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HELPERS: Volunteering means being bigger for kids in need

Cindy McQuirter Fairley has been a Big Sister for a lifetime, and says giving your time makes more difference than anything
2021-07-19 cm Cindy McQuirter Fairley - BBBS - CM
Cindy McQuirter Fairley and her dog Jake get ready for a video call with one of her “littles” — a mentee that she meets regularly as a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Simcoe. 

A lot has changed since Cindy McQuirter Fairley started volunteering at Big Brothers Big Sisters 25 years ago.

For one, the agency was known then as Big Sisters, according to McQuirter Fairley, who has lost count of how many kids she’s helped over the years.

“I am a strong believer that kids are our future. You have to support kids,” says McQuirter Fairley about her motivation to give her time to working with children.

For McQuirter Fairley, her drive came from her own upbringing.

“I had a fantastic childhood, and I wanted to share that with kids that didn’t have the good fortune that I did,” she explains.

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of North Simcoe aims to create life-changing mentoring relationships to ignite the power and potential of young people.

The social return on investing in youth through mentoring results in 98 per cent of youth participants believing they make good life choices, and 80 per cent pursuing healthy lifestyles.

While McQuirter Fairley now sits on the agency’s board, she remains involved in the school mentoring program where she meets with children identified by teachers or principals as needing some extra attention. That can be due to bullying, behavioural issues, home life struggles and mental health issues.

McQuirter Fairley says she’s had success with her “littles” — as mentees are called when you are a “big”, or a mentor, at BBBS — by simply baking or cooking with the kids. A few kids she has mentored had not had the pleasure of a home-cooked meal before she invited them to join her family for dinner.

Over the years, McQuirter Fairley knew she had made a difference when she heard her own words coming from the mouths of her mentees.

“I knew they were actually listening when we had our talks,” she says. “That made me feel like I was making a difference.”

Even now, during the pandemic, McQuirter Fairley says sitting and listening works best.

Since the pandemic has taken all the mentoring work virtual, it’s added a lot of distraction for kids. Regardless, thanks to the dedication of the team at BBBS of North Simcoe, the mentoring program has continued with one-on-one matches.

Five years ago, there were four matches, and today, the organization has 25 mentor-mentee matches. There are many more kids in need, and even more that will need “bigs” in the school-based mentorship program that provides kids with an hour of support once a week from September to June.

Given the challenges presented by the pandemic, kids may be in need now more than ever.

A recent study by SickKids (The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto) revealed deteriorating mental health — depression, anxiety, irritability, attention span, hyperactivity, and obsessions/compulsions — affected more than 70 per cent of children ages six to 18 years old, and more than 66 per cent of children two to five years old.

“A lot of parents are more stressed than they were,” explains McQuirter Fairley. “Some people are losing jobs. Some people are home with all of their kids, and some kids need special one-to-one time – even before the pandemic.

“Some kids need to feel heard and that they are special. The weekly video calls with their ‘bigs’ are the highlights of their week. It may be the thing that enables them to communicate, because they see the world is out (there), and they are not alone.”

BBBS of North Simcoe put out a call for more mentors during the pandemic, and received more applications than ever.

Five years ago when JoAnn Stephan became the organization’s executive director, BBBS of North Simcoe averaged one to two new mentors every three months. Now, the average is one to two mentor applications a week.

“I believe that COVID sparked something in people and with our community,” says Stephan. “That’s a 30 per cent increase in volunteer applications and a 40 per cent increase in the number of matches made within the agency.”

For McQuirter Fairley, “time is precious and when you give it, it really does make a difference.  A different perspective can change the world.”

For an hour a week, you could help a child, and create a great relationship. Watch this video to learn more about how and why you could make a great Big Brother or Big Sister.

BBBS is currently seeking male mentors, and mentors for the in-school mentorship program. For more information about the organization or to find out how you can help, visit Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Simcoe.