It would be difficult not to be buoyed by Liz O’Neill’s enthusiasm as the executive director of Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters.
And it is no wonder. O’Neill joined as director of Boys & Girls Club Edmonton in 1977, arriving from Toronto as a wet-behind-the-ears youthful idealist, hoping to make a change in the world.
And she certainly has. At that time, O’Neill was the only full-time employee with 30 kids in the program and a $36,000 budget. Today, almost 40 years later, there are more than 5,300 kids in the program served by 3,200 volunteers,120 staff, and an eight million dollar budget.
But O’Neill is the last one to take personal credit for this growth. Instead, she said the organization’s success is due to the attitude of the community.
“Edmonton has the attitude that if something needs to be done, ‘Roll up your sleeves and get the job done.’ In addition, we have a fabulous board, staff, and tireless group of volunteers,” said O’Neill.
The organization has 14 sites across Edmonton, with seven in the Rat Creek Press distribution area.
“We have focused our efforts on five corridor schools: John A McDougall, Delton, Spruce Avenue, St. Alphonsus, Eastglen and [we] follow the children from Grade 1 to Grade 12. We have known for a long time that children need to be followed through from early age to graduation in order to ensure healthy outcomes. Also, there is a program at Norwood School and the McCauley club, which has a stand-alone facility on the corner of 109A Ave and 95 St.”
The organization focuses on mentoring and out-of-school-time programming at the five corridor schools and the McCauley club location. When children or youth attend the out-of-school time programming, they can play, get help with homework, and stay until their parents pick them up.
Food needs are also addressed. “Hot lunch programs and after school dinners provided in conjunction with E4C are available for families of working poor,” said O’Neill.
O’Neill said the organization doesn’t operate alone. “We coordinate our efforts with other community service agencies that are part of the All in for Youth program. This includes the United Way, City of Edmonton, E4C, The Family Centre, REACH, Edmonton Public and Edmonton Catholic schools.”
In 2011, Boys & Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters merged into one organization. O’Neill said both organizations want to improve child and youth well-being in less than ideal situations.
“The core belief is that a child’s development can be enhanced by positive, nurturing relationships with caring adults,” said O’Neill.
She said people often need help navigating social systems.
“We adopted a vision for wrap-around services. By combining the resources of both organizations, we are better able to deliver programs that address the physical, emotional, academic, and overall wellness of children and youth in our community.”
O’Neill explained those who live in poverty often don’t have sufficient community support or networks.
“We try to ensure, through the goodness of strangers, that everyone has equal opportunity in making their way into the adult world,” said O’Neill.
Find more information about the organization’s programs by requesting a referral at school, calling 780.424.8181, or visiting bgcbigs.ca. Volunteer information is available on the website.
9425 109A Ave
Hours from Sept. to June
Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri: 3:30-6:30 pm. Thurs, 2:30-6:30 pm.
Featured Image: Kids can play during out-of-school-time programming. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck0
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