By Tristan Marks
Niagara needs more Big siblings, according to Dani Chiodo and Kerri Mulder, two ‘Bigs’- volunteer mentors with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of North & West Niagara.
“The number of youth with mental illness is on the rise,” said Chiodo, whose position as a middle school teacher has let her witness this pressure first hand.
She said that while these kids need “a whole network of support,” she said that the one-on-one relationship that BBBS provides can be huge for these kids.
“As a support teacher, we try to connect a lot of students with Big Brothers Big Sisters,” she said.
“However, there’s a big void that needs to be filled.”
Chiodo first explored becoming a mentor with the organization to help fill that void.
Mulder found her self in a similar position. As the owner of a landscaping business, she had plenty of free time and decided she wanted to find a way to give back to the community. She knew people in BBBS who encouraged her to become one of their mentors.
“I needed to give my time to something and connect with someone,” she explained.
Both said that building a relationship with a Little is the core of being a Big.
“Some of them come in with full plates,” said Chiodo.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, you have to earn their trust over time. It’s like peeling away an onion.”
However, she explained that once the connection is there, the Big and Little become almost like extensions of each other’s families. From there, the mentor can help their charge grow, especially in confidence and self-esteem.
“You have to present them with opportunities to take risks, but be there as a safety net,” Chiodo explained.
This helps the Little become more confident and stable in the face of life events. For example, Mulder’s Little made the huge transition from public school to high school. Before getting connected, her Little would have had a lot of anxiety about such a life change, but Mulder was there to be her pillar of support.
“It was a huge step for her,” Mulder said. “I talked her through the transition, and she ended up doing it even better than I thought.”
She said that anyone considering becoming a mentor needs to keep the idea of relationship-building in the forefront.
“You need to be someone who is good with kids and can put in the time,” she said. “Abandonment is a huge concern and you have to prove that you’re there for them.”
“There will be rough patches too,” said Chiodo. “But you have to be patient and remember that the organization is there to help.”
Those curious about getting involved with the organization, whether as a big or by referring someone to become a little can visit their website at: bbbsmentors.ca