January 21, 2020

By BRADLEY ZORGDRAGER

For many, the main allure of college is meeting new people, partying and trying to forget about school on weekends.
But for some, the social aspect seems like more of a chore than the school work.
Conestoga College Disability Services offers the Bridges program to help those who are feeling socially isolated. The program pairs a mentor with a student who is socially challenged and they meet once a week to talk, play cards or do other things together.
“It’s a very difficult thing to learn – asking for help,” said Stephanie Den Haan, Bridges volunteer co-ordinator and a third-year health informatics student.
But those who do can benefit from a sense of belonging and structure, as well as a friend to look forward to spending time with each week.
And as the students come out of their shell, they can ask to spend more time together, or talk about things they wouldn’t have previously have been comfortable revealing.
However, the benefits also extend to the mentors.
“It’s important to point out that we get just as much out of the relationship and connection as do the students that we’re matched up with,” said Den Haan. “It’s a time for us to not concentrate on ourselves, but to actually be able to work with another student. I know for myself, that I get more out of it than I ever thought I would.” 
Another mentor, Derek MacKay, and Amy Baird, resource co-ordinator for Disability Services, nodded and echoed the sentiment.
In addition to the personal connection, the mentors receive training in disability awareness for disabilities such as mental health, learning, mobility, sight, hearing and Asperger’s syndrome.
While the training helps  them in their interactions with the diverse students they are paired with, the benefits reach even further.
A mentor, who has helped teach younger students, was able to help parents discover their child’s disability. Through information learned in Bridges, the mentor – who asked to remain anonymous out of respect for the child’s privacy – noticed some unorthodox social behaviours, which he brought to the attention of the parents. The parents were previously unaware and were able to get a diagnosis of the disability. Consequently, the mentor was able to give the parents and other teachers of the child information they needed.
Baird recruits new mentors in September.
Those interested in being a mentee must be registered with Disability Services and speak to a counsellor. They will guide you through the process and there is a chance you will get in this semester, if not next school year.