One hour a week, for one year, will change a life.
This is the favourite phrase of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The organisation matches young people to a role model and mentor from the community.
An hour a week makes a difference to a child’s confidence and assists with making better life choices, Big Brothers Big Sisters Manawatū manager Dean Chapman says. It’s the reliability and consistency that counts.
The average age of mentees, also known as littles, is 12, with the programme helping those aged 7 to 17.
The reasons for joining vary – “whether Dad’s out of the picture or, heaven forbid, Mum’s passed away” – and they receive referrals from a number of areas.
“We work closely with the police and community constables. We can take referrals from various social services … but most are self-referrals or they’re identified by the school,” Chapman says.
There are 41 matches on Manawatū’s books, with another four almost ready to go.
The pairs may be community-based, spending afternoons or weekends together with some choosing parks, making crafts at venues like Splatter or using the library’s Makerspace.
Alternatively, they are school-based, with the mentor catching up with the child at school.
Regular time together is the most important factor, Chapman says. While they initially ask for a commitment of one year, in most cases the connection continues for much longer.
The mentors, or bigs, vary in age and stage of life. Some are students studying at Massey University or UCOL Te Pūkenga, others are retired.
“Recruitment is really important. We have to make sure we get that right,” Chapman says.
He outlines the application process of “talking about yourself, what you’ve been through and what your interests are”, followed by a police check and training.
Ongoing support is provided by mentoring co-ordinators, like Mckenzie Anderson, who are all qualified social workers.
Anderson is also a mentor, which she says gives her good insight into “what’s going on for a lot of our kids” and remembers “how hard being 14 was”.
However, she says the benefits are spread evenly across mentors and mentees.
“It’s been pretty special to be able to be part of other people’s journey … I’d just moved [here] so having a big community of people was really cool.”
This sentiment is echoed by Cayla Mcfadden, 20, and Emileigh Ward, 14, who have been big and little sisters for a year and a half.
They spend time making crafts, baking, going for walks at Victoria Esplanade and eating icecream.
Emileigh enjoys the friendship and Mcfadden agrees.
“I just love hanging out with Emileigh, it’s lots of fun … I’m mentoring Emileigh but there’s a lot I get out of it as well. And seeing someone grow up … seeing Emileigh grow and flourish.”
There is a shortage of male mentors and funding is an ongoing issue for the non-profit organisation, which has traditionally been funded by grants.
Chapman says the funding pool hasn’t changed, but the need for the service has increased, as has the number of community groups seeking funds.
“The amount of money that we get back is getting lower and lower.”
However, they have been fortunate Booth’s Logistics has come on board as Big Brothers Big Sisters Manawatū's first corporate sponsor.
“And that’s something we’ll be looking at further, is how can we get community-minded businesses in our community to support the work that we do,” Chapman says.
This profile of a Te Pū Harakeke - Community Collective Manawatū member organisation is part of an occasional series.
Sonya Holm is a freelance journalist based in Palmerston North.