Nick O’Brien, left, is a “big” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick. Lindsay MacDonald is the organization’s executive director. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — About 18 months ago, Nick O’Brien and his wife realized they’d accomplished many of the things that make you an adult, such as establishing a career and being married.

“But one thing that was missing in our life was service to others,” the Lisbon Falls man said.

Challenging themselves to find ways to pay it forward, they came upon Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick.

“The mission statement was literally what we had in mind, so this idea of being able to work one-on-one with children in a mentorship capacity, under the guidance of an established improvement program and framework, just sounded perfect,” the 33-year-old said in an interview Sept. 13. “So we dove in from there.”

BBBS typically has a waiting list for “Littles” who need “Bigs.”

“These are families that have come to us already, and gone through our process, and then we’re waiting for the right match for each kid,” Executive Director Lindsay MacDonald said in an interview Sept. 13. “More often than not, there are more boys on the waitlist than girls, and there are less men that typically come in to volunteer for the activity.”


But this year has seen the male-to-female waitlist ratio move closer to 50-50, with more males interested in volunteering.

“I’m not sure exactly what that’s about, but we have seen a shift there,” MacDonald said. “But that’s not typical, and it’s a national challenge among Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies.”

The organization underwent a national rebrand last October, geared in part to attract more men.

BBBS has 115 matches, of which 53 are male and 62 are female. That number should grow as this school year continues; BBBS last year served 228 one-to-one matches. The waitlist has seven boys and six girls.

Youth involved with the program all face adversity for several reasons. They may be living in a single-parent home, often in a low-income household, “and then just a variety of challenges that come with that,” MacDonald said. “So having that caring older student or adult volunteer mentor who’s there to support them as an individual, get them out and about to do activities that they’ll both really enjoy in the community, it’s just a healthy, positive … relationship that makes a huge difference.”

The community-based mentoring program with which O’Brien and his wife are involved requires volunteers to be at least 18, and BBBS conducts criminal history and reference checks, as well as interviews. Volunteers are required to have a driver’s license and insurance, since Bigs often pick up Littles for activities.


“We try to make Big and Little matches that will be cohesive, and develop hopefully a long-term relationship,” MacDonald said.

O’Brien and his 12-year-old Little do outdoor activities that include hiking, throwing a ball around, and swimming.

“I try to have an emphasis on healthy activities,” he said. “… I’ll incorporate a challenge in there, so if he has a perceived notion of what he can do, I’ll just push him (and) say, ‘maybe you can do 10 percent more, or 20 percent more,’ using those challenges to instill a higher perception of self.”

Being a Big has allowed O’Brien, who has no children of his own, “not to be selfish, because I have an outlet and an opportunity to share skills and experiences. … There are these challenges in life that can be super easy if you have a guide, and you have someone who has been there before.”

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