Mentorship and support were the two overarching motives that lead to the development of the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Peel program in 1967. The organization runs multiple mentoring programs—their largest program includes children matched with an adult mentor aged 18 or older. As mentioned on their official website, what began as a group of nine matches has grown into an organization that provides services to 1,800 children and youth—and they are celebrating their 50th year of service. This is also the first year the Black Community Advisory Council Mentoring Program (BCAC) has been introduced as a long-term innovation project at the University of Toronto Mississauga, hoping to run its first course next year.

The BCAC Mentoring Program runs in partnership with the Black Community Advisory Council of the United Way of Peel Region,” says community engagement activity assistant Shanza Ayub, who oversees the long-term innovation project at the Centre for Student Engagement. As she explains, the program matches Black youth aged seven to 16 years old with an adult mentor. “It aims to promote positive self-identity through building a meaningful relationship between the mentee and mentor,” says Ayub.

The community engagement assistant also mentions how the program has been in place at BBBS for a few years, and that “now they hope to grow this program and establish a similar one at UTM in 2018.” The long-term innovation team at UTM this year hopes to recruit volunteer mentors for the program next year and work towards planning activities. This team at the CSE will work alongside BBBS as their community partner.

A press release published by BBBS on June 3, 2013, mentions how the program aims to “provide Black youth with someone they can look up to and connect with someone who will provide positive support and be a sounding board for some of the specific issues that Black youth are dealing with growing up today in Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga.”

Erin Dale, community relations coordinator at BBBS, shares with The Medium, “A couple of years back we realized that with a growing black community in Mississauga and the peel region lots of kids needed mentors.” Dale mentions that “For the black youth enrolled in our programs, many of their parents expressed that they would want their child to be paired with a Black adult.”

The volunteers participating in this community innovation project, as Ayub describes, started work late in October, and the planning project will continue through next semester. Although the group at UTM is early in their planning stage, the community engagement activities assistant explains, “The program that we hope to run in 2018-2019 will have the traditional Big Brother/Little Brother, Big Sister/ Little Sister match, and the pair will meet weekly at UTM.” The mentor and mentee will participate in activities where some will be one-on-one, while some will be done as a group. As part of their future program, the mentees and volunteers can participate in low-cost outings and various cultural activities.

The group hasn’t quite come up with activities yet, but we have some ideas for how and what they will be like next year. We have thought about choosing themes for different months, for example, November’s theme could be the Black Community in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], and February’s theme could be Black History Month,” says Ayub. The group also plans to run weekly activities based on these themes, where each week will focus on a separate aspect within the larger theme.

In the context of the importance of positive role models, Ayub says, “I suppose for the mentees taking part in this program, it introduces them to a positive role model who can help build their confidence and encourage them to reach their goals as it makes them feel more rooted in their communities.” She also adds: “For the mentors taking part, it provides them experience working with children and youth. They also get a chance to have a positive impact on their community, and help make a difference in someone else’s life.”

Many of the volunteers that I have spoken to that are a part of this program, expressed the need for such programs,” Ayub also mentions, “They talked about how much they wished there were more programs like this, or knew of such programs when they were growing up.”

The community relations coordinator at BBBS mentions the long-standing partnership between them and UTM, where Dale believes this innovation project would provide an opportunity to run this program on campus and recruit student mentors. She also hopes that students who are volunteering with the program can gain experience with activities like brainstorming, coming up with a plan, and designing marketing strategies.

Ayub’s goal is for the group at UTM to develop a program for next year with activities that can build positive self-identity and foster a sense of belonging for both mentees and mentors. She adds that “Hopefully it will be rewarding for the group involved with planning and recruiting this year to see these activities run next year.”