A tale of two sisters

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Summer Gibbons’ younger sister inspired her to volunteer for a school mentor program aimed at giving young students positive role models.

Gibbons, 18, saw the positive influence a teen mentor program Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area had on her younger sister, Gracie, 15.

The program invites ‘bigs’ (mentors) to pair with a ‘little’ (mentee) for one hour each week to provide youth a role model and friend to talk to and share experiences.

“It’s unreal and to be able to share the experience with Gracie – I saw how happy she was and I wanted to be a part of it,” Summer explained over coffee.

She has been a ‘big’ to two ‘littles’ for the past three years, volunteering through Cochrane High School, after Gracie was a ‘little’ in Grade 5 and Grade 6 at Manachaban Middle School.

“If you are a ‘little,’ lots of kids in the program don’t have older siblings. So it is nice to have that feeling of someone to count on and listen,” Gracie explained.

Coming from a big family – four siblings – Summer volunteered for the program to show children what it’s like to have a sibling.

“We have two older siblings who had a big influence on us and it was really hard on us when they left. I didn’t want any ‘littles’ to feel the same way I did – I wanted to step up and do something awesome for them,” Summer said.

Gracie explained their older siblings, a 26-year-old brother and 22-year-old sister, had both moved out of the family home by the time she was attending middle school.

“I come from a really social family and I always liked making friends and felt cooler when I hung out with the older kids,” Gracie said with a laugh.

“(The program) makes you feel like you have a lot of love.”

Organizers of the program said they have heard great feedback from youth in Cochrane.

“It’s great because we have kids from all walks of life who come into this program. Kids who don’t have a younger brother or older sister, kids who only have one parent or are going through bullying in school. Since I’ve been in this role, I’ve never talked to kids who said they don’t enjoy this program,” said Jeanine Drouillard with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area.

The Gibbons sisters said it has been a “great experience” to be involved in the program together.

“We were already close. This made us closer. It is great to get feedback from Gracie from what she really enjoyed as a’ little’ … to be able to put a smile on (a ‘little’s’) face and know you make a difference in (a ‘little’s’) life is an awesome feeling,” Summer said.

“Being from a big family doesn’t mean this program isn’t for you, it’s just about having a really good time.”

While this is Summer’s last year as a volunteer, Gracie said she will “definitely” be signing up to be a “big” next year.

Participating schools in Cochrane include Elizabeth Barrett Elementary School for Grades 1 to 3 (mentees), Manachaban Middle School for Grades 5 and 6 (mentees) and Grades 7 and 8 (mentors), and Cochrane High School Grades 9 to 12 (mentors).

For more go to bigbrothersbigsisters.ca.

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