Big Brothers Big Sisters Turns To Virtual Mentoring, Fundraising










by Jeffrey Reed, Editor,

Boys and girls who depend on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and Area (BBBSOLA) organization for mentorship can be amongst the most vulnerable in our community. BBBS, too, depends on others for its very survival through fundraising.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit BBBS hard by eliminating in-person interaction between big and little brothers and sisters, and by creating uncertainty in terms of money raised to support BBBS programs, including weekly meetings between bigs and littles.

But according to BBBSOLA executive director Janet Tufts, everyone from the littles and their families, to the bigs, and including financial supporters and the organization itself are proving to be resilient during this unprecedented time in history.

BBBSOLA Executive Director Janet Tufts

And a big part of that resiliency is the adapting of virtual interaction to continue the BBBS mission.

“We’re taking the highs and the lows, the good and the bad – it’s a rollercoaster,” said Tufts. “Our (supported) families are the most vulnerable in the community. And the reality is, they’re the hardest hit.

“But as one of our mentoring coordinators said, ‘These families are very resilient. They’ve been through a lot. And this is another part of life’s journey.’ So in some ways they may be dealing with (social distancing and economic hardship) better than other families who may not have dealt with challenges.”

Tufts warned that their resilience doesn’t lessen the blow dealt by COVID-19. However, for the 1,400 children BBBSOLA serves each year, that means being creative in every way by embracing technology.


“The reality is, for some of the kids who we serve, the worse place for them might be their home environment. And their weekly meeting with their big was the highlight of their week.”Janet Tufts, Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and Area


Big Brothers of London (est. 1971) and Big Sisters of London (est. 1973), who merged in 2009, supported 700 one-to-one matches in 2019. Today, there are about 200 big and little matches, including one-to-one mentoring involving children ages 7 to 17, and mentors ages 18 and older who meet three to four hours per week.

Those 200 matches also include in-school mentoring which links about 75 local youngsters with mentees who spend one hour per week playing board games, enjoying crafts or even just talking at school playgrounds.

But social distancing requirements has, for now, cut those traditional ties.

“And our waiting list is high – 165 children are waiting for bigs,” said Tufts. “Seventy-five percent of them are boys, and some have been waiting for five years.

“Our team’s highest priority right now is to get that wait list down, but it involves two things. We need mentors – we need volunteers, male volunteers especially,” Tufts added. “And we need funding to support every match. Each match requires a mentoring coordinator, and right now they are completely maxed out. Their case loads are very high. So in order to serve more kids, we need to hire more mentoring coordinators, which costs money. So it’s a fundraising challenge and recruitment challenge. And the two goals are totally connected.”

With the BBBSOLA office closed, staff are working from home to keep matches active via the Internet.

“At first it was slow going, trying to get the interactivity up and running – getting people to buy into it,” Tufts said, “but now they have, and there’s a lot going on. Matches will play NHL video games together over their devices, or enjoy virtual baking together.”

Yesterday, BBBSOLA launched its social distancing challenge. Each Monday, the organization will email bigs with a challenge for the week – an activity bigs and little can enjoy together via various videoconferencing platforms.

“We’re really digging deep into creativity, and our national office provides ideas,” said Tufts. “The reality is, for some of the kids who we serve, the worse place for them might be their home environment. And their weekly meeting with their big was the highlight of their week.”

In one big-little relationship, big sister Hellen was matched with little brother Jimmy one day before the provincial lockdown began. This meant that they had only met in person one time, at the BBBSOLA office, before quarantine kicked in.

With their first official weekly meetup cancelled, Hellen and Jimmy have turned to virtual mentoring. Jimmy decided that he and Hellen should cook and bake together. Their first virtual kitchen adventures have seen them enjoy chicken soup and cupcakes.

Tufts said littles and mentees matched through the In-School program are also forced to explore new ways to interact. They’ve turned to an old-school method – being pen pals – with a modern twist. Emailed letters are monitored by BBBS, and forwarded to bigs and littles.

Recruitment of bigs continues via virtual platforms, too, Tufts explained.

“We’re still recruiting volunteers, and still moving the volunteer process through, and we’re getting close to even making some new matches virtually. We have very strict policies and standards in terms of recruitment and making sure matches are a good fit. But our national office has been working very hard on transferring all of that to a virtual environment.”

BBBS fundraising has turned to virtual means, too. The annual Barbara Rankin Golf Classic, slated for October 2 at Echo Valley Golf Club in Lambeth, is in danger of being cancelled this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. But the June 11-scheduled Lawn Bowl for Kids’ Sake at Thistle Lawn Bowling Club in London has been replaced by a virtual fundraiser, Bake For Kids’ Sake.

Scheduled for May 14 to 18, the new fundraiser challenges community members to bake an #IgnitePotential-themed dessert (think fireworks, excitement and sparks), then post a video and/or photo of their culinary creation to social media, or email the photo and video to BBBSOLA. Registration costs $25, and entrants are encouraged to raise funds through pledges.

The Bake For Kids’ Sake winner will receive $100 in Downtown London dollars, while the baker who raises the most money will also receive $100 in downtown bucks. For more information, click here.

“We had a goal of raising $3,000 through Bake For Kids’ Sake, but we’ve already raised more than $7,000,” said Tufts. “Fundraising for us is uncertain right now, so this is amazing.”

So, too, is the overall community support for BBBSOLA, Tufts said. For example, Rogers Communications has donated 45 smartphones with six months free Internet use for little brothers and sisters who otherwise would not have access to the net, and thus would not be able to converse with their bigs.

United Way Elgin Middlesex, BBBSOLA’s platinum partner, has helped fund mentoring programs through its Local Love in a Global Crisis campaign. And other community members, too, have come forward with fundraising ideas.

To learn more about BBBSOLA and how you can help, visit

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and Sports journalist since 1980.

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