Mentors pitch benefits of work with children

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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By Kevin Hampson

A lot of men sitting in prison today might not have ended up there if a good role model had intervened when they were children, says Mark Warner.

This realization led the Riverbend Institution employee to volunteer for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which brings a positive influence into the lives of children of single parents, who often don’t have as much time to ensure their kids stay out of trouble.

“The immediate costs of having a kid go to prison are obvious,” Warner said. “Some of the other costs, not so much: we have labour market shortage, we have high welfare expense. We need to spend time with the kids in our community, so that it can be a better place to live.”

Warner spoke Wednesday at the organization’s first annual Campaign for Kids fundraising event at the Art Hauser Centre. The money raised will help fund monthly events -- from bowling to pumpkin carving -- as well as the weekly activities of big brother (or sister) and little brother pairs. The money will also help get the message out for people to volunteer.

Although the organization has matched 14 kids with volunteers, 18 children are still on the waiting list for a big brother or sister, according to co-ordinator Allyson Wall.

Such volunteers are much needed in Prince Albert, where gangs have a higher-than-average presence on the streets. Typical social indicators of crime are also above the average in this city. About 25 per cent of families in Prince Albert are headed by a single parent, compared to 16.3 per cent across Canada. Studies have shown that kids in single parent families are more likely to live below the poverty line, to develop behaviour disorders and to commit crime.

They are also more vulnerable to gang recruitment.

“What it boils down to is whether we give our kids direction or whether we let some random person on the street do it,” Warner said.

Donny Parenteau, a country music star, played a few tunes and encouraged people to volunteer if they have time. Parenteau said that when he teaches kids, he can “tell the difference between those who have a complete mother-father figure and those who don’t.

“I can kind of tell there’s a void,” he said. “Something’s missing and you can see it, you can feel it.”

Parenteau believes that if you don’t have strong role models to fortify you with a sense of right and wrong, “you [will be] more susceptible to becoming a follower.” You could be influenced by the wrong people “and they could lead you down a dark path.”

Happily, there are people such as firefighter Adam Dziadyk, who was honoured as “big brother of the year” for his outstanding service. He said it’s a great way to help the community and it is rewarding in itself.

Of his little brother, Daniel, Dziadyk said: “He started off as my little brother, now he’s my friend.”

Big sister of the year Stephanie Hamel first joined Big Brothers and Big Sisters as a little sister.

“I had two big sisters and I believe they both helped me become the person I am today,” she said.

Stephanie and her little sister have lots of fun together every week, making crafts, bowling, baking and roller-skating. Despite how much fun she has, however, Stephanie has a serious goal:

“I hope I can inspire Emily to live her life to the fullest and reach her full potential.”

To volunteer or donate to Big Brothers and Big Sisters call 306-922-1299 or check out the website for more information:

Organizations: Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Riverbend Institution, Art Hauser Centre

Geographic location: Canada

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