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Big Brothers offers huge chance to watch little people grow

'Our mission is to enable life-changing mentoring relationships to ignite the power and potential of young people,' says executive director
Marianne Arbour, executive director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Barrie and District (at right) with 'Bigs' (from left) Gary, Josie and Valerie.

It’s a win-win-win when Bigs and Littles get together.

For more than 50 years, Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) of Barrie and District has been matching up children and adults  a win for each  and helping youngsters fulfil their potential, which is a win for the community at large.

“Big Brother and Big Sister volunteers tell us they feel they are getting more out of it than they put in,” executive director Marianne Arbour tells BarrieToday. “They enjoy developing a special relationship with their ‘Little’, the consistent weekly contact or outing, and helping a young person to reach their potential to succeed.

“They often do activities with their Little they wouldn’t otherwise do.”

While mentoring volunteers (also known as Big Brothers, Big Sisters) are familiar to most people, other folks giving their time and talent include in-school mentors (Go Girls, Game On and one-to-one in-school mentoring), group mentors (who meet with the children and youth), event committee volunteers who assist during fundraising events, and the board of directors who meet monthly.

“School-based mentoring programs help young people foster a commitment to learning and enhance school connectedness,” Arbour says. “The kids gain self-confidence when they are supported by their mentor and feel special, which can lead to improved engagement at school.”

The organization is always on the hunt to recruit volunteers says Arbour, adding last year BBBS helped about 400 young people and typically have up to 50 kids on their waiting list.

At any given time, Big Brothers, Big Sisters counts on up to 200 volunteers to assist in various ways. 

“We rely on volunteers to run all aspects of the organization. It is volunteer-driven with the exception of four employees,” she says. “Our mission is to enable life-changing mentoring relationships to ignite the power and potential of young people, and this is done by matching young people with a professionally screened volunteer mentor.”

An “amazing opportunity” is how Josie describes being a ‘Big’.

“It’s a chance to really connect with young people, especially my 'Little', and have the opportunity to be a light in someone’s life and also to experience that joy back,” she says.

Valerie is an in-school mentor and has had a ‘Little’ for three years now.

“I’ve been able to watch her grow from nine to 12 years old, which is a big step when you’re a little girl,” she says. “I get to play and have fun, but I also get to see someone growing with her whole life and future ahead of her. I’m a small part of helping mould her into a happy person so it’s a win-win for both of us.”

Gary, another ‘Big’, worked in social services for his whole career.

“So now I’m retired and it just felt right to find a way to give back to the community. What better way than supporting youth?”

Volunteers commit to volunteer for a minimum of one year in each of the mentoring programs.

“It is a way to give back to the community, gain valuable experience helping others and learning about young people, gain experience for future career goals and have fun,” says Arbour.

Volunteers range in age from approximately 20 years and up.

Although Big Brothers, Big Sisters requires that minimum one-year commitment, some matches have lasted up to 10 years.

“And many remain in touch over the course of their lives,” Arbour adds. “Establishing a relationship that continues for many years after they leave the organization is evidence of how meaningful the relationship can become to both the Bigs and the Littles, and the importance of the bonds they create.”