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Big Brothers Big Sisters Calgary announces big change in strategic direction

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area president and CEO Ken Lima-Coelho set out a series of new and lofty goals for the non-profit during their AGM on June 22.

The BBBS is calling its brand-new 10-year strategic direction “Boost.”

The goal is to address the growing needs crisis among young people in Calgary. They want to partner with other social service agencies in the city to support more kids before those kids reach a crisis point.

“I’ll be straight—who we’re serving right now, the complexity of the challenges, the adversities that we’re seeing in young people, they’re increasing,” said Lima-Coelho.

“Our team is very talented, but we don’t do crisis support, and it’s become clear that we need to partner more intentionally with those organizations that do, and then when they’re ready, we want those families to come back to us.”

BBBS is grappling with the rising number of, and often times pandemic exasperated, issues facing youth. From the organization’s own internal reporting, they’ve seen a 22 per cent increase since 2019 in mentees with four or more childhood adversities, to 86 per cent overall.

What isn’t changing is the organization’s commitment to pairing adult mentors with children in need.

“Developmental relationships is what we do. One on one, that’s really important—we’re leaning into it,” said Lima-Coelho.

Re-focusing on the ‘mid-stream’

In order to develop their long-term plan, BBBS sat down with stakeholders from the non-profit world, mentors and mentees, and members of Calgary’s communities.

Feedback, said Lima-Coelho, was focused on ensuring that BBBS remained a “mid-stream” partner with families.

“They said, ‘Ken we want your team to be mid-stream. You’re at that mid-stream moment where a kid’s vulnerable, but they’re not so far down the track that we can’t have development relationships and mentoring as an intervention,'” he said.

“So we’re going to pull our agency back to that mid-stream because that’s where we belong.”

Phase one of the Boost plan is on post-pandemic recovery and stabilization for the organization.

These will be followed by phases focusing on developing the organization, enhancing outreach to vulnerable populations such as Indigenous and LGBTQS+ youth, and supporting youth from surrounding communities like Airdrie and Okotoks.

“We’re going to think about how we want to serve differently,” he said.

The organization hasn’t put any hard timelines on the strategic plan phases. Instead, they will be using academic research, consultations, and meeting with stakeholders to move through the phases.

Strong financial statements from 2021 fiscal year

BBBS presented strong financial reporting during their AGM on Wednesday. The organization had $3.92 million in revenue for the last fiscal year, and expenses of $3.38 million. The financials were audited by KPMG, who gave the organization a clean report.

The strong financial report coming out the pandemic serves as both a signal and a reminder to Calgarians that BBBS is continuing for the long haul, said Lima-Coelho.

“People want to know who’s going to be around, and we have great ambitions for this organization, but it’s important for me as a CEO of a small non-profit, and the community we serve, for them to know we’re not going anywhere,” he said.

The organization has retained financial support from individuals, organizations, and foundations throughout the pandemic.

Additionally, it was announced that the non-profit would be the recipient of a $650,000 donation from a number of Canadian Progress Clubs, including the Bow River Chapter. This marked the largest single donation in the organization’s history.

The organization’s charity fundraiser with former City Councillor and Mayoral Candidate Jeromy Farkas is sill ongoing. To date they’ve raised over $90,000, and are still accepting donations through their website.

Re-reminding Calgarians about the difference they can make

A big part of phase one will be to re-remind and re-engage Calgarians with the volunteer opportunities at BBBS.

“I think it’s really important right now for the community to recognize that the social sector, the serving sector—the social goods sector, needs Calgarians more than we’ve ever needed them,” said Lima-Coelho.

Addressing the growing crisis in finding enough volunteers within the city, BBBS is planning on reminding Calgarians about the benefits, and the opportunities of engaging in long-term volunteering by mentoring a child.

“We want to activate that goodness in people and help them celebrate and help them invest in young people through their own mentoring,” he said.

Pandemic mentoring

BBBS mentoring coordinator Alex Wan talked about his own experience becoming a mentor during the pandemic.

In 2020, the organization was involved in testing out virtual mentoring for kids as schools were closed to in-person learning. During a 10-week period, Wan matched with nearly a dozen kids to provide support during that phase of the pandemic.

When that program came to an end, and knowing that one of the kids had still not found a permanent mentor, he stepped up to take on that role.

“I thought we clicked really well. We shared a lot of similar interests, I saw a lot of myself in him, and I obviously I knew he was still waiting for a mentor,” said Wan.

For Wan, there isn’t any pressure on trying to make a difference. It’s about spending quality time with a person in need.

“I think just being present; it doesn’t really take much just having a willingness to want to spend time with someone and all that other stuff comes along pretty naturally,” he said.

“Before I was matched with him, I thought about my Saturdays and it was just me sleeping in, so I sacrifice an hour and a half of sleeping in every Saturday to hang out with him. I wouldn’t really say it’s a sacrifice because I’m having fun along the way.”

‘Helping people to manage’

In the end, making that long-term commitment pays off in the long run. Mentors spend on average between one to two hours a week with their mentee. BBBS asks mentors to make a one-year commitment.

“And you know, I might not see that in the duration of our match, and might come up in 20 years, but I’m OK with that.”

Ward 8 Councillor Courtney Walcott, who was a teacher, spoke to LiveWire Calgary at the AGM about the need for help outside of the classroom.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in the classroom is that we only have them for a certain amount of time every day,” he said.

“You do your best to do interventions. You do your best to get involved. You do your best to engage the family, but… the reality is that crisis intervention is a 24-hour job.”

He said that BBBS was helping to fill that gap in wraparound support and afterschool care.

“It’s not about preventing crisis, it’s about helping people to manage,” he said.

“Every single kid I’ve met, no matter how supportive their life is, they will experience crisis and the question becomes ‘what skills are we actually leaving them with to help manage them?'”