Dena Bachman, left. and Addysen Malkoch constructed a marshmallow castle on one of their get-togethers. The two are paired through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Brunswick/Bath, which has a shortage of adult volunteers. Contributed / Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick

Addysen Malkoch, 9, and her friend Dena Bachman, 43, can’t keep from giggling as they recount their adventures.

Since they met nearly four years ago, the pair have tie-dyed shirts, examined school cafeteria food under microscopes and built a marshmallow castle. Addysen is quick to pull out her stash of photos as proof.

“I have all the pictures of me and you doing things,” she tells Bachman.

Though Bachman and Addysen have continued meeting during the pandemic, a volunteer shortage has left two dozen local kids on a waitlist for an adult mentor. Contributed / Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick

For 40 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Brunswick/Bath has fostered deep one-on-one connections between area kids like Addysen and adult mentors like Bachman. But even as this pair has forged a bond that Addysen’s mother Lindsey Hinkley calls “unbreakable,” a pandemic-driven shortage of volunteers has left 24 other children waiting for a match, according to the organization’s leadership.

Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates around the country have been experiencing similar difficulties in attracting volunteers and are reporting shortages. The organization’s Southern Maine chapter, based in Westbook, currently has 25 unmatched Littles, according to the group’s website.

“Typically, we have volunteers coming in fairly regularly,” said Aurora Hodgkins, program director of the Brunswick/Bath affiliate. “We’ve seen a decrease (during the pandemic) in new volunteers coming in, which we’ve attributed to the reality of interpersonal connection right now.”


Compounding the problem, COVID restrictions have limited Big Brothers Big Sisters’ ability to operate through local schools, Executive Director Lindsay MacDonald said.

“The school system has been handed such an incredible challenge,” MacDonald said.  “As a result, it’s very hard for us to run programs the way we typically would.”

The upshot is a reduced capacity to provide positive adult role models and mentors to the children of Sagadahoc County, even as the pandemic has pushed strained families to register more kids for the program. In 2021, the group served 117 children, or “Littles,” down from 195 in 2019.

Back in Addysen’s Brunswick home, the thought of unmatched Littles managed to momentarily spoil even a visit with Bachman, who lives in Arrowsic. “It’s pretty sad that other kids can’t have a Big like mine,” Addysen said. “Just thinking about that makes me sad.”

The leadership team at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Brunswick/Bath hopes that January, which is national mentoring month, will bring a surge of volunteers that could help every child on the waitlist find a match.

Adults willing to make a least a one-year commitment are invited to request an application through the group’s website,, Hodgkins said. After a vetting process that includes background and reference checks and an interview, those selected as Bigs will receive training before they begin mentoring their assigned Little.


“We work really hard to make good matches between Bigs and Littles with common interests,” said Hodgkins, who said volunteers can expect to spend around eight hours a month with their mentees through a community-based program or about an hour a week through a school-based program. “The hope is the connection will become a longer-term.”

Those pairings, which can stay active for a decade or more, can be even hugely impactful for everyone involved, according to MacDonald.

“It’s really a support for the family as a whole,” she said, noting that many Littles come from low-income or single-parent homes that could especially use a helping hand. “This is a program that literally changes children’s lives.”

Bachman, herself a mother of two, said she knows firsthand that the program’s time commitment can seem daunting, but it’s an experience that anyone would find rewarding.

“We all have time for the things that matter, right?” she said as Addysen ran back to her room to grab more tokens of their friendship. “No kid deserves to be on a waitlist.”

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