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Margaret Ayres: it's all about the littles

When I sat down with Margaret Ayres to chat about the story that makes up this incredible, giving person, she referred to the ‘Littles’ several times. It took me a few minutes to figure out she meant little brothers and little sisters, as Margaret is the Director of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Durham. I am a big believer that many people’s lives are moulded in a certain direction based on their environment, upbringing and genes, and was curious if that theory applied to Margaret as well.

“As a representative of BBBS we are constantly looking to raise funding to help our cause,” Margaret explained. “Our organization is funded strictly by donations from corporations and the general public. There isn’t any government hand-out.” This is one of the reasons we see Margaret’s photo regularly in newspapers and magazines, showing involvement in a variety of events.

Born in Toronto, Margaret is one of six children, whose dad worked in real estate and whose mother was in retail. Both her parents were heavily involved in the Knights of Columbus, a charitable arm of the church.

“We were always being taken somewhere to help out, and our basement was constantly filled with used clothing and food items, which needed to be sorted.” Margaret smiled. “That was the job of us kids.”

Margaret attended Wexford Collegiate and was not afraid of working part-time. On Mondays and Wednesdays she sat in an office at Richmond and Parliament telephoning people to do a survey about groceries. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Margaret taught gymnastics for the city of Scarborough, and Fridays and Saturdays found her at Old Angelo’s Dinner Theatre, in downtown Toronto, taking outerwear as the coat check attendant.

Upon graduation Margaret sought full time employment, and was quickly hired by Scotiabank in their Visa Centre. “The job was quite archaic, by today’s standards,” Margaret described. “I had to transfer every statement to microfiche,” That practice has certainly gone the way of the Teletype and Ditto machines.

Her philanthropic upbringing directed her elsewhere, and although she was still working for the City of Scarborough, teaching gymnastics, on weekends, she pursued the position of receptionist at CARD (The Community Association for Riding for the Disabled). I asked if she had any experience riding horses and the answer was a flat out ‘no’. She added, “I did have the task of bomb-proofing horses, though.”

Wheelchairs, walkers and loud noises in general, can frighten horses to a point where they become unmanageable. Margaret’s task was to train the equine creatures to become accustomed to the uproars, a job which must have been quite interesting. After the Executive Director left, the staff had to fend for themselves. Margaret took up slack wherever it was needed, and stayed for 12 years, branching into fundraising, administration and payroll.

A good friend of Margaret’s worked at Goreski's Landing in Port Perry, and Margaret would drive up on weekends to listen to the bands. It was during one of these occasions that she met Mike Ayres, another employee of the marina and entertainment complex. I asked if it was love at first sight, but Margaret explained that Mike actually thought she was stalking him. After an eighteen month courtship the couple were married, and Margaret left the comfort of her parent’s house and moved to Scugog Island.

“It was a long commute,” Margaret explained. “I still worked for CARD in the city.” It wasn’t long after, that Margaret took up a position with Country Day School in King City. The commute was still lengthy, but she persevered for ten years, at the same time raising her four children.

During one of her pregnancy terms, Margaret took a part time position with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Durham. The Ayres family had moved to Seagrave and Mike was running his own, successful business. Margaret enjoyed her time at BBBS and, when a full time opportunity arose, she jumped on it.

As Executive Director she finds herself involved in every facet of the organization. In the past 6 years they have increased their care from 59 children in the program, to 250. They have also started a mentoring program in schools.

“All it takes is an hour a week, which is spent in the school, with the ‘little’,” Margaret said, enthusiastically. I go in and we cook together and sometimes bake, but clearly the most fun is playing Dogopoly.” (a version of Monopoly). Of course Big Brothers and Big Sisters also has traditional programs, where adults spend 3 to 4 hours a week with ‘littles’.

“I believe every child has need of a mentor, even those who have both parents living at home. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk to another adult.” It is an interesting concept Margaret brings forward, one that certainly has merit.

Fundraising is a major part of the organizations mandate. 18% of revenue comes from United Way programs and the balance from events, such as Halloween dances, movies in Palmer Park, New Year’s Eve dances, trivia nights and a variety of other ideas, brought forward by Margaret and her staff.

September of this year marks the 40th anniversary of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Durham, and it sounds like the Winding Roads event will be a celebration to remember. The event will take place on September 24th at Sunnybrae Golf Club, and will feature Aaron Pritchett as the headliner and the James Baker Band as the opening act.

Margaret thoroughly loves her job, and hopes to continue for many years to come. In her off hours it’s camping, kayaking and canoeing, and recently paddle boarding. As if all of this is not enough she, together with Ginger Jackson, founded the 100 women of Scugog. Margaret is also a volunteer with United Way, worked as a ‘water station girl’ at Ribfest, and is on the Board of the Scugog Chamber of Commerce. One has to ask where does all the energy come from. Once you meet her, however, you soon realize that she cares deeply about the causes she represents.

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