Social distancing can be difficult for many reasons, including feelings of isolation, a lack of routine, and not being able to visit with friends. Adults and youth are facing stress-related anxiety due to the lack of regular daily activities and personal interaction. During these difficult times, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona has made an effort to fill the gap of social distancing by helping their mentor and mentee “Matches” communicate in a virtual way.
BBBSAZ works to create meaningful, professionally supported relationships between adult volunteers, called Bigs, and youth ages 6 to 18, called Littles. Through its 65-year history in Arizona, BBBSAZ has been able to demonstrate the powerful impact of mentorship and has provided support to more than 63,000 youth. But, like everyone else in 2020, our Big Brothers and Big Sisters had to make major adjustments to how they would normally make and support Matches.
At the beginning of the pandemic when BBBSAZ first advised their Bigs to begin social distancing, Big Sister Mandi gave her Little Sister Jessica a basket of goodies to keep her entertained. Mandi has been determined to find creative solutions to connect with her Little from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona’s mentorship program.
“I found a list of journal prompts and we are going to respond to a prompt daily. I wrote in her first page of the journal telling her to stay strong and that I am still here virtually. I also told her to make lists of things we can do once this is all over,” said Mandi.
Throughout our community, children have been deeply impacted by the disruptions brought on by the COVID epidemic, and the youth in the BBBSAZ program are no different. They are facing extreme stressors, including increased anxiety, uncertainty around the health and safety of their families, and lack of access to regular school and social support networks. But having a caring adult is a key protective factor in helping youth build resiliency against these types of stresses. That is why the staff of BBBSAZ believes that maintaining the relationships between Bigs and Littles is so critical during this time.
Even when everything shut down, our Littles still needed our support. We knew that we had to be creative in the way that we offered our programs to allow our Bigs and Littles to continue to meet while still keeping everyone safe.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona has now added a virtual component so that Matches can continue to “meet” regularly while staying physically distanced. BBBSAZ has encouraged Bigs to reach out and talk, text and FaceTime with their Littles once a week to let them know someone is thinking about them. BBBSAZ encourages them to help with homework, play an online game, or do a fun activity together. The most important thing is that they maintain a strong connection in a virtual space as youth need the support of their mentor now more than ever. Some Bigs are even taking it a step further by creating homemade cards to send to their Littles or delivering small care packages.
These changes haven’t been easy, but we have received tremendous support from our donors, community partners and other stakeholders in figuring out how to make this work for our Littles. Because of this support, we have been able to continue to support all of our Matches as well as continue to make new Matches.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona is still accepting applications for volunteers and there is a waitlist of Littles anxiously waiting to get Matched. Interested individuals can begin the process of becoming a Big by attending a virtual information session at www.bbbsaz.org/volunteer. BBBSAZ has additionally updated its volunteer onboarding process to be 100% virtual. For more information, visit the BBBSAZ website at www.bbbsaz.org.
Laura Capello is president/CEO, donor and big sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona