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Families are all ears for new mentorship program

February 13, 2023

Michelle Sanders, Mentor, was matched up with Dyane De Lima Pinto, Mentee, in Niagara Children’s Centre’s Family Mentor Program.

St. Catharines, ON – Having someone to talk to made all the difference for Dyane De Lima Pinto.

After moving to the region with her family and starting treatment for her daughter, Joannah, at Niagara Children’s Centre, all she was looking for was a friendly ear.

“I wanted to speak to someone that was already involved in the community and knew different inclusive activities that we could take part in,” said De Lima Pinto.

She signed up for the family mentor program, an initiative started by the Children’s Centre in 2021. The program pairs trained parents or caregivers as mentors with families that are new to the Centre community as mentees.

“We talked about acceptance, how to make it okay to be around neurotypical children and the best way to include our kiddos in different activities,” said De Lima Pinto.

The volunteer family mentors share their lived experience, provide a working knowledge of community resources and Centre services while offering emotional support to new families.

De Lima Pinto was paired with Michelle Sanders. Her son, Everett, has been receiving services from the Centre shortly after he was born in 2016.

“From my experience, I understand the value connection and relationship with other caregivers has when you’re navigating the system of child and youth rehabilitation and healthcare,” said Sanders.

She added that the road is unique and learning the landscape, people, and language of it doesn’t come easy.

“Connecting with other caregivers imparts a level of understanding and knowledge that is invaluable,” said Sanders. “I wish this program had existed in my early days, it was something I just had to be a part of because it holds such a deep place in my heart.”

Sanders described how the mentorship program empowers individuals and families to control their journey, sharing knowledge from experience and an understanding ear for the questions and considerations that naturally form in the unknown.

“Walking alongside them gives me an opportunity to see them grow in an understanding and comfortability, knowing that there are other families out there living in the unknown and pursuing the good life,” she added. “I see you, you are not alone.”

The program, which is intended to complement services families are currently receiving from Niagara Children’s Centre, allows mentors and mentees to set their own schedules and connect when it’s convenient for them. Families are matched based on their child’s diagnosis, specific resources/expertise, similar situations and a number of other factors.

“To learn that there’s another parent out there that has gone through everything you are going through right now, and understands your feelings – it means a lot,” said De Lima Pinto.

The mentorship program is part of the Children’s Centre’s family partnership program. Launched in 2014, the program was co-designed with families connected to the Centre’s services and embodies the organization’s philosophy of family-centred care.

“The Family Mentor program is one of a number of ways we encourage parents and caregivers to talk about their shared experiences and connect with the Centre community,” said Sabrina Elliott Vergara, Family Mentor Coach at Niagara Children’s Centre.

One of which is a monthly Parent Talk support group that meets both virtually, and in person, throughout the year. Each session is based on a theme that parents and caregivers can relate to, such as transitioning to school, the power of play and balancing relationships.

Another way families open up about their experiences is as ambassadors in the community. Last year, 16 families served as ambassadors for Niagara Children’s Centre’s annual Help Kids Shine fundraising and public awareness campaign, which raised more than $267,000. Throughout the month of May, families shared their personal stories at speaking engagements, online and through media interviews to educate the Niagara community about the therapy and support services the Centre provides.

The Family Mentor program is now open to parents and caregivers seeking additional guidance and peer support. Families interested can ask their Niagara Children’s Centre care provider, self-refer or email familyengagement@niagarachildrenscentre.com for more information.

“When parents and caregivers are supported and have the opportunity to find community, connection and resources, it’s a win for all involved,” said Elliott Vergara.


About Niagara Children’s Centre:
Niagara Children’s Centre provided rehabilitation and support services to more than 6,500 children and youth last year across the Niagara Region with physical, developmental and communicative delays. The range of services includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language services, augmentative and alternative communication, family services and therapeutic recreation.

For further information contact:
Michael Morrison, Marketing & Communications Officer
Phone: 905-688-1890 ext 260
Email: michael.morrison@niagarachildrenscentre.com
Web: www.niagarachildrenscentre.com

Photo caption:
Michelle Sanders, Mentor, was matched up with Dyane De Lima Pinto, Mentee, in Niagara Children’s Centre’s Family Mentor Program.