Student mentoring pays off

(Edmonton) Twice a week throughout the winter nearly 100 elementary students pack the atrium of the Katz Group Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research, excited about what they will get to do with mentors from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. These mentors are now award winners of the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters Edmonton program.

The program, which was started four years ago under the Gold Humanism Honor Society, was selected by the Boys & Girls Club as the winner of the distinguished merit award for their committed, ongoing efforts to mentor elementary and junior high-students in Edmonton.

“The prize is secondary to everything we do,” said Brandon Hone, second-year medical student who is the co-organizer of the junior high-school Big Brothers Big Sisters program. “It lets you know that people see what you’re doing and it’s encouraging.”

“I think it’s a really great program so it is awesome we can be a part of their [Big Brothers Big Sisters] bigger picture,” said Kelsey Roelofs, organizer of the U of A’s elementary school mentoring program.

“It means that parents, teachers and everyone are appreciating the difference that the program has been making in the lives of our city’s youth,” said Ikennah Browne, one of last year’s organizers. “Our entire group is quite proud to have received this award and I think that it’s the beginning of great things to come.”

Two schools participate in the elementary program with about 80 kids from each school coming once a week. Medical student volunteers alternate between doing school activities like reading one week, and playing dodge ball, or hosting a campus scavenger hunt or similar activities the next week.
The junior high-school program is run out of Edith Rogers School on Wednesday nights. They start with one-on-ones with the students, who are selected to participate by teachers and counsellors at the school, then the students and mentors play sports in an effort to get the junior-high students active.

“The biggest draw was sports activities and the idea of getting kids involved in any activity at all,” said Lindsay Vellacott, a co-organizer of the junior-high program.

“I like the idea of working with the kids and that age group is such an impressionable age,” said Hone. “You hear them talking about what is cool in junior high or their newest crush, so it makes you feel like a kid again.”

Award recipients are nominated by staff and a team of leaders within the Boys & Girls Club of Edmonton select the winners. The organization says medical students were selected because they have created connections between themselves and kids that will have a life-long impact and medical students have helped children and youth develop dreams, aspirations and hope for the future.

“At Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters, we are incredibly honoured to have the support of the University of Alberta medical students,” said Liz O’Neill, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area. “They have demonstrated a true commitment to the children and youth of our community and have given generously of their precious time to help improve the futures of deserving kids. This award is just a small way in which we may publicly thank the faculty and young men and women who do this important work.”

This year’s program will kick off at the end of October and runs through to the end of April.