Kincardine Big Brothers and Big Sisters celebrate 25th anniversary
By Liz Dadson



 Founders Graham Mahood (L) and Bob Ferguson gather at the 25th anniversary celebration Thursday at the pavilion

 Justin York (C) is welcomed to the celebration by his Big Sister and Brother, Janet and Dave Browne

Twenty-five years ago, Bob Ferguson and Graham Mahood set the wheels in motion to create a Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization in Kincardine.

Thursday night at the Kincardine Dance Hall Pavilion, those two founders were joined by a crowd of volunteers, Bigs and Littles, former Bigs and Littles, sponsors and staff in celebrating the agency's legacy of mentoring children who need help.

Ferguson got the ball rolling all those years ago, when he moved to Kincardine from Sarnia where he had served as a Big Brother. "I was surprised there was no agency here," he said.

The first Big Brothers and Big Sisters meeting was actually held in 1982 at Kevin Bradley's barber shop, said Mahood. A steering committee was formed and that led to the Big Brothers of Canada consenting to the incorporation of the agency in Kincardine, on March 23, 1984.

"So, there we were, no staff, no office, no (Big and Little) matches, no experience and no money," said Mahood. The group took a trial-and-error approach and made a lot of mistakes, he said. The town allowed the agency free use of the old post office building (now called the annex) on the third floor. Lynne Sitar was the first caseworker - she set up six matches and things began to grow from there.

"Our first Bowl for Millions (now Bowl for Kids' Sake) was held during the week and we raised $4,000," said Mahood. "The next year, the fund-raising dropped substantially, but the third year, we held a celebrity day on Sunday and we generated $10,000 - then, we knew we had a winner."

A couple of years later, the group wasn't so sure, he said A snowstorm hit the day of the bowl-a-thon but people managed to make it in. Then, the power went out for the entire afternoon. "We ended up cancelling it and re-scheduling, but we made as much money as if there'd never been a storm."

Ferguson said he didn't know anyone when he arrived in Kincardine 27 years ago. "Jim Weir was the minister at Knox Presbyterian Church and he gave the service on Sunday mornings. Then Eric Howald (of The Kincardine Independent) got me over to the Bruce Inn on a wintry night and we talked about Big Brothers and Big Sisters. And then Rev. George Turner introduced me to Kevin Bradley and that's when we got this all started."

Charles Merritt managed to get them the third floor of the annex for free, and Bill Wessel donated the paint to fix up the office. Don Murray, Doug Storrey and Don Miller helped with golf tournaments to raise money.

"And the people of this community supported us. I thank you all for your dedication and your generosity," said Ferguson. "Without you, we would not be here today."
Shaun Carney is part of the agency's legacy. A former Little Brother, he is now living in Kincardine and working at the nuclear plant.

Standing at the podium with a wine glass in his hand, he sheepishly looked out at the crowd and said, "I feel odd drinking wine as a Little Brother."

He thanked the founders, volunteers, board, staff and especially all the Big Brothers and Sisters who have made such a difference in the lives of the Little Brothers and Sisters.

"In 1989, my parents separated and I settled in Kincardine with my grandparents," said Carney. "Two great things happened that year: I enrolled in the Big Brothers program and I joined Dave Browne's Grade 6 class. My Big Brother was Dean Shewfelt and he taught me what 'normal' was - how you can't replace Coors with Coors Light; that it's okay to keep chickens in the backyard; and that there is a life without cable TV."

He said the Big Brothers and Big Sisters spend time with their Littles who learn a lot through all the cool, adventurous and fun things they do together. "It's amazing how much it all changed my life," said Carney.

June Slesser of Tiverton is a Big Sister and she said working with her Little Sister has actually changed her life for the better.

"I'm the lucky one," she said. "Next to being a mother, this has been the most rewarding thing in my life."
She became involved after watching her friends, as a Big Couple, mentoring a 13-year-old boy. "I saw the joy he brought to their lives, and the difference they made in his life," she said.

In May, 2008, she was matched with an eight-year-old girl, Shayna Hayes, who lives with her father and 13-year-old brother in the country. In July, 2007, Shayna's mother died suddenly, and her father has been very grateful for the support of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

"On my first outing with Shayna, she asked if I would go out with her to release a balloon," said Slesser. "She had written a note to her mommy and attached it to the balloon. It was very touching. We released it and it went soaring up into the sky. I asked her how long until her mommy would get the note. She said, 'I think it takes three days.' She's so wise. This is a match made in Heaven. We love to dance, listen to country music, garden, do crafts, bake, and even build a deck.

"She's such a firecracker, she keeps me young and she brings so much fun to my life. As her mentor, I try to teacher her to give back to the community through fund-raisers. She has told me she wants to be a Big Sister when she gets older."'

Ryan Enright, president of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, said the organization continues to face many of the same challenges that the founders did - finding new volunteers, and fund-raising. "But there is no better cause than this agency," he said. "It has a direct impact on our community. Every volunteer hour and every dollar raised is spent to benefit the children in our own backyard. "

"Thank you for the good work you do," said mayor Larry Kraemer, congratulating the agency on its 25th anniversary. "These children need the guidance that caring adults can offer. We appreciate your dedication to the youth of this community."

Enright noted that a couple of years ago, Big Brothers and Big Sisters was unsure whether it could keep the doors open. "We let the public in Kincardine know the situation - it was right before our annual Bowl for Kids' Sake. The community came out in support of us and we raised $54,000 that year. It simply warms your heart to see that kind of response from the community when an agency is in trouble. Now we are on a roll and moving forward."

He acknowledged a dozen founders, numerous board presidents and sponsors, and one volunteer, in particular, Ernie Parent, who raised more than $2,600 in the last Bowl for Kids' Sake - the largest amount ever raised in that event.

Enright and caseworker/executive director Cynthia Finlay then presented pins to the long-time volunteers for five to 10 years of service, 10-15 years, 15-20 years, and more than 20 years. Those in the over-20 crowd include Dennis Riggin, Doug Storrey, Brad and Janice Chalmers, Newt Catto, Wendy Jones and Jean Karikas (23 years).

The evening wound up with a toast to the Little Brothers and Sisters. "They're the reason we do what we do," said Finlay.

Also see Gordon Lake Veterinary Services & Pine River Mobile Veterinary Services

 Cynthia Finlay (L) congratulates Ernie Parent who raised $2,600 in the last Bowl for Kids' Sake

 Cynthia Finlay (L) gives Joan Hartwick a hug, and a pin for 15-20 years of service

 Sarah Martyn (L) receives a 15-20-year service pin from Cynthia Finlay

 Cynthia Finlay (L) presents a 15-20-year service pin to Rob Davidson

 Cynthia Finlay (C) presents a 15-20-year service pin to Sheila and Don Murray

 Cynthia Finlay (L) presents an over-20-year service pin to Dennis Riggin

 Cynthia Finlay (L) welcomes past-president Jean Karikas to the front for an over-20-year service pin

 President Ryan Enright (R) presents a gift to caseworker and executive director Cynthia Finlay for her hard work and dedication to the agency

 Shaun Carney (L) spoke to the crowd as a former Little Brother, while June Slesser talked about her experience as a Big Sister


19/09/2009 05:41 PM

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