!

Our March Spotlight Volunteer is Jaidyn McCrae Wilson! Jaidyn is in her third year of a Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Guelph and is currently involved in her second school based girls group with Big Brothers Big Sister Guelph.  Jaidyn meets with her group of girls weekly to play fun games and participate in discussions; all while building truly meaningful relationships. Her favourite part of volunteering within a group setting is getting to see how excited the kids are for their weekly program. Jaidyn really enjoys being a part of something that the students enjoy and look forward to every single week. One of the reasons why Jaidyn started volunteering with us is because she is so passionate about making connections with youth in her community in a fun and engaging way. She really values her group and works to create a space where everyone feels safe, involved, and actively a part of the group setting. Jaidyn really focuses on building strong, genuine relationships with her mentees.

“I thought volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Guelph would be the perfect opportunity to get involved in the community while making a difference in kid’s lives. It truly has been one of the best experiences I’ve had! It’s a really rewarding program that’s fun and engaging! I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to get a little more involved with their community.”

Jaidyn has been a very positive figure to the girls participating in school group programs and we appreciate her very much!

February’s Spotlight Volunteer is Mackenzie Lee!

February’s Spotlight Volunteer is Mackenzie Lee. Mackenzie has only been with her Little for about 3 months so far, but these two have already built a trusting relationship in which they can talk about a myriad of subjects together.

Mackenzie is an excellent listener who actively works to encourage her Little – especially in the area of their artistic talents. UNO is a favourite game with these two, but no matter what game they end up playing, warmth, connection, and support are always what Mackenzie brings to the forefront. We are #BIGGERTOGETHER with Mackenzie part of our team!

January’s Spotlight Volunteer is Wesley Hayhurst!

January’s Spotlight Volunteer is Wesley Hayhurst. Wesley is a highschool co-op student who is doing his co-op at Big Brothers Big Sisters. For his co-op, Wesley goes to a local elementary school every day and spends time with eight students for an hour individually throughout the week. He plans activities specific to their interests and is building a meaningful mentoring relationship with each student.  Wesley’s co-op has been particularly impactful because he has been matched with some mentees who are incredibly similar to the person he was in elementary school.

One reason Wesley wanted to do his co-op at Big Brothers Big Sisters is because he understands the importance of mentorship and an older person with life experience speaking wisdom into a younger person. This understanding is one of the reasons why Wesley’s relationships with his mentees have been so impactful. Wesley is able to relate in a very real way with some of his mentees and encourage them in their decision making moments, to make good choices; Wesley has had some very genuine conversations about life decisions with his mentees and this has been incredibly meaningful to them as they act on and respond to his words!

Wesley has used sports to connect with a number of his mentees. Through physical activity, Wesley is role modeling healthy competition and good sportsmanship. He has provided opportunities for his mentees to teach him new things from their strengths, and uses sports as a way of encouraging social engagement. While Wesley is naturally inclined to sports, he has also learned about other things important to his mentees such as doing crafts, playing boardgames, and learning about different kinds of guitars. Wesley listens very genuinely to his mentees and cares about the things that are important to them. He has been an incredible mentor this semester and his mentees have really benefitted from his encouragement, wisdom and his ability to connect with them through fun! We appreciate Wesley!