The following Opinion piece recently featured in Cork Independent and was written By Foróige staff member Brenda Keating. Brenda is a Project Officer for Foróige’s Big Brother Big Sister programme in Cork.
"I’m going to college – something I thought I’d never do – all because of my ‘Big Sister’. She’s changed my life."
Can an hour or two a week really change someone’s life? Maybe it’s all about the little things.
I’ve been working with Foróige’s volunteer mentoring programme Big Brother Big Sister for the last seven years. I’ve sat at kitchen tables all over Cork and listened to parents talk about their worries and their hopes for their son or daughter. It doesn’t matter whether money is no object in the house, or whether the cupboards are literally empty; almost all the parents will say the same things. They worry about their children being left out, falling behind or going down the wrong road. They want their children to have chances and choices that they didn’t have. They want their children to do well in school. They want their children to be happy. They want the big things.
But we can’t wave a magic wand and fix these big things, so we start with the little things. We match their son or daughter up with a volunteer who meets them for an hour or two a week. And they do little things with their volunteer Big Brother or Big Sister. They go on cinema trips and play football and drink hot chocolate and climb climbing walls.
The young person can say all the little things that’s on their mind to their volunteer Big Brother or Sister.It could be everything and anything from "I don’t know what to wear to the disco," to "My friends aren’t speaking to me," and "My brother’s in trouble again and my mum is upset."
And they hear little things from their Big Brother or Sister. Things like: "You can get to the top of the climbing wall, I know you can." "You did really well in that test." "I had a great time in Fota with you today."
Big Brother Big Sister volunteers can’t change the fact that a young person is being bullied so badly in their area that they can’t go to their local park. Big Brothers and Big Sisters can’t make people in their school be their friends. Big Brothers and Big Sisters can’t change the fact that they are in foster care. But they can do little things.
They can take a young person out for a couple of hours a week. They can listen to them, encourage them and be there for them. They can help that young person forget their troubles and have fun. They can see their Little’s potential and give them opportunities to shine and to try new things and to go to new places. They can even let the young person dump a bucket of icy water over their head for a good cause.
As the Foróige Big Brother Big Sister Project Officer, I get to hear about how big all these little things are. I see how much it means to a young person in foster care to have their volunteer Big Sister watch them perform in the school talent show. I hear a young person talk about how it’s so much easier to study in her room using the desk she and her Big Sister found in the second hand-shop and repainted purple together.
I see how proud a young person is when they can teach their volunteer something new. I see how delighted volunteers are when their Little Brother or Sister makes them a card or remembers to give them a little gift for their birthday.
Because all of these little things add up to the big things.
I will always remember ringing that Little Sister on Leaving Cert results day and hearing how proud and excited she was to be going to college. Her Big Sister had helped her to put together her portfolio for her course and had always encouraged and believed in her.
I will always remember when I first met a Little Brother and he told me he had no friends. Months later, he told me all about the drama club he joined with the help of his Big Brother and how he was going to Funderland with some friends he had met there. I will always remember hearing that a Little Sister, who had been let down by so many adults in their life, felt that she could trust and talk to her Big Sister.
Want to help change a young person’s life? Please volunteer today! Can an hour or two a week really change someone’s life? I think so, well actually I know so.