Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine recently launched its newest mentoring program in the Oakland school system, pairing students from Messalonskee High School with youth facing adversity in its neighboring elementary schools.

The goal is to help change the lives of local children for the better and honor the life Cassidy Charette, a 17-year-old Messalonskee student who wanted the same for kids in her community.

Charette, ranked first in her class and was a stand-out soccer player, who was also a devoted volunteer for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. She was just two weeks shy of meeting her first Little Sister when her life was suddenly taken at a tragic hayride accident in Mechanic Falls, Oct. 11, 2014.

“Cassidy’s passion was caring for others and she continues to be a role model for both our Bigs and Littles,” BBBS Mid-Maine CEO Alex Gaeth said. Charette helped raise over $5,200 to support local mentoring programs and advocated to have a Big Brothers Big Sisters at her school. “She was eagerly waiting for the day she herself could be a Big Sister. Her passing is a tremendous loss to so many.”

Gaeth said it is in Cassidy’s honor that the agency decided to open a school-based program in Oakland. In partnership with Messalonskee High School, staff went to work in January, conducting interviews, screenings, and training of volunteer teen mentors. The first program launched in February. “An astounding 105 students signed up to be Bigs, the most ever in a school-based program,” Gaeth said. “Inspired by Cass, we are able to help more kids.”

School-based programs are supervised each week by trained and screened volunteer coordinators and are supported by professional staff from BBBS who provide match support to ensure safety and success. Messalonskee’s three new programs currently have 16 active matches, eight male and eight female, with plans to have at least 30 matches in total.

The first high school student to sign up and be matched was Cassidy’s younger brother, Colby, who says he loves being a Big Brother. “It is so rewarding to be with our Littles and know we have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives, he says. “They are standing at the doorway every week with big smiles, waiting for us to arrive. And we can’t wait to see them too,” he says. “Cass made this happen.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine serves nearly 800 youth each year. Programs are offered free of charge, making them accessible to kids facing adversity in Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Somerset, Waldo counties. It costs about $1,000 to fund one match for a year, which provides volunteer screenings, background checks, training and professional support. The majority of funding comes from community support.

Among the agency’s largest fundraising events is “Bowl for Kids’ Sake” held in three regions and involving some 2,000 bowlers. Last year, the events collectively raised over $200,000 to support Big Brothers Big Sisters.

This year, to honor Cassidy Charette, a special event named “Bowl for Cassidy’s Sake” will be held, with proceeds to benefit the Messalonskee BBBS program. Students, faculty and friends from Oakland, as well as many surrounding schools, athletic teams, clubs, businesses and others are forming teams of four or five people, raising individual pledges and coming out to bowl Saturday, April 11, from 10 am to 2 pm at Sparetime Recreation Center in Waterville.