New program matches youth with vision loss with mentors across province

3/31/2015

Fredericton youth who are blind or partially sighted can soon benefit from an innovative program that connects young people with a role model who also has vision loss. The new initiative is a first for the city of Fredericton, and aims to help youth better transition and adjust to the social and emotional experience of growing up with vision loss.

The first of its kind in Canada, the mentor program is a result of a partnership between CNIB and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Moncton – and made possible with funding from the United Way.

"This partnership has allowed us to bring our expertise from our respective agencies and work together to better serve our community," said Peter MacDonald, Executive Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Moncton.

To date, one mentor match has been made in Moncton – where the program was initially piloted.

Seventeen-year-old Veronique Gauvin was introduced to her mentor, Natalie Fougère, in January 2014. Over the last year, the pair has gone shopping, to the movies and for coffee after school and in-between Gauvin’s weekly cheerleading practices.

But for the grade 11 student their match has offered so much more than social and recreational opportunities.

“As a teenager with vision loss, I had so many questions about my future,” said Gauvin. “For example, what would my university experience look like, how can I have an active social life if I can’t drive, or am I able to live by myself once I graduate?”

Blind since birth, Fougère, who has two degrees from the Université de Moncton, was able to share her personal and life experiences with Gauvin and what she has learned along the way.

Gauvin credits her friendship with Fougère for helping her in so many ways.

“Our bond stems far beyond just talking about our vision loss,” said Gauvin. “Natalie truly understands me, and getting to know her and all that she has accomplished has helped me realize that there’s no limitations to what I can achieve.”

Based on the current Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor model, the new program meets the unique needs of youth who are blind or partially sighted.

“Vision loss can often be a very isolating experience – especially for young people,” said Denise Coward, Provincial Director of CNIB New Brunswick. “This program is key to promoting inclusion and connecting youth with those who can understand some of their everyday experiences and questions related to the future.”

Through regular contact and outings, the mentor program provides a positive role model and friend to a youth living with vision loss and strives to:

  • encourage independence and healthy relationships with family and peers;
  • promote the importance of completing high school and planning for the future; and
  • foster leadership skills and independent thinking.

As the program expands throughout New Brunswick, CNIB is hopeful that matches like the one between Gauvin and Fougère will continue to flourish.

“We have had the privilege of screening and approving local volunteer applicants as mentors for this program,” said Rhonda Rogers, Executive Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fredericton and Oromocto. “We look forward to making our first official match in Fredericton on behalf of local youth who are blind or partially sighted.”

To volunteer as a mentor or to connect with an individual living with vision loss in your community, please contact Melanie Belliveau at 506.857.4240 or visit cnib.ca/nb.

To schedule media interviews with Veronique Gauvin or Natalie Fougère, in either English or French, please contact

Nicole Lawrence
CNIB Communications
902.453.1480, ext. 5721
nicole.lawrence@cnib.ca

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