Mentoring in the Great Outdoors

By Ronda Payne
“Go play outside,” is a phrase often heard from parents who want to pry children from the TV, stop the continuous stream of “I’m bored,” or expose kids to fresh air. Most of us came to appreciate that forced opportunity and have included activities outdoors in our adult lives.

As a former big sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters, I found that spending time outside with my little sister, Christy, was important for our growing friendship and the well-being of both our spirits. It helps that the Big Brothers Big Sisters Abbotsford Mission Ridge Meadows and Upper Fraser Valley organizations know the value of time spent together outdoors. Through their website activity suggestions, new match information and organized group activities, nature plays a key role.

“Being outdoors is a great benefit to our bigs and littles,” says Shirley Wilson, Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters Upper Fraser Valley. “Without the constraints of walls, there feels like more freedom available to be a little more open and fun – to expend more energy on the friendship. Run, play, explore the great outdoors.”

The love of outdoors and animals, especially horses, plays a big part in the match between big sister, Sue Albrecht, and her little sister, Natalie. Sue achieved her childhood dream of having a farm with horses, dogs and cats, in her adulthood, when she established Aces High Stables in Mission, BC. Although she has what she wished for, she recognizes that she would be further ahead in the equestrian world if her start had come sooner.

“I always wanted to get into horses when I was a kid, but I never knew how,” comments Albrecht. “If I had someone pointing out what I could do in the equestrian field that would have been helpful.”As a big sister, she sees the same desires in other kids, like Natalie, and that is where the idea for her five session kid’s equestrian education began. Because she got into horses as an adult, she didn’t have someone to guide her in her exploration of the field and options – an equestrian mentor so to speak. She now fills that role for the five girls, ages 12 to 14, which come to the two hour sessions on the weekends.

Albrecht has been in the equestrian industry for more than 20 years as a coach, leader of pony clubs, professional athlete’s coach and more. She has the experience to ensure the girls get the right information. When she began with Big Brothers Big Sisters, she knew she wanted to help kids get into equestrian activities. This requires a significant amount of money for things like a horse and gear; not to mention a coach, so she used her own resources to make the education available to kids who were interested.



In addition to Albrecht’s generous contributions of time, equipment and horses, funding was provided to cover the insurance expense for the education sessions by the Canadian Tire Jump Start program.

In the first of the five sessions, the focus is placed on safety. Sue begins at the start to make sure her pupils understand how to be safe around horses before she talks about other areas like horse nutrition, animal care and potential occupations of farrier or equine nutritionist.

Albrecht notes, “Even though the discipline may change, you can be involved with horses one way or another throughout your entire life. There are many things you can do. (This program) provides an opportunity for the girls to see what’s out there and opens doors for them.”

It is the opening of doors to new opportunities that makes the Big Brothers Big Sisters program so successful. Bigs who mentor a little are able to share opportunities that the child would not normally be exposed to. Through my own experience with Christy, I was amazed at what she learned from me and took as valuable. It could have been walking the dog, swimming or going horseback riding where the time spent together was made special by our interaction more than the activity.

Mission Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Coordinator, Amy Thain, says, “I can see the connection that Sue and Natalie have.”

And while Sue and Natalie’s match is relatively new, the benefits of the relationship are visible in both.

“We’ve been eagle watching, biking and to equestrian competitions. Natalie is interested in learning more about horses,” Albrecht comments.

Programs like Albrecht’s help kids get into a new sport that is a positive, physical activity which includes getting outdoors to explore and learn. In September 2010, the organization celebrated Big Brothers Big Sisters month courtesy of the Maple Ridge Lions Club at the Allco Fish Hatchery. August marks the chance for matches to water-ski at Albert Dyck Park with the Fraser Valley Waterski Club and winter ski day is another popular group activity.

Matches don’t need to wait for an organized group event to make the most of the great outdoors, Wilson advises that there are many free or near-free things to do in the Fraser Valley and two-thirds of them are outdoor.

A passion for the outdoors isn’t necessary to be a big sister, but if you want someone who loves to spend time with you and be outside, talk to the team behind the scenes at Big Brothers Big Sisters to find a little who enjoys spending time in nature. You’ll find them through and