Toni Martin, Volunteer Coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Chatham-Kent
Connecting with a mentor is an important part of succeeding in life. While many of us are blessed with parents or guardians that have the time and skills to guide us towards our greater selves, not every child has that opportunity. Growing up without guidance puts them at a disadvantage. By taking time out of our busy schedules to spend a few hours each month mentoring a child we can give a gift that has a ripple effect in that child’s life and beyond. One of the most well known youth mentoring programs is the Big Brothers Big Sisters(BBBS) who have the goal of helping “children realize their potential and build their future.” Toni Martin is the volunteer coordinator at BBBS Chatham-Kent in Ontario, Canada. She knows the power of mentoring from her own experience of having a great teacher help her get past her shyness when she was a teenager.
Share a little background about yourself and any previous volunteer experiences that shaped your life.
I was born and raised in Ontario, Canada as a very shy child. I spent many years trying to overcome the shyness which kept me from joining many activities. When I entered high school I took theatre arts and with the assistance of my teacher broke out of my shell. He was a huge inspiration and I believe a great MENTOR not just to me but to so many others. As most people who know me now would never guess I used to be ‘the shy child’.
As far as volunteering I have always wanted to work with children. I monitored in elementary school, helped out at the local daycare, graduated from the Early Childhood Program and worked at a couple different daycare centres. After a few years in daycare I had my own 2 wonderful boys who I raised as a single mom. I then decided I wanted to work for Big Brothers Big Sisters as I understood where the families were coming from. I also went back to school and got my Child and Youth Worker diploma to learn to work with the whole family as well as various issues some of the youth and families were facing. Over the years I have enjoyed watching the agency children grow and some become current volunteers.
What inspired you to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters?
The fact that I was a single mother and the thought of helping a child and family as a whole. The satisfaction I get from seeing the children happy and watching their confidence grow is very uplifting.
What steps did you take to start this particular journey?
As I mentioned before if did not happen overnight. Working with children in the daycare system was great but I felt there was a piece missing and that I wish I could do more. I enjoyed going back to school as a mature student and learning how to work with a family as a whole or to know I could possibly assist a child dealing with difficult situations.
What obstacles have challenged you?/What is your proudest accomplishment during your time volunteering?
I believe the most difficult challenge as a volunteer coordinator is having the number of volunteers available to meet the needs of the children on waiting lists. There are so many children who would love to have a Big Brother or Big Sister and volunteers are more difficult to come by. It seems everyone has such a busy schedule these days with work and home life.
My proudest accomplishment would be seeing the smiles and excitement of the children when they know they have a mentor they are going to meet.
How can people get involved with the BBBS or in their own communities?
There are websites for Big Brother Big Sister agencies in I believe every community. It is a great organization and I am proud to be a part of it and knowing that the agency makes a huge difference to both the children and volunteers.
Find your local club atwww.bbbs.org