Mentoring program for kids with special needs

McGill students offer support to kids with physical and mental disabilities, are on the autism spectrum, have hearing loss or are non-verbal

Mentoring program for kids

Photo credit: Beyond Me

Beyond Me, a student-run non-profit program, is looking for kids with special needs to join its one-on-one mentoring program. The initiative pairs student volunteers from McGill University with children and teenagers with special needs.

Since 2011, children and youth from 3-18 have benefited from the special bond created with one-on-one inclusive activities between themselves and their “buddy”. Through the program, children with physical and mental disabilities, children on the spectrum, and those with hearing loss or who are non-verbal are paired with students from a network of volunteers.

How it works

Following an initial three-part screening process, student volunteers — who hail from different programs and who have diverse backgrounds and interests — are matched with their young buddy. Pairing a volunteer and a child happens carefully and takes into account parents and caregiver needs, language proficiencies, the child’s location and proximity to their buddy (as many of the volunteers don’t have cars), the volunteer’s level of experience and comfort with particular disabilities, and shared hobbies and interests.

Volunteers commit to a minimum of eight hours of mentoring per month, which can happen in-person or online, and may include helping with homework, baking, creating craft projects together, developing social skills through playtime and communication, and various activities around Montreal. With the help of their mentor, the children gain confidence and develop linguistic, cognitive, and physical skills as they participate in various activities.

“We also have group outings for the children, their families, and their mentors once or twice a month, such as bowling, trampolining, Halloween events, or activities via Zoom,” said Félicia Proteau-Fortin, a U3 Psychology & Sociology student and Co-President of Beyond Me.

Photo credit: Beyond Me

All volunteers, regardless of their experience, are supported by the Beyond Me team, who check in regularly with children and their families to ensure that the mentor relationship is going well and meets the needs of both the child and their family. Though pairs are generally matched for the academic school year, mentors are encouraged to foster long-lasting relationships that endure beyond the end of classes. Proteau-Fortin has been with her young buddy October since starting with the program two years ago. “We try to have mentors stay with their buddy for four years so they develop a strong relationship,” she said.

While returning buddies and mentors can re-register for the program in mid-December, new families can enroll their children anytime during the school year. The program is funded through fundraisers and is offered at no cost to families. Beyond me also hosts workshops for mentors and anyone interested in learning about different types of disabilities or practicing American Sign Language.

For more information on the Beyond Me program or to find a workshop, visit montrealbeyondme.ca


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