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New Glasgow part of pilot project that seeks to pair seniors and youth

Margie Grant-Walsh, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County, speaks to a group involved in a new pilot project called Mentoring Plus.
Margie Grant-Walsh, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County, speaks to a group involved in a new pilot project called Mentoring Plus. - Adam MacInnis

Nova Scotian youth are struggling to find their start in life, while seniors are struggling to find purpose in theirs.

It’s a problem Prof. Gordon Michael believes he has a solution to and is working with the Town of New Glasgow and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County to help execute it.

According to statistics Michael provided, one in five people who go to university in the Maritimes drops out after the first year. A third of community college students drop out after the first year in a two- or three-year program.

Michael, who has specialized in subjects including lifelong learning and the changing economy,

believes the problem is a lack of direction and uncertainty in what to pursue as a career in a world where technology is rapidly changing the workforce.

Students are left wonder, “Am I in the right place?” and “Will there be a job available when I graduate?” Overwhelmed and unsure, many drop out.

There’s another trend Michael has been watching. It’s the aging population and the desire of post-career people to stay engaged in their communities.

These people have acquired knowledge, skills and community understanding that can be used to support social, cultural and economic growth but often have no one to share it with.

And this is where he believes he can turn two negatives into a positive.

“It’s very simple. It’s saying we have a supply, which is retirees. We have a demand which are many young people and young adults. How do we put them together?”

He believes bringing these youths who are about to enter the workforce and pairing them with seniors who are leaving the workforce could create a symbiotic relationship where each is benefiting the other.

New Glasgow jumped on board the idea when they received some funding, which they are using with Michaels guidance to help pilot a project with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County called Mentoring Plus.

New Glasgow has used their resources to find mentors and offer a space to train them while Big Brothers Big Sisters offers the structure needed to create the mentoring pairs.

The partners are currently working to recruit and offer some basic training for mentors who will then be paired with youth to help offer them some guidance.

Michael foresees nothing but positives will come of it.

For the youth, they will have a resource to talk to and offer advice on wise career and life choices. For the seniors it will give a renewed sense of purpose.

“The part dealing with the retirees is it’s a health issue,” Michael said. “The more they stay engaged in the community the healthier they become.”

Margie Grant-Walsh, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County, is excited about the possibilities this partnership has for the region.

“It’s a win/win for everybody,” she said. “For us we have a group of volunteers that we really didn’t have to go out and recruit. The town did that. And for them they have now the national services that are available in terms of making sure that we have the right youth involved and enrol the right volunteers. The match support is key.”

Already Michael is working to get similar projects started in other parts of the province and foresees it growing into a template that could be used in neighbouring communities and even provinces.

“What I’m saying to the province is this is saving you money,” Michael said. “This is keeping (seniors) active and at the same time we’re solving some social issues. For peanuts, look at what we’re doing.”

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