By Jenna Mohammed
In Canada, psychological distress in young women is rising. A study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 70 per cent of mental health issues have their onset during adolescence. For newcomers and minorities, in particular, symptoms are followed by loneliness and alienation. Fortunately, there are programs to help ease anxiety and provide a sense of belonging for young racialized girls.
The program, Girls Linking Our World (GLOW), headed by Big Brothers Big Sisters was launched in 2015 as a direct response to Halton’s growing diverse population. The after-school mentoring program operates for ten weeks, once a week for two hours. Groups of 12 to 14 young girls in grades 6 to 8 develop a bond between their mentors and fellow students.
Case manager of school-based programs, Lauren Kenwood says the objective of the program is to promote positive identity and confidence through mentoring relationships. GLOW caught the attention of the Oakville Community Foundation as a local project dedicated to gender equality, resulting in a $50,000 grant divvied up between five other programs.
“GLOW offers several educational and creative activities,” says Kenwood. “They all revolve around the message of the program that is building leadership skills, exploring issues related to peer pressure and self-esteem, discussing healthy habits and ways young girls can promote their self-image.”
There is a different topic every week that focuses on embracing all aspects of their identity and working on empathic communication, says Kenwood. The program collectively ties each session into teaching young girls how they can take care of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, which leads to a better future socially, economically and cognitively.
Former GLOW volunteer and current case manager, Melissa Hnatiw, says the program is inclusive for girls of all backgrounds.
“GLOW has a strong, culturally inclusive message but it’s not the only reason why girls are invited to join,” she says. “While it is the running theme, it’s not just for visible minorities or newcomers.” Ice breakers are a big part of the program, Hnatiw says the goal is to make everyone feel welcome. “Even if girls don’t know anyone in the program, at the end of each session everyone is comfortable with each other and there is a strong sense of camaraderie.”
As a response to in-person sessions and meetings put to a halt, GLOW will be virtual for the upcoming school year. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton and Hamilton staff are working hard to transition the in-person curriculum to work virtually through video conferencing. “We plan to have different community partners on virtual sessions to run activities,” says Kenwood. “Mentors will also be dropping off materials and items to their mentee’s home so they can follow the curriculum.”
For those interested in becoming a GLOW mentor, you can sign up online for training. “We encourage mentors who have a passion working with adolescent girls and have experienced being a racialized youth themselves or as a newcomer to bring a personal aspect to the program – which is at the core of all our programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters,” says Kenwood.
For more information about programs offered or volunteer opportunities, visit haltonhamilton.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca
Photos provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton