Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine kicks off the New Year with a recruitment effort to match 30 waiting Littles with adult mentors and train another 70 college and high school students to serve as “Virtual Bigs” to mentor area youth, with hopes of returning to in-person programming this year. The campaign, “One to One in 2021” is part of National Mentoring Month, a time dedicated to recognizing the agency’s current Bigs, and share their stories to help recruit new mentors from throughout midcoast, eastern and central Maine, according to a news release from the organization.

Community-based matches meet a few hours each week either virtually or in person following COVID safety guidelines. School-based matches are communicating via the agency’s online virtual messaging program “MentorNet” and keeping in touch through pen pal writing, with hopes of returning to one-hour, weekly meetings at after-school programs when it is safe to return. Both community and school/site-based Bigs are screened, trained, matched and supported by professional program staff. All volunteers commit to mentoring a child for a minimum of one year, which supports the development of stronger and longer lasting relationships.

Big Brother Chris Paradis, who has a busy personal and professional life, says mentoring is about finding time for things that matter most.

“This experience has been an eye opener and has made me realize the importance of giving back,” Paradis said about his three-year friendship with Little Brother Evan Jones, who is now 16 years old, according to the release. “It’s pretty powerful to be able to watch someone grow, mature, and know you are making a difference in their lives.

Executive Director Gwendolyn Hudson said there has never been a more critical time for volunteers to become Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

“As we all do our part to isolate for the health of our community, the connection between Bigs and Littles is more important than ever,” Hudson said. Community Bigs, she shared, are finding creative ways to stay connected through virtual cooking classes, online games and arts and crafts, and doing outside activities together. MentorNet, the agency’s new online communication program, is making it safe and easy for college and high school Bigs to stay connected with local youth.

“The New Year is a great time to make a personal commitment to give back in your community. All you need is a desire to make a difference by igniting a child’s greatest potential,” Hudson said. “Many people think they don’t have the time or are not sure if they would be a good mentor,” Hudson said, according to the release. “Bigs tell us all the time that spending a few hours just being a friend not only significantly impacts their Little’s life, but changes their own for the better. It is very rewarding.”

Interested volunteers can learn more about local Littles waiting and how to become a mentor by calling 207-236-BBBS (2227) or emailing [email protected].

The program creates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth in Androscoggin, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Somerset and Waldo counties. By partnering with parents, volunteers and organizations, children in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs have higher aspirations, greater confidence, and better relationships, avoid risky behaviors and achieve educational success.

To enroll a child, become a Big, donate, or learn more, call 207-236-BBBS (2227) or visit bbbsmidmaine.org.