Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia and District (BBBSOD) gave thanks to their volunteers last night.
The volunteer appreciation event, held at the Orillia Museum of Art & History, recognized the people who make a difference in the lives of youth through mentorship.
Matt Vandewiel, president of BBBSOD, says volunteers are the backbone of the agency.
“We want to make sure they are feeling appreciated,” he said. “They give so much back to the community.”
Murray Burnett has been giving back to the community for a decade. He was awarded a 10-year service award during Thursday night’s event. He originally joined the agency after helping his sister, a single mother, raise his nephews.
“It’s about passing on knowledge and skills,” Burnett said. “A lot of these kids don’t get one-on-one time with their dad, and with this, it’s strictly their time to do what they want to do.”
Burnett is currently mentoring a 14-year-old boy.
“When you start to hit high school it’s a very vulnerable age,” he said. “They are trying to figure out who their friends are, where they fit in, and I think they just need somebody who is a positive role model.”
For Burnett, volunteering is a lot of fun, and it brings him a lot of happiness.
“Knowing that you maybe helped them get through a bad day, a school project, or passed on some knowledge is really great,” he said. “It’s all about having a good time.”
Heather Price-Jones was the recipient of the Barbra Dumas award on Thursday night recognizing her commitment and positive influence on the agency for the last six years. Price-Jones started with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia and District as a placement student.
“I wanted to be a positive role model,” she said. “There are a lot of things kids can’t control in their lives, but they can have positive interactions with an adult, and I wanted to be that person.”
Price-Jones says spending time with youth is always time well spent.
“It’s really rewarding watching your relationship with your match grow,” she said. “Seeing how much joy they get out of the meetings is really special.”
Volunteering with the agency gives Price-Jones a sense of satisfaction.
“There are some days that are hard and some days when you are busy with your everyday life,” she explains. “Just knowing that your match is enjoying their time with you and are having fun is what makes you know you’ve done your job.”
Doing that job has not always been easy. The pandemic proved to be a challenge not only for local youth but also on volunteers who were only able to provide their mentorship over Zoom.
“It’s great to be able to gather with this group of people who we really only got to see virtually over the last couple of years,” he said. “It’s great to be able to interact with them in person.”
As an agency, BBBSOD was able to weather the pandemic storm, Vandewiel says. However, there is a great number of volunteers needed to continue the community service.
“We are always needing more male mentors than female,” Vandewiel said. “There are generally a lot of young boys who are on the waiting list. Sometimes it takes years before they are matched.”
Vandewiel has been on the board of directors now for over five years and was the driving force behind the guitar program.
“It’s really about seeing what it gives to the kids in confidence,” he said. “Meeting people who have come through the program as adults reiterate the importance that it was to them growing up and how it helped them to get to where they are now.”
For more information about volunteering with BBBSOD, click here.