On sunny summer weekends in the parks of Moose Jaw, Jade and Denika are out enjoying the warm weather and fresh air. Laughing loudly as they run through the grass – unofficially racing each other around courses they invent on the spot – they have such a natural connection that they could be siblings or old family friends. But their relationship is much newer than that, and it’s all thanks to Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).
Jade is a student at the University of Regina, and early on, she had joined the ambassador program – a collective group that represents the university to other students and the surrounding community. After working closely together for a while and realizing Jade’s passion for the community, the administrators of the program suggested that Jade volunteer for BBBS. She applied, and a few months later got a call that changed her life in an amazing way: they had found a perfect match for her in Denika.
Since then, Jade and Denika have only grown closer throughout their adventures. They go ‘park hopping’, visiting all the parks in town in an afternoon. On cold or rainy days, they paint pictures, and last Christmas they even made snow globes. A favourite activity for the summer is heading up to Regina Beach and playing on the inflatable obstacle course in the water.
Because they only meet once a week, these get-togethers often run long, but neither of them mind. “I have the best time ever with Jade,” Denika says. “I always ask if we can go longer.”
Jade will often text Denika’s caregiver to ask to extend their time, because she looks forward to their Sundays together just as much. “I’m busy all week, with university and boxing and all of that. But Sunday is like the shut-off. As soon as I pick her up, everything’s great. We just go relax and have fun.”
Though they haven’t known each other long, the impact on their lives is already noticeable. “I always try to get her to be braver, to try new things, to not be so scared – because I’m with her,” Jade says. “And for me, I’m not always so stressed, and it’s nice to have a friend. I’m the oldest of my siblings, but now they’re all out of school and doing their own thing. This has helped me deal with the ‘empty nest’ feeling.”
The reward is so fulfilling that Jade is now a strong advocate for the BBBS program and the work they do, in Saskatchewan and beyond. As a Big Sister, she’s aware of the waiting lists for mentor matches – she knows of mentees who have been waiting years for a match – and the need for ongoing help from sponsors.
“It’s one of the best organizations to support. Growing up, I never had real close friends. It would have been nice to have a role model like this. It would have been a positive influence in my life, but now, I get to be that positive influence in Denika’s life.”
Denika agrees in her playful way. “You should definitely do it, because you’ll definitely have a lot of fun. I do. All we do is have fun, and I like Sundays even more than Saturdays. I was way more shy when I first met Jade, and now…”
Jade jumps in to finish. “Now, it’s like we’re sisters.”