Volunteering Leeds Grenville: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Leeds and Grenville looking for dozens of volunteers

One of the most important relationships many children have is being in contact with a big brother or sister.

The pandemic has seen a drop in the number of volunteers signing up to mentor children, with one Brockville agency now calling for new recruits.

“There is definitely a need,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Leeds and Grenville chief executive Jane Fullarton.

“We feel more optimistic with things opening up and we think it’s time to make that call and ask the public what time you might have to give a child,” she said.

The agency matches adult volunteers with children and youth for mentorship programs, and Fullarton says the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected volunteer recruitment.

“(It’s) very difficult to start a game when you can’t meet someone,” Fullarton said. “(You) see them for two months and then you have to say, ‘Well, I can’t see you now until the lockdown is over,’ which can be three or four months. It has been a difficult program to pursue.

There are around 60 children in the area looking for matches, with wait times ranging from months to years.

The greatest need, according to Fullarton, is to find volunteers in rural areas of Leeds and Grenville, in smaller towns and villages like Delta and Spencerville.

“You can volunteer where you live, at home,” she said. “We can find you a kid who needs a mentor and you can have that relationship without having to drive a lot, you don’t have to come to Brockville or live near our office.”

Shannon Gottfried started as a volunteer mentor in 2015, pairing up with a nine-year-old child. Now she works for the agency.

Shannon Gottfried in her office. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

“She’s been there for so long, she went to my wedding,” smiled Gottfried. “It’s so rewarding. You don’t have to be in Brockville for it to work. I live in Mallorytown and my little sister lives right next door to me, so we make it work.”

Volunteers can expect to connect with their game for two to four hours per week, participate in activities and build relationships during this time.

“Making cookies, painting, very simple things,” Gottfried said. “It’s all about the conversations. Our relationship is totally different than it was at the start, but I’ve seen it grow and now our conversations are more about post-secondary education, future goals, things like that.”

“Having a big sibling provides that extra adult friendship that is so beneficial as a child grows up,” Fullarton added.

The agency hopes that with more people possibly working from home, they will now have time to help a child looking for a best friend.

“Summer is coming, things are starting to get back to normal a bit, and we would like to see people who are on the fence come and chat with us,” Gottfried said.

“I’ve been a Big Sister for so long now and I have no regrets. It’s been all positivity, such a good time and it’s so beneficial not only for the child but also for the volunteer,” said she added.

A wall of photos with successful mentorships over the years at the Big Brothers Big Sisters Leeds and Grenville office. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Fullarton says if the prospect of two to four hours a week is too much, they also offer other monthly mentoring programs like “Bigs for a Day.”

“Big Brothers Big Sisters supports all of the kids who are enrolled with us in our program by taking them on the bus every month, doing activities here at the office,” she said.

“(Some people) say, ‘I can go out with you three or four times a year. I’d love to do that.’ We can also accept this type of volunteering,” she noted.

For new volunteers, Fullarton says Bigs for a Day is the perfect way to get your feet wet with the program. “Then once they see what it is, maybe they can be a big brother or big sister every week with a kid,” she said.

“If you have in your heart the idea of ​​being a Big Brother or a Big Sister, give us a call, we could use it.”

More information can be found on their website or by calling them directly at 613-345-0281.

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