This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley (BBBSCV) received $5,000 from the New Horizons for Seniors grant program for community-based projects. This grant will support BBBSCV in carrying out an outreach campaign aimed at recruiting more senior volunteers to serve as mentors for vulnerable children in the Cowichan region. With this funding, BBBSCV hopes to match 15-20 new senior mentors with a corresponding number of at-risk children/youth through their “Seniors for Kids” program.
Seniors for Kids is a component of BBBSCV’s “In School Mentoring” services. In School Mentoring means that mentor and mentee will meet for an hour per week one-on-one at a partnering school location. The matches will use non-academic class time to engage in activities such as arts and crafts, reading, baking, sports/computer/board games, and/or just spending time on the playgrounds. Mentor and mentee will meet weekly for the duration of the school year, with the opportunity to re-establish the match the following year.
Intergenerational mentoring is an important form of community engagement for both senior volunteers and vulnerable children involved with BBBSCV’s program.
The number of seniors in the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) is increasing (Social Planning Cowichan, 2010), with a 23.7% increase in residents aged 65-74 and a 58.9% increase in residents aged 75+ expected within the next 10 years (Local Health Area Profile, 2015, Island Health). Over 80% of the population aged 65 and older in the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) live alone – a rate that exceeds provincial averages (Cowichan Communities Health Profile, 2014). Research shows that seniors living alone have a higher risk of depression due to loneliness and isolation (Public Health Agency of Canada – PHAC, 2010) but that volunteering can decrease anxiety and depression among seniors (Swinson, 2006) and contribute to their sense of belonging (PHAC, 2013).
At the same time, children in the Cowichan region are disproportionately impacted by childhood vulnerability factors, including above-average rates of child and youth mental health disorders and hospitalizations, Early Development Instrument (EDI) vulnerability scores, poverty, and numbers of children in care or in need of protection (sources: Human Early Learning Project, Our Cowichan Communities Health Network, Island Health). Thankfully, an expansive body of evidence shows that mentorships offer a powerful protective factor and critical intervention tool for vulnerable children and youth (Wolkow & Furguson, 2011). Moreover, the healthy sense of belonging developed through these relationships builds resilience (Social Planning Cowichan, 2010) and sparks future patterns of social connection, volunteerism, and philanthropy (Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada/Canadian Mental Health Association, 2013).
Considering these dynamics, pairing seniors with vulnerable children is a perfect two-fold solution, and one that BBBSCV hopes to ramp up through their upcoming outreach and engagement activities funded through this grant from the New Horizons for Seniors program.
On March 27th, 2019, BBBSCV had the opportunity to meet with the Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister of Seniors. This meeting included BBBSCV staff along with Dani Morrow (the Principal of Alexander Elementary, a partnering school), Seniors for Kids mentors Sheri-Lyn Godard and Brian Stott, and their “Little Buddy” mentees. This meeting facilitated an opportunity for Minister Tassi to learn more about the Seniors for Kids initiative and how BBBSCV is supporting these beneficial intergenerational relationships in the Cowichan Valley.
“We are looking forward to expanding and amplifying our engagement efforts through this outreach and recruitment campaign,” says Erin Generous, BBBSCV Executive Director. “We know that intergenerational relationships support both children and seniors by reducing isolation, building self-esteem, and boosting supportive social connections. Through the activities made possible by this funding, we are hoping to inspire even more seniors to participate in this program and change the life of a child in need.”
The importance of intergenerational relationships is echoed by Minister Tassi who says, “I am proud that the Government of Canada is investing in programs like Seniors for Kids as part of our New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP). Intergenerational relationships can be a rewarding and enriching experience for both seniors and students—sharing connections and lived experience can enhance seniors’ social inclusion and offers students a broader perspective. That’s why in Budget 2019 we committed to investing an additional 100 million dollars, over five years, in the NHSP—this program empowers communities to share in seniors’ wisdom, passion and contributions to our country.”
Through the funded project, BBBSCV will be reaching out to potential senior mentors in the Cowichan Valley via radio and newspaper ads, community signage, and social media. A new senior advisory/steering committee, created specifically to guide the project, reflects the “for seniors, by seniors” approach of the initiative.
“When children and seniors have an opportunity to understand each other it creates a wonderful bridge between generations.” explains Generous, “These friendships offer a unique opportunity for both mentor and mentee to learn about the other and grow personally because of it.”
About Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley (BBBSCV) is an independent regional branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada. BBBSCV matches at-risk children and youth with volunteer mentors from the community – fostering enriching interpersonal relationships that change young lives for the better. The organization has served the community since 1978, dramatically improving individual outcomes for youth and positively affecting the social determinants of health in the Cowichan region.
About the New Horizons for Seniors Grant Program
The NHSP fosters social inclusion and the engagement of seniors by encouraging them to share their knowledge, skills and experiences to the benefit of others through projects that are led and inspired by seniors and that make a difference in the lives of seniors and their communities.
The NHSP has two funding streams for community-based projects and pan-Canadian projects:
Community-based projects are eligible to receive up to $25,000 in grant funding and up to $5,000 in new small grants funding for organizations that have not received funding within the last five years.
Community-based project funding supports activities that engage seniors and address one or more of the program’s five objectives: volunteering, mentoring, expanding awareness of elder abuse, social participation and capital assistance.
Office of the Minister of Seniors
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Employment and Social Development Canada