Tia Poirier was facing hard times when she was first paired up with her Big Sister, Lisa Costain.
The 12-year-old McKim Middle School student was being bullied at school almost every day.
“I’ve been bullied since the first day of kindergarten,” Tia says.
Late in 2011, Tia joined Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) as a Little Sister, after teachers at her school suggested she get involved.
It was not long after Kimberley resident Lisa Costain signed on with the organization as a Big Sister.
Lisa heard a speech by academic Dr. Martin Brokenleg in which he said the most important factor for a young person’s future is the influence of a supporting adult.
“I thought: that’s so simple. I could do that,” says Lisa.
The pair first met up in December 2011 at a Kimberley cafe, along with BBBS executive director Dana Osiowy.
“She went over what the expectations are, things like that,” says Lisa.
“We made goals, like to meet other people, and do new things that we hadn’t done before,” adds Tia.
Having someone new to talk to was an instant improvement for the Grade 7 student.
“My life was really happier when I got my Big Sister. I got a new friend. I love hanging out with Lisa,” says Tia.
Tia had long faced bullies at school, who would tease her and spread rumours about her. In Grade 3, Tia was physically attacked at least twice. Her mother, Nicole, spoke to the school about it, but it never helped for long, Tia remembers.
“The school dealt with some of the kids, but they kept on doing it after they said they wouldn’t do it anymore.”
Lisa knew that Tia was struggling at school.
“When I asked how school was, she would say, people are bullying me. But I don’t think we had a lot of conversations too in-depth about it,” recalls Lisa.
That all changed, ironically, on Pink Shirt Day last year – February 29, 2012, a national day of action against bullying.
“I went to school that day but I forgot to wear pink, like we were supposed to. And I got bullied that day. I came home crying. My mom said: this has to stop,” tells Tia.
She suggested to her mom that she make a video chronicling her experience. Together, they sat down and wrote Tia’s story on large white cards with permanent markers. Then, Tia sat in front of a video camera and held up card after card explaining how bullies have hurt her.
As soon as the video was finished, Tia says she felt a weight lift off her shoulders. Her mother let the emotionally exhausted girl have the following day off school, and treated her to a session at a salon.
Two days later, Tia went back to school and met with her teachers. Some of her bullies apologized in meetings with teachers; others did it privately. And this time, the lesson stuck.
“Everything was better at school,” Tia remembers. “A lot of those people who bullied me are now my friends.”
The video was seen by thousands of people on Nicole Poirier’s Facebook page and on Youtube, with 6,000 views being registered in the first six hours.
“My mum said there are videos out there and a lot of people have got bad comments about it. I knew there would still be good comments, so I would be fine,” says Tia, adding that only one or two comments were negative.
While Tia is still attending the same school, she said her experience there feels different now, and there is less bullying in the school these days.
“(The bullies) didn’t realize they were affecting some people, how it could make them feel. If it builds up on them too much, really bad things could happen,” says Tia.
She urges other young adults who are being bullied at school to take action.
“Stand up for yourself. Do something about it before things get worse. Tell a parent or do what I did,” she suggests.
Having Lisa as a Big Sister at that difficult time made it easier for Tia to speak out, she says.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters helped me be able to know, okay, I can connect with people about these things, me being bullied, and I can be understood, rather than people taking me the wrong way.”
Lisa said she felt conflicted watching Tia’s video for the first time: she was proud of her bravery, but upset that Tia had been through so much.
“I am really impressed with Tia’s courage and her ability to put herself out there, exposing herself in such a way that a lot of people wouldn’t have the courage to do. At the time, I felt sadness that Tia was experiencing that. It was so painful that she did have to go to that measure to get it out there,” says Lisa.
Since then, Tia and Lisa have been meeting once a week, usually on weekends, to spend time together and enjoy common interests such as painting, live music and movies.
“We do a big variety of things. It’s good for both of us: we get to try a bunch of different things,” says Lisa.
Lisa and Tia are opening up about their experiences to mark the 100th anniversary of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Canada.
A year of celebrations is planned across the country, recognizing the role of mentors in everyone’s life.
“One of the big things we are doing right now is encouraging the community conversation about mentoring, through what we are calling ‘The Big Shout Out’. This is a campaign where we will have community members, stakeholders and celebrities giving a shout out to their mentors,” explains Dana Osiowy. “We hope to achieve a significant relief to the number of kids we have on our waiting list! Talking about mentoring and the power of an hour a week in a child’s life is something we can’t wait to bring to more adults’ lives.”
The local chapter started in 1977 and has grown to more than 100 partnerships between Bigs and Littles.
Lisa and Tia are the first of several pairs whose experiences are inspiring, according to Osiowy.
“Tia and Lisa are a great example of mentoring because they know the power of fun! It is really important to be able to share their lives together – it gives Lisa a chance to be a kid again and do more fun stuff and have a cool kid to do it with.”
Dana says Tia’s courage in making the video was inspiring to see.
“I felt so heartbroken that we have so many young people who feel marginalized, and yet I also felt like we were helping young people like Tia to have an important support network of adults who are not just parents,” explains Dana. “It is so amazing that we have Lisa involved who is someone that Tia can talk to about everything – I wish every child had a cool adult who isn’t their parent who they could rely on.”
Stay tuned to the Townsman for more stories about powerful mentoring relationships to mark BBBS’ 100-year celebrations.