September is Big Brothers Big Sisters Month.
In Oxford County, the organization is celebrating by getting the word out.
“By reaching out into the community, people become more aware of our programs and opportunities. This also helps attract donors so that we can continue to run our programs and to help youth reach their full potential,” said Kristen Ralph, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oxford County.
“The kids we serve need a positive adult in their life, and we provide free programming based on the individual needs of each child. The mentors are trained to meet the needs of young people.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring program that creates individual and group mentoring relationships between adults and youth where they can talk to and share experiences. Through regular meetings, a relationship develops between the mentor and mentee, built on trust and common interests.
The organization aims to give youth the tools they need to overcome adversity and societal barriers, connecting them to a positive role model with group and one-on-one programming.
“Our programs help youth see life in a different way, to gain a positive identity, and to be more connected to their communities,” Ralph said.
“We continue to run group and one-on-one programs. During the summer months, it was great because we were able to get back to in-person programming. Everyone was so excited to get back to it, and make those personal connections.”
Upcoming programs include horseback riding, as well as a cooking program that will run in partnership with the Woodstock Police Service and the Woodstock Fire Department.
“Oxford County is a fantastic community. They really help support our programs and events. We’ve had so many great volunteers come forward to help our kids,” Ralph said.
“And agencies in the community always help out. We’ve had boxes of produce donated and restaurants have prepared meals for families. Everyone works together to make sure our kids are looked after.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters serves from 500 to 700 children and youth annually in Oxford County.
“Last year, we were just under 500 because of the pandemic. Our group matches were down because of this, but we had 43 per cent more one-on-one matches with virtual programming,” Ralph said.
“Currently, we have a wait list of 100 kids and we are looking for volunteers to help meet that need.”
Woodstock declared Sept. 2 as Big Brothers Big Sisters Day and next week there will be a flag raising in Tillsonburg to help raise awareness.
Big Brothers Big Sisters provides the relationships young people need to succeed, Ralph said.
“There are many ways to help, donate or volunteer. All funds raised stay local and help our kids and their families,” Ralph said. “Every child and youth deserves the opportunity to realize their full potential.”
For more information, to donate, or complete a mentee or mentor application, visit oxford.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca.