Boy in orange shirt and shorts, and man in black hoodie, both holding fishing poles.

By Ronnie Allen Campman
Nonprofit Sector News
October 24, 2020

About three weeks into COVID-19 quarantine in Broward County, Florida, Nicole Larson and 10-year-old Desirae Hamilton were matched as Big and Little with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and met for the first time through Zoom.

“I think we were both a little nervous. Like, who is this person? Are we both gonna click?” Larson said. As their introduction call progressed, Larson learned some of young Hamilton’s favorite quarantine pastimes, her favorite subjects and how she wants to expand her abilities as an artist.

Now six months after their initial meeting, the matched pair meets virtually every weekend. They look up drawing tutorials, dance workouts and yoga videos, keeping active while being confined to their own homes. Larson is convinced that Hamilton will be the next Van Gogh.

Larson and Hamilton on Zoom during quarantine. Photo courtesy of BBBSA.

“For the cards that we’ve been drawn, I would say we click very well and it’s been easy to talk to each other,” Larson said.

The pair has yet to meet in person, but look forward to gardening together when it’s safe.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County has made 94 matches, such as Larson and Hamilton, during the pandemic.

To maintain a sense of normalcy, Bigs and Littles across the country remain connected through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, or BBBSA, during these unprecedented times.

With 240 agencies across the country in all 50 states, BBBSA is creating new ways to ensure children stay virtually connected to their “bigs” during this time of physical distancing. The organization was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation that will go to the national office as well as local agencies in Cincinnati, Birmingham, Southeast Florida, East Tennessee, Southwest Michigan for this very purpose. Collectively, these agencies serve about 10,000 kids a year.

BBBSA has matched more than 100,000 “Littles” in 2019 alone. Logan Marin and Chris Montes are among the thousands of matches who made the transition into the virtual world after meeting two years ago.

Olga Marin, a single mother, signed 10-year-old Logan up as a Little in 2018, seeking a male role model for her son. Logan never expected to find his hero through BBBS.

“It was a little confusing (meeting each other), but after the first outing I forgot that I just met him,” young Marin said. “That’s how much we liked each other.”

In a recent school project Marin described Montes as his hero because as a Marine, “he trains soldiers and asks if they’re doing good.”

Their first outings were outdoors surrounded by nature, going to the beach or fishing at the lake every other week.

During these times of uncertainty, Montes will text Marin, asking him the same question he does other marines, “if he’s doing good.”

“Logan recently got a phone so I text him and Facetime a lot asking about school and he’s doing at home, but that’s really how we stay connected and support one another during COVID times,” Montes said.

At the beginning of the pandemic their communication was scarce, but as their days started to settle down their virtual outings became a way to retain normalcy in both of their lives.

The pair goes on virtual museum tours, reads books together and participates in online scavenger hunts.

“Logan has taught me simple things like patience and, you know, I can’t really remember being Logan’s age, so being with him allows me to relive my childhood moments,” Montes said.

These activities were provided to them by their local BBBS in Broward County, one of the local agencies that implemented “e-mentoring.” To do this, a virtual toolkit is sent to each “Big” filled with activity ideas that can be done online.

Some of these activities include virtual concerts, tours of aquariums, like the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, virtual Disney roller coaster rides and virtual field trips to the Great Wall of China and the Louvre.

Even though matches are stuck indoors and confined to a virtual setting they are being presented with the opportunity to explore famous sites and sights from around the world.

Marin’s most memorable virtual outing was watching SpaceX launch its satellite into orbit through Facetime.

“It can be done. Whether you’re in the office or at home, you’re still taking that time commitment. It still shows that dedication. That it’s unwavering. Your role (as a big) is still crucial,” Jennifer Corpus, the pair’s Match Support Specialist, said. “I’ve seen Logan grow and mature and just knowing that Chris is there even when plans change or fall through, that he’s a constant in his life, it’s life changing.”

During a time when social interaction is needed for a child’s development, yet self-isolation is prevalent because of the pandemic, “bigs” are needed now more than ever to mentor youth.

After 18 months of spending time with their “Bigs,” the “Littles” are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school, according to the 2019 BBBS National Impact Report.

At the national level, BBBSA sends out a Youth Outcome Survey using Marketing Cloud. BBBS officials didn’t want to disrupt their programs, so the survey checks if the “Littles” and their families get the most out of the experience by using their pre-existing technologies. With Marketing Cloud, 70% of the surveys get imported into the system within 24 hours. In the past, it could take up to 90 days to get all the data into their system.

“We realized we could take the relationship out of the real world and give Littles a virtual platform to engage on a one-on-one basis,” said Jarrod Bell, BBBSA’s chief technology officer, as originally reported by the Atlantic on Oct.12. “The organization could still be there to offer support and to make sure they were safe and getting the most out of their matches.”

Established in 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters has matched about 2 million Littles with Bigs who guide them towards realizing their full potential within the past 10 years. According to the BBBSA website, 90% of Littles improved in the areas of social acceptance, scholastic competence, and attitudes toward risky behaviors after being matched for one year in a community based BBBS program.

“The connectivity is so important and crucial and how we’ve been able to do that on a virtual platform really speaks volumes,” Corpus said. “We’ve been able to keep our Littles connected to their Bigs and provide them with resources. We haven’t skipped a beat and have come through more powerful and stronger than ever to serve our community.”

By nsn2020

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