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HomeNewsBig Brothers Big Sisters Of Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton May Have To Reduce Services...

Big Brothers Big Sisters Of Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton May Have To Reduce Services Due To Lack Of Funding

KAWARTHA LAKES-Karen Szostak says being a Mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton changed her life.

“I thought I had time to give and would have some fun with a Little, I certainly never imagined what it would do for me.  Helping my Little grow, learn, and share experiences she would most likely not have the opportunity to do, helped me grow.” Szostak told Kawartha 411 News. “She made me slow down, appreciate the small things and challenge myself. Together we gained confidence. When you experience a child go from not trusting, crying and hiding to learning to be able to laugh at herself…..the feeling is immense.”

“We change lives of both Bigs and Littles,” says Janice Balfour, Executive Director.

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps children who struggle with societal barriers and face adversities in their lives. Facing prolonged adversity creates toxic stress in the brain that can negatively impact development according to experts. With the support of a mentor, some of these risks can be reduced or even avoided, and youth can reach their full potential. There are no fees for any of the programs.

In Kawartha Lakes-Haliburton they currently have 17 traditional matches they are working with. Traditional Matches meet weekly for 3 -4 hours to do things such as crafts, sports, cooking and occasional outings such as visiting restaurants or attending local events. 

The organization is working with local schools in CKL and Haliburton and hope to have 18 In-School Mentoring matches in the new year. In-School Mentoring – a little and big meet for 1 hour a week during school hours.  Currently, this is being done virtually. They play games, do crafts, sometimes Littles just want to talk.

Balfour says it can take weeks to months to develop relationships with the Littles and staff work hard to be successful.

“I feel terrible for the kids right now, our staff has worked incredibly hard to continue these programs through COVID. It’s a unique situation for everybody right now but I think we expect our youth to handle it easily but they aren’t.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has occurred in a series of waves, the heightened levels of depression and anxiety among children and youth seen at the start of the pandemic has remained consistent according to Doctors at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. This is one of many findings from the ongoing COVID-19 mental health study led by The Hospital. Taken together, the latest findings demonstrate a serious, sustained negative impact on the mental health of Ontario children, youth and their families.

“Matching makes a huge difference and if we cannot prove that service, I fear for our youth.”

Balfour says the past 2 years have been challenging but with the Wage Subsidy and other government funding, they have managed to make it work, until recently.

“The big thing is we haven’t been able to fundraise in the way we normally would. Our annual Wingfest in February has been cancelled this year due to the rising COVID case numbers and with it a loss of $10-15,000. We are in a predicament”

On top of that Balfour says the wage subsidies and other grants that were available early in the pandemic are no longer there. 10% of their budget comes from provincial and municipal funding, the remaining 90% depends on the generosity of the community through fundraisers.

If they can’t raise the funds needed Balfour says they will have to start making cuts in the new year.

“The first thing we would look at is a reduction in staff hours, and if we do that we would have to reduce matches, programming, online virtual, a big one is our in-school mentoring. That all takes a lot of staff time.”

Group programs run by the organization include Big Bunch programs that offer a day camp experience, Kid N Kops and Go Girls. Go Girls is a program for Girls in grades 6 -8 that focuses on healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy relationships.

“I was surprised by how much support I receive. I thought that my son would get a big brother and it would be all about them. But I receive so much support, the staff really care about the whole family.” says Miranda, Parent of a Little.

“I enjoyed the virtual in-school mentoring because I had no friends, and it was nice to have someone to talk to each week”,  recalls Emma, In-School Mentoring mentee

Currently, there are 20 children/youth on the waitlist with inquires coming in daily.

Organizations or individuals who would like to make a donation can go to: https://kawarthalakes.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca/donate/

“I am truly amazed and grateful for our staff, volunteers and Board of Directors who continue to navigate through uncertainty to provide such an essential service to our youth.” says Balfour.


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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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