Five years ago, Tammy-Lee Hawkins was new to the community and was looking to make meaningful connections and give back.
She was working at the Quesnel Native Friendship Centre, and there, she met Cindy Lepetich, who was on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Quesnel (BBBSQ), and she learned about the opportunity to become a Big Sister, or “Big” as as they are called. Her children were grown up, and she had time to offer, so she went through the process of getting matched with a Little Sister, or “Little.”
Hawkins was matched with her Little Sister, or “Little,” Shaleyna, who was eight at the time. They started spending a couple of hours together once a week, and now, they’ve been friends for five years.
“Mentorship to me is really important,” said Hawkins. “I think we all have something to give back. It doesn’t have to cost any money. It’s time. I think for Shaleyna and I, we started out when we were getting to know each other. Now, we have formed a bond, and it’s a different outlet for her.”
Shaleyna is now 13, and she and Hawkins spend time doing a wide variety of activities, including going for a walk, doing crafts, cooking and baking, going to the library, swimming and going to the park, depending on what Shaleyna wants to do that day.
“I think it builds her confidence, it builds her identity,” said Hawkins. “She never dreamed she would go to university or school, but now we are talking about these things.”
With Sept. 18 being National Big Brothers Big Sisters Day, Hawkins is hoping other adults in Quesnel will consider becoming mentors through the program.
“It is a couple of hours a week, it makes a difference in a child’s life, and the impact it has made on my life is far greater,” she said. “It can be as little as two hours a week that you can make a difference in a child’s life.”
Being a Big has had a very positive impact on Hawkins’s life. She gets a lot of happiness out of her time with Shaleyna, and she says she loves being able to share in a child’s excitement.
“I get to actually separate from my life because when I’m with her, we are present and in the moment,” she said. “It’s a sense of community and a sense of giving back. There is definitely a renewed sense of getting to see things through a child’s eyes again.
“I never realized when I started out that it could be this. I was doing it to give back, but it has given back to me. It’s allowed me to reflect back on my life and how busy I have been. I look forward to the days we spend together.”
BBBSQ executive director Sarah Thompson says they currently carry a wait list of 20 Littles who need to be matched, although she is excited to report they are in the process of signing up five new mentors.
Community members who are interested in becoming a mentor are asked to commit for a one-year contract minimum and to commit to one hour once a week, at minimum, although Thompson says they are certainly flexible to work around shift work or work rotational shifts.
With COVID-19, a lot of the one-on-one visits have moved to virtual visits or phone calls. BBBSQ promotes outdoor activity to make physical distancing easier, and the organization provides hand sanitizer and masks.
To become a mentor, an interested adult can drop into the BBBSQ office and fill out an application form, and then they will go through a criminal record check, an interview and pre-match training.
“As a mentor, you are a friend to the child, but you are also someone the child looks up to,” said Thompson. “It’s a very valuable relationship. It’s a really positive experience. I think a lot of the mentors really enjoy their time because they get to be a kid again.”
Thompson says the relationship is a very positive one, and even if a match ends after that first year, they make sure to celebrate and make it a positive ending.
Once a month, BBBSQ holds a bigger group event and includes the children who are on the wait list so that everyone can get together and do something fun. This month, the group did a “Bigs Give Back” garbage clean-up at West Fraser Timber Park and in the Johnston Subdivision neighbourhood.
Thompson took over as executive director three months ago and is also the case manager, so she will be the point person for anyone interested in mentoring. At the office, Thompson works with Joanie Newman, the fundraising co-ordinator and bookkeeper.
“I think we work really well, and we definitely love the Quesnel community, and we want to see all the kids matched and having fun and enjoying life to the fullest,” said Thompson. “It’s a great program. We are non-profit, so we do rely heavily on Quesnel with fundraising events like Bowl for Kids Sake and Golf for Kids Sake. We honestly, literally could not do what we do without the support of Quesnel — which is why doing the Bigs Give Back was so important to us. September is Mentoring Month, and we wanted to recognize our mentors but also give back to Quesnel in a small way.”
Even though there is a wait list, Thompson says BBBSQ is always accepting more Littles, as they can be part of the monthly group events and be part of the BBBSQ community while they are waiting for a match.
“We are as inclusive as possible, and I don’t agree with turning anyone away,” said Thompson. “If we can support them, we are very happy to.”
The area for BBBSQ does extend into Wells, and Thompson is trying to get more Bigs and Littles from Wells involved.
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Quesnel, visit quesnel.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca or call 250-992-7257. If you are interested in becoming a Big and would like to talk to a mentor about what it is like, Hawkins says you can reach out to the BBBSQ office, and she is happy to connect through the office and share her experiences.
The BBBSQ office is located at 468B Reid St. The office is open Monday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon, although Thompson says she is flexible and can arrange to meet outside of office hours for people who cannot make it at those times.