When Adrienne Biggs, 10, goes over to her mentors’ Tom and Gloria Heisterman’s house she likes to have dinner parties.
She gets dressed up in the “queen dress” they brought back for her on their trip to Asia and they sit down to a formal dinner with candles, appetizers and the whole works.
However, escargot was not a hit.
“Adrienne looked, ‘this looks like slugs!’,” Tom remembered, laughing so hard he was nearly crying.
Tom, Gloria and Adrienne were connected through the John Howard KidStart program three years ago on Nov. 9. Adrienne remembers the exact date.
In the beginning they spent three hours together once a week.
“So when we first got together and we were in the house we saw Adrienne every Tuesday, but then Tom retired and we were spending more time on Quadra so instead of seeing her once a week maybe we would see her only two weeks or so but at that point we were having sleepovers,” Gloria said. “That’s what I love about the program is that it is really tailor-made to everyone’s lifestyle.”
Now, three years in, Gloria and Tom call Adrienne their family friend, and that is really what she is.
They swim, bake and go for walks and bike rides together, but they also have quiet time, which Adrienne said she doesn’t get much of at home as she has five younger siblings.
“The big thing is you don’t have to do something special all the time, you just hang out, that to me is a big thing,” Tom said.
Gloria first signed up for the program because she was retired and wanted to have a child in her life again.
“You know what I love, we go for walks in the forest quite a bit and Adrienne really feels the beauty and she comments on that all the time, how special it is in those forests,” she said.
Having a kid around is fun for the Heistermans and they do things they wouldn’t normally do, like going for walks in the park on a slippery day and sliding down the hill, or stomping on frozen puddles or bowling in the hallway with toilet paper roles as pins.
“I really believe that it takes a village to raise a child and I just think our society would be so much better off if we spent more time for the children,” Gloria said.
Adrienne, Gloria and Tom are one of 32 teams matched through the KidStart program in Campbell River, but there are over 130 kids on the wait list and some have been waiting for six years to be matched with someone.
“The need for the program can be, well in this case, it was four kids became five and then six. Dad working and mom holding down the fort but busy and not a lot of extended family supports in the community,” said Tara Jordan, Kidstart coordinator. “And none of the children having one on one time with any adults.”
In other cases the situation at home is more difficult, but mentors will be matched with a child that they have the skills to manage.
“We don’t want to match anybody with someone who they are not prepared enough or experienced enough to spend time with,” Jordan said.
Jordan is looking for all kinds of mentors aged 19-109 including couples and families, but three quarters of the children on her waiting list are boys and would benefit the most from have a male mentor. However, she has very few men coming forward to volunteer.
“It is like a lifeline for kids when they are going through roller coasters,” Jordan said.
When Adrienne first met Tom and Gloria as a seven-year-old she was shy, but when it was her younger siblings turns to meet their new mentors they were over the moon excited to meet their new fun buddies.
“The key to KidStart’s success is that the parents say yes and they want this for their child’s life and the children say yes, and they want this in their life,” Jordan said.
You can find more information and a apply to be a mentor at jihsni.bc.ca/index.php/kidstart or you can contact Jordan at 250-286-0611 ext. 113 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.