A partnership between Lakehead University’s Orillia campus and Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Orillia and District has resulted in the university receiving a national award — the Scholastic Partnership Award — from the BBBS national organization.

The award is a distinction presented annually to one school, school board and university or college that has made it possible for BBBS agencies to serve increased numbers of children.

Initiated by James Maxwell, executive director of the Orillia organization, with Frank Cappadocia, associate vice-president of Lakehead Orillia, the partnership helped to fill a gap in community services while providing students with professional development opportunities.

“Through our partnership with Lakehead, our agency has been able to double the number of children served through our school-based programs to a total of almost 200 children served during the past year,” said Maxwell.

A volunteer-engagement program was initiated by the two organizations and resulted in more than 100 students expressing an interest in opportunities with BBBS, with 40% of them becoming actively involved in direct services of the agency.

Student volunteers assisted with the agency’s school-based programs, including in-school and after-school mentoring and Go Girls and Game On group programs. Co-op students from the university’s social work program were involved in the development and delivery of the agency’s after-school mentoring program.

“This support helped us to meet our mandate of providing any child in Orillia who needs a mentor with one,” said Maxwell. “This is truly making a difference in our community.”

The partnership is also making a difference to Lakehead students.

“Our students get as much, or more, from their experience as the children served,” said Cappadocia. “They are able to see the world from a different perspective and have the opportunity to see a compelling connection between their studies and real-life experiences.”

The Scholastic Partnership Award was presented last month at a “celebration of mentoring” banquet in Toronto. The success of the program has gained the attention of other BBBS agencies and post-secondary schools across the country that expressed interest in how to develop a partnership to achieve such positive results.

Lakehead and BBBS of Orillia plan to continue to build on their combined efforts.

“We believe that the benefits to the schoolchildren served this year was enhanced by the caring and constructive efforts of some amazing post-secondary students,” said Maxwell. “We should all be so proud that we are making a difference in the lives of so many in our community and equally to those young men and women that call Orillia home during their studies.”