Dozens of Comox Valley children await adult mentors

DUSTIN PARKER and Lisa Kennelly hold Christmas gifts that went to John Howard Society children through the Courtenay Sears store
DUSTIN PARKER and Lisa Kennelly hold Christmas gifts that went to John Howard Society children through the Courtenay Sears store's annual Tree of Wishes campaign.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Thirty-seven Comox Valley kids are waiting for adult mentors to be much-needed positive role models in their lives.

John Howard Society North Island's (JHSNI) KidStart program is a one-on-one mentoring program that pairs kids from age six to 18 with a mentor who spends three hours a week doing fun activities with them. Although 20 Comox Valley kids are now matched with mentors in the program, 37 more are waiting due to a lack of mentors.

KidStart co-ordinator Wendy Thurlborn says kids are referred to the program for a variety of reasons.

"A lot of them, they are struggling in some way; their home situation may not be that great, they're not doing well in school, they don't have a lot of friends," says Thurlborn, noting the positive influence of the mentors is evident and changes happen quickly for the kids.

"Some of the benefits include increased attendance at school, also doing better academically at school, being more involved in their community, better communication with their parents and friends, and actually getting more friends because they have more confidence in themselves."

She adds there is a higher probability that these kids will complete secondary school and go on to high education, too, and less chance they will get into trouble with drugs, alcohol or crimes.

But, Thurlborn notes the program is constantly looking for volunteer mentors, as she points out the 37 kids on the Comox Valley program's wait list.

Mentors come from a variety of walks, says Thurlborn, but must be positive, caring and reliable. There is a thorough screening process, and mentors must be older than 19. Mentors volunteer three hours per week, and Thurlborn says KidStart encourages them to take their mentee out to do activities together, such as attend a community event, or go bowling or fishing.

The need for funding for KidStart is also ongoing, according to Thurlborn.

"KidStart doesn't receive regular funding for our program; it's all through donations and fundraising," she says, noting the program receives some grants but community donations are hugely important to the keep it going.

"We also have a program called the Champion program where people can become KidStart Champions and sponsor a child in the program," she continues. "That program is really helping to sustain the financial part of the program, but we need ongoing support all the time for KidStart."

Thurlborn adds many people aren't familiar with the KidStart program or other JHSNI programs, which creates a barrier to receiving that community support.

Courtenay Sears co-owner Sandi Parker agrees.

She chose JHSNI to be the recipient of the store's yearly Tree of Wishes campaign for the past two years. But, that was only after she heard about JHSNI from the Sears in Campbell River, which had chosen JHSNI for its Tree of Wishes campaign.

This past Christmas, 30 Comox Valley kids in KidStart and other JHSNI programs picked a gift from the Sears Christmas Wish Book, and Sears customers and staff donated funds to get those kids their chosen gift.

Thurlborn notes most children in the KidStart program come from low-income families, and Parker says she was blown away by some of the gifts the kids asked for.

"There were a lot of toys asked for, but there were also teenagers that just wanted socks, pyjamas, warm sweaters," Parker says as she gets choked up remembering that some kids asked for necessities as their Christmas present. "It was very humbling for us."

Parker says she hopes to generate more public awareness of JHSNI and sponsor more children during next year's Tree of Wishes campaign.

For more information about JHSNI and to donate online, visit


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