By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is using virtual platforms to help kids stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been very affected [by the pandemic],” says Executive Director Melanie Stewart, as the in-school mentoring program and group programs, which serves close to 1,000 children, were halted in mid-March when schools closed.
BBBS has since been working with the school boards, schools and one-to-one matches to resume the in-school mentoring program using virtual technology.
“Most families have been very positive and responsive to this,” says Stewart. “The children that we serve are vulnerable to begin with, and now with social isolation, some of the adversities that they face are increasing.”
BBBS is also in the process of launching some virtual group programs.
“We are in the process of developing and getting ready to launch some group programs virtually,” says Stewart. “To have an additional support outside of the home, and have those relationships continue has been paramount.”
She says BBBS has had to adapt quickly to the changing circumstances amidst the pandemic.
“You just have to be creative at all times because there’s always challenges, but we’ve done really well,” says Stewart. “We looked at what the challenges were but also what the opportunities were for making sure the kids we serve can continue to get the support they need, and, in many cases, the increased support they need right now given the situation,” she adds.
One program that has continued throughout the pandemic has been the traditional one-to-one program through virtual technology.
“These relationships have continued throughout,” says Stewart.
Local resident Traci says BBBS paired her son, Nevin, with Big Brother Matt six years ago and it couldn’t have been a more perfect match.
“Nevin, being raised in a single parent home with a single mother is difficult for him and myself to relate,” says Traci. “He needed that positive male role model in his life and Matt stepped in. He filled that spot perfectly.”
Nevin says he and his Big Brother Matt have continued to stay connected through the pandemic.
“Matt is one of my best friends. I can trust him. I can rely on him. He has been there for me in my life many times and since this pandemic has started, we have been in touch through FaceTime and text,” says Nevin.
Traci says her son’s confidence level has gone from “zero to 60” in six years.
“He’s a different child,” she says. “Matt shows him what I can’t. And when this pandemic is over, they can continue their outings. I know that this is a lifelong friendship they have created and will continue to grow.”
Stewart says there is always a need for more mentors.
“We have to have the mentors to be able to serve the kids,” she says, noting all the screening, intake and safety training has been transferred to a virtual platform. Match monitoring is also still continuing in order to ensure the safety of the children and also provide support for the mentors that may be working with a child or family where there may be some challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic also hindered the ability for BBBS to host in-person events, such as the Bowl for Kids’ Sake, which Stewart says is one of their main sources of fundraising.
“Bowl for Kids’ Sake is our largest fundraiser of the year, but it had to be cancelled,” says Stewart.
“Even though we are continuing to provide services, we also need the funds to support it.”
Families are being asked to bowl from home instead.
“We’re asking people to Bowl at Home for Kids’ Sake and to think about organizations like ours. We’re not frontline, but we are an essential service, especially given what families are facing in isolation – families that already face a number of barriers, and now this has had a tremendous impact, especially on children’s mental health,” she says. “To be able to continue to provide that support for them is really essential.”