For 11 years Shelby Bryan and Linda Robertson have developed a close friendship after being paired through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Williams Lake.
This August, with Shelby turning 18, their formal relationship will come to an end, yet both of them said they fully expect to be friends forever.
In fact, the first thing they are doing as adult friends is taking a two-week trip to the Maritimes together before Shelby attends Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake in the fall.
Shelby’s mother, Tracie King, said from the moment she brought Shelby to first meet Linda at the BBBS office in Williams Lake she felt really comfortable.
“When we talked about what we liked and did not like, the similarities were all there,” Tracie said. “I didn’t know what to expect when we signed up.”
Prior to being matched with Shelby, Linda mentored a little brother for 11 years named Josh.
By moving to Williams Lake, Linda was quite far from her family, and her nieces and nephews weren’t nearby to spoil.
“I like kids so I thought, I’ll just see if there’s an opportunity. Lorraine Levitt, who was the executive director at the time, took me under her wing and matched me. It’s a very good organizations so I just stayed with it.”
When Josh aged out, Lorraine asked if Linda would consider taking Shelby, who was one of the children on the waiting list.
“She suggested Shelby and I might be a good match,” Linda said.
Tracie said the relationship added some “beautiful structure” to her daughter’s life that came through the mentoring part of the friendship.
“Sometimes Linda was coming in to go grocery shopping and she would just pick up Shelby and take her with her. That’s what they did to spend time and something Shelby enjoyed the most.”
Eventually they also communicated over the computer and cell phones.
“Even if we aren’t seeing each other we will message and ask how each other are doing,” she said.
When Linda was away, she often sent postcards to Shelby.
“I scrap booked or put them into photo albums,” Shelby said.
Linda said through the BBBS program children see lots of other relationships and positive ways to interact.
“If people are interested they should come in and ask questions and they will realize it’s not a daunting, big commitment. It can be as flexible as the child, the parent and the volunteer want it to be.”
Looking back at some of the things they’ve done together, Shelby said it’s become easy and simple.
One of their favourite experiences was spending two nights together at a local bed and breakfast.
A community member won a prize at the Bowl for Kids’ Sake and donated it back to BBBS and the staff forwarded it on to Linda and Shelby.
The two of them went to the Tourism Discovery Centre, picked up some brochures, and spent the two days exploring the area as if they were visitors.
“We liked to go to Soda Creek every fall and pick corn and then we’d come back and decide who to share it with,” Linda said.
Another tradition, added Shelby, was making the Christmas shoe boxes for needy children or shopping for the Salvation Army’s Christmas program.
“I did similar things with Josh, and we still talk and he’s always asking me what I’ve done with Shelby,” Linda added.
Three years ago, Shelby became an in-school mentor to a little brother.
“I’ve been totally honoured to be a part of their relationship and facilitate for the past five years,” said Tasha Pilkington, mentoring co-ordinator for BBBS. “Watching Shelby grow her personal skills, her self-confidence and her leadership skills. It warms my heart.”
Presently there are 19 children in the program and 22 on the wait list.
Tasha said some children are on the wait list for two years or more.
“It is all about the recruitment of volunteers,” she added.
Linda said the rules have changed and volunteer big sisters or brothers are no longer required to commit to one meeting each week.
“They have become more flexible and once a week could be a big commitment.
Children on the waiting list are invited to participate in four main events hosted by BBBS and it was at a Halloween Party that Bryan and Robertson first met.
A lot of people may not realize that as the matched big and little go along and bond, they get to know each other and what they enjoy, Tracie said.
“They figure out a routine around their own lives.”
“Honestly, mentoring does make a difference in a child’s life so if there are any community members out there that have even thought about mentoring, please come in and start the process,” Tasha said.