BBBS helping “whole family unit”

By Mike Williscraft

Societal trends have been evolving, so it only made sense for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Niagara West to keep pace with changes.
To that end, the organization merged with its counterpart in St. Catharines/Thorold last year.
“We’ve seen the trends in our communities, so we have to change with the times,” said Michelle Miller, president of the BBBS of North & West Niagara board of directors.
“The need continues to rise and getting volunteers is tough, so we have evolved to more group-based programming, too. We are able to serve more children that way. The key is to get them involved.”
Miller, who has been president two years and on the board of directors for 12, said her background in event organizing and her highly supportive employer in Vintage Hotels in Niagara-on-the-Lake have allowed her to focus efforts on a need the organization has had.
“They needed help with events and that is my specialty, so it was a good fit, that’s where I can help most,” said Miller.
The merger has allowed for expanded programs in Niagara West, while maintaining other popular programs.
“The Grimsby board worked with us very well as we expanded and starting sharing resources,” said Miller.
“Having great experience with staff members Mary Champ (special events coordinator) and Karen Thompson (mentoring coordinator) is pivotal to any success.”
Champ, who has been part of BBBS in Niagara West for 16 years, has seen a lot of changes, but one key constant as well.
“In all that time I have seen many changes in the organization and the national governance of the organization, but what has remained consistent is that the need for local adults to mentor our local youth has not changed,” said Champ.
“The addition of social media has increased the type and amount of bullying that we are seeing affect our local youth. In addition, the mental health issues that are facing youth are present in increasingly younger children.”
To combat these or any other issue, the key factor in BBBS’s ability to operate is funding.
The group gets no federal or provincial funds and raises money for all they do.
In Niagara West a program has been pioneered focusing on healthy eating and living choices for Grade 5-6 girls. This program runs in conjunction with a similar program, Go Girls!, which is for Grade 7-8 girls.
Niagara West currently has a waiting list of about 24 children waiting for a Big match.
“People think we are just helping the children but really we support the whole family unit,” said Miller.
For more information on BBBS, call 905-945-9353.

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