Two community-minded organizations have become teammates and are now working together to stickhandle a popular hockey tournament and ensure it continues.
The Brewery Bay Oldtimers and Big Brothers Big Sisters joined forces to jointly host an oldtimers hockey tournament that drew 28 teams to Rotary Place over the weekend. The event has been sold out since November.
“The Brewery Bay Oldtimers have been running this tournament for about 25 years, but the Brewery Bay team has folded and they were looking for a group to come onside,” James Maxwell, executive director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Orillia organization, told OrilliaMatters Saturday. “They have always been supportive of us, supportive of the community, so I took over the management of the tournament, we’ve brought on some of our volunteers and this is our first year.”
It’s not the organization’s first hockey tournament, however. Over the past several years, the agency had run a popular tournament in Coldwater in March. “But this is in town, it’s prime time, at Rotary Place, with 28 teams … it just seemed like a good fit,” said Maxwell, who noted many former Brewery Bay Oldtimers players continue to help out with the event.
Maxwell is hoping to raise at least $10,000 through the three-day tourney – money that is essential to keep the agency’s programs and services running. But it’s not just about money. “Awareness is the biggest thing,” he said. “One of the biggest issues we run into is that we typically have more boys on the waiting list and they tend to wait longer, so if we can get in front of the male population, have some conversations … it moves the ball forward and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters Orillia celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. It was a big year for the organization that included 14 community celebrations in a nine-month span. The milestone year also proved to be one of its best as a record 369 kids were served. “It’s all because of the community and their support,” said Maxwell.
However, he admits there is some donor and volunteer fatigue that has resulted from the busy year. With a barebones staff of five full-time equivalents, volunteers are integral to success. “We’ve talked about expanding our reach and amplifying our voice,” said Maxwell. “It’s an ideal time for us to engage some new individuals.”
With that in mind, later this month, Maxwell is hosting a focus group for millennials. “It’s about how to connect with those 24- to 30-year-olds and to get them involved. It’s time to pass the baton. It doesn’t matter the age – any age person can contribute and we work around the individual’s schedule. We are very accommodating and the unique thing about our program is that individuals from all walks of life can get involved and get engaged.”
Brittany Robertson is one of those individuals. When she graduated from university and returned to Orillia, one of her first calls was to Big Brothers Big Sisters Orillia. “I’ve always wanted to be a Big Sister since I was younger, so I called, set up a meeting and it’s been amazing,” she said.
Currently, Robertson, 27, is paired with a 17-year-old little sister. “We go out into the community together. We go shopping, horseback riding – lots of different things,” she said. “It’s fun. On the other side, if she’s having a bad day, she knows she can talk to me and I can try to help, maybe give advice … it feels good to know you can help in tougher times and it’s nice to be able to do things they might not otherwise have a chance to do. It’s very rewarding.”
More volunteers are needed. There are currently 37 kids on a waiting list; more than 20 are young boys. “If you’ve thought about doing this and wondered if now is a good time, it is,” said Maxwell. “And there are lots of ways to volunteer. Some may want to support the kids but don’t have the time to be a big brother or big sister. That’s OK. There are other avenues such as boards, committees, helping out with events … there are many ways to be involved.”
If you are interested in more information about the organization and its volunteer opportunities, call Maxwell at 705-325-3151 or go to the website: orillia.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca