TUPELO • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Mississippi is encouraging virtual mentorship in order to serve children in the community during COVID-19.
“We can’t let this stop us,” said program specialist Angie Owen. “We’re still here to help children, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The organization matches “Littles,” youth ages five to 14, with a “Big,” an adult from 18 to 80 who serves as that child’s mentor. Mentorship has become even more valuable for their Littles, who may be experiencing trauma during this time, said Owen.
“Right now, we’re doing it all virtually because of COVID-19, but we haven’t stopped,” Owen said. “We have to continue to support the children. The children are going to need our support now more than ever.”
Owen noted that COVID-19 could be traumatic for everyone, but that children may be having a harder time adjusting to not seeing their peers on a daily basis. Tesha Jones of BBS said some of her Littles are dealing with boredom, causing them to act out. Jones hopes mentors could encourage Littles not to get into trouble and stay focused during this time.
Typically, mentors take their mentees on outings, but the coronavirus forced them to move to alternative video calls and messaging rather than meet in person.
In normal business operations, matches include a minimum of one meeting a month that lasts for a minimum of four hours. With virtual matches, Bigs and Littles commit to contacting each other once a week. Owen said once COVID-19 is no longer a threat, mentors will be given the option to move to in-person formats or continuing the virtual experience.
“We can do video calls right now, which makes being a Big Brother or Big Sister actually easier because they can do it from home,” Jones said. “It’s more convenient right now, so I hope that will lure people in.”
Jones said the transition has worked well for Bigs and Littles, and Owen said there have been little issues with access among students.
BBBS saw the biggest impact after children returned from spring break, and Jones said families were hesitant about engaging with the program due to fear. Since the initial panic has subsided, the program has been able to do more, but there have been some challenges. BBBS typically recruits Littles through school, and coronavirus has cancelled monthly group activities, such as a bowling excursion, Easter hunt and wet paint event. Monthly meet ups will be postponed until conditions improve.
Owen said she believes Littles would prefer in person, but said Bigs have adapted well to the challenges. They have sent goodies and self care packages in the mail, which Owen said makes Littles happy.
There are currently 40 children with mentors, with five others waiting for a match. Owen said there is a need of both mentors and mentees. Owen said there is always a need for more male mentors. Bigs must have either a GED or high school diploma, complete an application and interview process that includes references and a background check. BBBS is still doing interviews for mentees virtually.
“In spite of this pandemic, we’re still trying to make a positive impact and we can’t stop (serving children),” Jones said.