Big Brother Sean Smith and Little Brother Angelo snowshoe at Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham. (Photo courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick)

There’s a Big Ten in sports. The Big Easy is the nickname for New Orleans. There’s even the movie “Big.” But you can be a “Big” right here in Harpswell.

The nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick is looking for adults or high school students, who are called “Bigs,” to mentor children, known as “Littles.”

The local group, based in a second-floor office at 85 Maine St., Brunswick, served some 200-250 matches before the pandemic, when volunteering dropped off.

“We’re in the process of rebuilding,” said Program Director Aurora Hodgkins. There are now about 85 matches and only five Bigs from Harpswell who are working with area students. Hodgkins said volunteers are being sought for about a dozen Littles who are on a waiting list.

Volunteers are sought for two programs. The first is school-based. The Big is an adult or high school student who meets with their Little weekly during the school year, usually at lunch or recess. They can continue to see one another in the summer.

There’s also a community-based program with a mentor who’s at least 18 years old and has access to a car. They get together two to four times a month or more.

“We try to make matches between a child and adult who have similar interests,” said Hodgkins. “The focus is on the relationship.”

The pair may go hiking, share meals together, make crafts, or visit the library. “It’s pretty open-ended what they can do,” said Executive Director Carol Marquis.

“We take confidentiality seriously,” Marquis added. Information about a child is not shared publicly without permission from parents.

Littles range in age from 6 to 16, but can stay in the program through young adulthood. “We ask all our volunteers to make a one-year commitment,” said Marquis. “Over 80% continue beyond the year.”

Big Sister Dena Bachman and Little Sister Addysen build a gingerbread house at Dike Newell School in Bath. (Photo courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick)

The children aren’t the only ones who benefit from the nonprofit.

Karen Garside, of Harpswell Neck, said she and her sister, Mary Connolly, mentor a pair of sisters in Bath; one is in the fourth grade and the other is in the sixth grade. 

Connolly, who lives on Orr’s Island, became a Big Sister in Boston before moving to Harpswell. Volunteering “is incredibly simple yet incredibly important,” she said. “I became a Big Sister in 2018 and, although the program’s premise is developing a positive mentoring relationship with a young person that will have a lasting effect, it has proven to be a two-way street.”

Garside noted that “as a mother of two, I understand the value of time well spent with young people. Not only does the BBBS program help individual children achieve their potential, it also helps to strengthen families and our community at large.”

Marquis said there are many reasons why a family or a child may reach out for mentoring. “Some have faced trauma or adversity and others want a role model. A lot of parents reach out to us directly and we have referrals from teachers, guidance counselors and pediatricians.”

“We’re specifically a mentoring program,” she added, which their website notes “helps children have higher aspirations, greater confidence, better relationships and educational success.”

Marquis and Hodgkins are happy to share success stories. One girl started in the program at the age of 9. Even though she moved out of the immediate area, her Big continued mentoring her. Now 17, the Little is studying at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The organization that would become Big Brothers Big Sisters was founded in 1904 in New York City. The Big Brothers Association merged with Big Sisters International in 1977.

There are programs in every state and a dozen countries. The Brunswick chapter was launched in 1981. To become a local Big, an application must be completed, followed by a staff interview and participation in an orientation and pre-match training.

“We’re definitely interested in anyone who wants to be involved,” said Marquis. To contact the local Big Brothers Big Sisters, go to, call 207-729-7736, or email

Connie Sage Conner is a retired editor of The Virginian-Pilot. She lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.