Honourable Filomena Tassi, minister of Seniors, meets with Cowichan Big Brothers Big Sisters members and senior mentors. (Mike Russell photo)

$5K grant to help connect seniors with kids through Cowichan Big Brothers Big Sisters

Seniors for Kids is a component of BBBSCV’s In School Mentoring services.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley received $5,000 from the New Horizons for Seniors grant program, money that will bring seniors and kids in the community together.

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.

“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.”

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 is increasing, with a 23.7 per cent increase in residents aged 65-74 and a 58.9 per cent increase in residents aged 75-plus expected within the next 10 years. More than 80 per cent of the population aged 65 and older in the CVRD live alone — a rate that exceeds provincial averages. Research shows that seniors living alone have a higher risk of depression due to loneliness and isolation, but that volunteering can decrease anxiety and depression among seniors and contribute to their sense of belonging.

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. Thankfully, an expansive body of evidence shows that mentorships offer a powerful protective factor and critical intervention tool for vulnerable children and youth. Moreover, the healthy sense of belonging developed through these relationships builds resilience and sparks future patterns of social connection, volunteerism, and philanthropy.

“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.”

So 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 27, BBBSCV had the opportunity to meet with the Honourable Filomena Tassi, minister of Seniors.

This meeting included BBBSCV staff along with Dani Morrow (principal of Alexander Elementary, a partnering school), Seniors for Kids mentors Sheri-Lyn Godard and Brian Stott, and their “Little Buddy” mentees.

“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,” said Tassi. “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, over five years, in the NHSP — this program empowers communities to share in seniors’ wisdom, passion and contributions to our country.”

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