Whether they camp out and roast marshmallows over the fire, go bowling, or simply sit and talk, Karen Szostac and her friend Emily spend time together every week. In fact, after spending just over a year getting to know each other, Szostac says that they consider each other family.
The now inseparable duo met through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Kawartha Lakes – Haliburton, where over 30 children are currently waiting to be matched with a volunteer mentor.
“The sad part is,” explains Jim Deflorio, executive director of the organization, “we’ll have kids who we do intakes on and they’ll never get matched.”
These mentorships, Deflorio says, can be life changing for youth who are initially skeptical and shy about the process. After spending some time with their ‘Bigs’ he says, “they’ve opened up, they’re confident.”
The same rings true for Emily, explains Szostac, who says that she understands as a parent that life can be very busy at home. “This is an opportunity for a kid to have 100 per cent of the attention,” she says.
In fact, out of a survey of previous Little Brothers and Sisters, 42 per cent strongly agreed that they were a happy person, whereas 26 per cent of those in the control group who had not received mentorship at a young age, according to a study done by The Boston Consulting Group in 2013.
While the evidence shows that these friendships can be extremely beneficial for children, Deflorio and Szostac say that it can be equally as meaningful for adults.
“Sometimes as adults we don’t think we can grow anymore, but we can,” says Deflorio.
Szostac initially signed on to become a mentor as a way to maintain a consistent relationship with a child after her children moved away for school, she explains.
“In all honesty, she’s taught me more than I’ve taught her,” says Szostak. “She is part of our family now. She will be a part of my life forever.”
Aside from the traditional matches, the organization also offers an in-school mentoring program running from Sept – June where mentors can meet with a student in school for an hour each week.
Big Brothers Big Sisters for Kawartha Lakes – Haliburton asks that any adult who would like to become a mentor commits to one year of involvement with a child. This way, Deflorio explains, the child can have a consistent relationship with their ‘Big.’
Both volunteers and parents have a say in the match-up process, and Deflorio and staff have scheduled check-ins to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Sometimes, Szostac says that during a difficult time in the partnership, “you just need that reassurance.”
For now, Szostac says that she faces just one more challenge, “I just can’t seem to beat her in bowling,” she says with a laugh.
More information on how to get involved, visit this link.