McGill mentors help kids stay in school

By Neale McDevitt

Try as she might, Kate Holland can’t explain it. But she is incredibly grateful.

Holland is a Clinical Caseworker for the Big Brother/Big Sisters of Greater Montreal’s Prometheus Project that pairs up student “protégés” from elementary and high schools with adult “mentors.” Started as a dropout-prevention program 20 years ago, the Prometheus Project serves some 200 children in 11 Montreal schools.

Holland doesn’t question the importance of the one-on-one meetings the program sets up, she just can’t figure out why so many of the mentors come from McGill. “Of my English mentors, at least 75 per cent are McGill students,” Holland said. “They are the real backbone of the program.”

Prometheus mentors aren’t tutors, per se – although they can provide help with schoolwork if needed. Rather, they support their protégés – often isolated kids from single-parent homes or without a lot of friends – by listening to them, giving advice and just hanging out.

Ana Vadeanu, an Environment and Development major with a minor in Economics, saw an immediate payoff with her protégé, a 13-year-old student at Westmount High School named Jessie. “When we first met, he was having trouble in History,” she said. “We talked about it and he spoke to his teacher about doing some extra work. Jessie ended up doing really well.”

But it isn’t all about school – forging a friendship is just as important. During their one-hour meetings – often playing basketball – Vadeanu found out that Jessie enjoyed cooking and was hoping to apprentice at a friend’s bakery. To encourage him, Vadeanu bought Jessie a pastry cookbook. “It’s just a little thing, but he really appreciated that I was thinking about him,” she said.

Originally from Toronto, Vadeanu has been volunteering since she was 12 at community centres, kids camps and even meals on wheels. “I’ve always found volunteering very fulfilling and engaging,” she said. “You just never know who’s out there to meet and encounter. And, for students, volunteering is a great way to get out of your bubble.”

For more information about Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Montreal go to or call 514-842-9715.