When you were young, who did you look up to? Did you have a favourite sports coach, a thoughtful teacher, a kind family friend? Did you idolise your parents or someone else in your family? It can be easy to forget that not every child can find someone to look up to in their life. It may be due to circumstance or lack of exposure to others but the sad truth is that not having someone to rely on can stifle social skills and confidence, not to mention create feelings of isolation. This is the problem that Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Taranaki sets out to address.
About ten years ago, Snr Constable Paul Lampe was dealing with youth offenders regularly. Looking for better ways to support these youth, he was tasked with finding a way to prevent the youth from becoming offenders in the first place. Taking his lead from BBBS organisations around the world, and using studies that have been published in the USA and Canada, Paul endeavoured to set up a Big Brothers Big Sisters branch in Taranaki.
He was able to secure funding from Tamarind (then AWE Limited) to kickstart the programme. Thanks to the continued support, they have gone from matching 7 children with mentors in 2007 to having about 120 matches currently. The cause is familiar for Jason Peacock, Tamarind's NZ Country Manager as his mum was a mentor for BBBS for many years. Tamarind's Contracts & Procurement Analyst, Monique Sigvertsen is a member of the BBBS board and sees the difference the organisation is making to the community, "Hearing the stories and being involved with the board has been a great way to really see the positive impact BBBS has on our city and we're so glad we can support the programme," she says.
Mentors volunteer to spend one hour a week with their little brother or sister. They spend time sharing meals, doing activities they are interested in and sometimes attending local events. Thanks to the support of the Taranaki Rugby Football Union, BBBS matches can attend Taranaki Bulls games for free. There's also lots of support from the New Plymouth District Council in offering free swimming sessions too. The intention behind it all is to give the child a reliable and stable person who can offer new perspectives and to have some fun with them.
The research shows that the earlier a child is matched, the better chance the relationship has to positively affect the child's development.
The BBBS Case Managers (there are 4 in the Taranaki branch) keep feedback flowing between the child, their parent and the mentor. The matches are made very carefully, ensuring that there are shared interests between the pair. That way a mentor can pursue their hobbies, such as hiking, alongside their little brother or sister. The longest-running match has been going for 9 years and many do stay in touch well beyond their participation in BBBS.
Seeing the Impact
The impact on the children involved is substantial. Boys who are mentored are 2 times less likely to develop negative behaviours like bullying, fighting, lying, cheating or losing their temper. Girls who are mentored are 4 times less likely to develop these behaviours. There have been cases where one sibling in a family is mentored and the other is not. In one particular case, the sibling who is being mentored expresses positive communication skills where the other sibling uses violence as a means of communicating. Because it's not a short-term relationship, the child being mentored has a chance to learn different ways to view problems and approach difficulties, and it opens their eyes to other possibilities for their own future.
An evaluation of the programme is done every few years and checks in with parents and mentors, asking them to comment on the child's progress across 21 different areas. In the most recent evaluation, 88% of young people showed improvement in self confidence and 82% showed improvement in their ability to express their feelings.
Paul Lampe sees a big impact for volunteers too. "They often underestimate the value of what they are doing as it's giving the child an alternate view and new potential," he says. There are a few ways a person can volunteer - on their own, or as a couple to mentor a child. There is also a school-based mentoring programme aimed at corporate entities where their staff member meets the child at their school each week. The feedback from teachers indicates that the children who are being mentored act out less in class and are more focused and attentive.
The biggest challenge the organisation faces is keeping the funds coming in so that they can continue to deliver the service. They don't receive government funding so it all comes from corporate sponsorship or community funding. They also tend to need more male volunteers to keep up with the children who are referred.
They hold an annual golf tournament to raise funds solely to put towards gear and fees for extracurricular activities for the young people in the programme. This helps children access sports, activities and clubs they would normally not have the funds for.
If you can't volunteer but still want to support what BBBS Taranaki is doing, consider setting up payroll giving through your employer. You can also donate through their Give a Little page or connect on Facebook.
For Paul, part of the joy in being involved comes from the fact that most of the people he's working with are volunteering their time, so they really want to be there. The organisation demonstrates the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. After making more than 336 matches over the last ten years, BBBS Taranaki has had an immeasurably positive impact on the "village" of Taranaki and we're proud to support them.