In An Age of Social Media – A Project Founded on Human Relationships

In an age of social media, along comes a project founded on human relationships. Pass It On – Phase II has been a project inspired by a mentorship pilot project of the same name implemented on Salt Spring Island in 2009. With funding from the Status of Women Canada, SWOVA Community Development and Research Society was able to provide funding to 5 communities throughout British Columbia: McBride/Valemount; Prince George; Kamloops; cluelet and Salt Spring Island. The emphasis was to foster mentorship relationships between grade 7 or 8 girls and high school young women, focusing on leadership, self-care, personal safety, and access to community supports.

All 5 communities reported enthusiasm on the part of the young females involved in the project. However, all reported some trepidation on the part of the young female mentors when they realized they would have to make an initial phone call in order to connect with their younger buddy. In addition, ongoing connections would have to be made face-to-face. An email or internet ‘chat’ connection could not replace in-person time together.

Here’s what Salt Spring Island had to say about that:

“On one hand it has been very beneficial for the mentors to learn how to communicate with another person face to face rather than relying on social media, however, all mentioned what a challenge it was to learn how to meet with a stranger and come up with ways of connecting.”

A great deal of time was spent with the mentors to prepare them for their new challenge and bi-weekly meetings offered opportunities for strategizing, problem-solving and practicing communication skills.

McBride/Valemount suggests the following:

“If we get funding to do this again next year, I will hold meetings with the mentees much in the same way that the mentors had. I think it is important for the mentees to understand the project more and their role.”

Ucluelet included a social media element to their project due to the expertise of their mentor supervisor. Her explanation follows:

“I elected to take on a blogging component to the project. Since I work in media I was curious to see what parts of this work would be transferable to rural projects. The girls seemed to really like having the camera at activities and I could use it as a way for the shyer girls to still feel like they were participating. And the photos provided such an incredible source of inspiration for me! I could reflect on the photos and remember all the magical moments we were creating together.”

All the projects had their young female mentors and other young females in their communities participate in four workshops. The workshops were seen as a way to introduce some of the issues that may arise over the course of their partnerships with younger buddies. Kamloops suggests some things that strengthen a mentorship project.

“The majority of buddies live in extreme poverty and are multiple-ministry involved. This created challenges for the mentors and required extra support. School liaisons were very supportive as well as having mentors who have ‘Respectful + Relationship’ training. http://respectfulrelationships.swova.org/

The four workshops were a wonderful experience (covering topics such as body image, girl-girl relationships, party safety and depression/expression). I am beyond enthusiastic about the material and look forward to presenting it again ASAP.”

Reaching out to the broader community is essential when running a project for youth. It heightens our awareness of what is available for youth and it also raises the awareness of youth supporting youth in positive ways to the community. Prince George shared their experiences with both these components.

“Vendors stepped up with donations of $200.00 from Superstore, passes for swimming from the city, passes for the roller dome, and passes for bowling. We budgeted monies for Tim Hortons gift cards and gave them out to the mentors as well. I was both awed and dumbfounded by the lack of support these young women felt they had and the way they absorbed information. As a service provider we often feel we have a multitude of services and yet these women were saying no they did not have the right kind. Providing them with a forum to talk seemed equally important to providing mentorship and when we run it again I believe a wider forum for conversation will be offered.”

As with the end of any project, there is a sense of accomplishment, that so many lives were enriched and yet sadness that the project has come to an end. Each community is now seeking ways to keep the momentum going and to build on what they have learned. SWOVA wants to express their gratitude to the Status of Women Canada for their generous funding and to the exceptional Mentor Supervisors who made this project a magical reality in each of their communities: Jennifer Quam – McBride/Valemount; Kate Maurice – Salt Spring Island; Tracy Bergman – Kamloops; Marika Swan – Uclulet; Val Jordan – Prince George

By Chris Gay – Project Coordinator

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