In The News: ‘Our wait list is very, very high’



‘Our wait list is very, very high’: COVID-19 pandemic stresses drive demand for mentors at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Orillia

Organization reporting influx of children and youth seeking to connect with mentor

Orillia Today – – Tues., August 9, 2022 – By: Frank Matys


Lauren Oke and Mia Burnside share a hug as Big Sister & Littler Sister out front of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia & District

Lauren Oke and Mia Burnside share a hug as Big Sister & Littler Sister out front of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia & District.

Lauren Oke and Mia Burnside cherish their time together, whether that involves bouncing on a trampoline or indulging in a special drink at a local coffee shop.

Burnside, who recently turned 11, makes sure to order the “vanilla bean frappuccino with chocolate sauce on top.”

The sweet treat is the cherry on top of a relationship she’s come to cherish.

More than anything, the local youth enjoys spending time with Oke, who became her Big Sister nearly a year ago. Oke works as an agency’s mentoring co-ordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orillia and District.

“Lauren is a great person,” Burnside told “She is a lovely person.”

Oke is equally fond of their time together and describes her Little Sister as “outgoing” and “fun.”

“We have so many similarities,” she said. “One of the reasons why we were matched is because we both love gymnastics and dancing and art.”

Many other local children are waiting in the wings to share such an experience, said Oke, who said the need for mentors has never been more critical.

The organization is reporting an influx of children and youth seeking to connect with a Big Sister or Brother to help them cope with the effects of social isolation and stress that remain even after public health officials eased pandemic restrictions.

“Our wait list is very, very high right now,” Oke said. “We are definitely seeing the implications from COVID.”

Twenty-six male and 11 female youths or children are currently waiting to be matched with adult mentors through the agency’s community-based program.

The mentors, who are the lifeblood of the program, are volunteers who act as role models to mentees between the ages of six and 16. A mentee can stay in their match until they turn 18, so long as they were matched before age 16, Oke said.

Through regular outings they develop a relationship based on trust and common interests, with support provided by experienced case workers.

The result is life changing for both the mentor and the mentee, Oke said.

“Everyone needs someone who will stand in their corner, so if I can just be someone else who will stand in someone’s corner, I think I’m helping do my part.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is not government funded and relies largely on fundraising, along with donations and grants, to continue offering programs.

The effort to drum up the necessary dollars is ever more important as demand for services grows.

To that end, all proceeds from an Aug. 26 ‘Golf For Kids Sake’ event at Settlers’ Ghost Golf Club will go to support in-school and community-based programs, which serve more than 300 children annually.

“Without money coming in, we can’t make our services available to all the people that might actually benefit from it — and keeping it free, as well,” said Amanda Zummach, the agency’s fundraising and community development co-ordinator.

For more information about how to get involved in the golf tournament, or to become a mentor, go to and click the events link.

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