With the effects of social isolation lingering beyond pandemic restrictions, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia and District is in desperate need of dozens of volunteers.
Waitlists for a big brother or sister have grown to the point the organization has stopped adding new children to the lengthy list.
Executive director Miranda Chaffey estimates the organization needs around 50 volunteers to address the spike in demand.
“There was so many kids waiting that it wasn't even fair to take on any new kids at that time,” she told OrilliaMatters. “Until we're able to get more volunteers, we’re not even accepting any children onto the waitlist at this point.”
As the world re-opened when public health restrictions were eased, there was an influx of requests for a big brother or big sister, Chaffey explained.
“(We’ve) definitely seen an increase, a pretty dramatic increase (in requests), and decrease of volunteer inquiries,” she said. “Now that we're back to in person, our need is really high for volunteers. We're starting to see more inquiries come in, but definitely would like to see more interest.”
Chaffey said volunteers can participate in numerous programs, whether school-based or one-on-one in the community, where volunteers take their little brother or little sister out once a week to enjoy their time and an activity together.
The program connects volunteers with young people between six and 16 years old.
With September marking Big Brothers Big Sisters month across Canada, on Sept. 6 the city hosted a flag raising ceremony outside the Orillia Opera House to help draw awareness to the program.
"We're in desperate need of volunteers, especially since the pandemic," said fundraising and community development coordinator Amanda Zummach. "We're hoping to get the community aware of the fact that we're still here."
One family who hopes to benefit from the program is Colleen Genno and her eight-year-old son, Jacob.
Jacob has been on the waitlist for a big brother since May 2021.
A single mother of three, Genno hopes the program can provide Jacob with someone to get out into the community with more often.
“He loves to do lots of activities, sports, art, just giving him a big brother, a friend to take him out and do things,” she said. “He really enjoys quality time with people so I think it would be a good thing for him.”
Jacob simply hopes for someone to hang out with on a regular basis.
While a number of family members spend time with him, most lead busy adult lives.
“There’s not really a lot of people around here my age, and there's not a lot of people that I hang out with a lot,” he said. “Usually my family; some family members are busy.”
According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia and District, being connected with a volunteer brings numerous benefits to a child’s life.
Participants are 17 per cent more likely to be gainfully employed, and earn 13 per cent more, on average, in their employment, officials say. Statistics show 87 per cent develop strong social networks, and 80 per cent pursue healthy lifestyles, among other benefits.
More information on the program may be found here.