Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham overcoming social distancing

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham overcoming social distancing
Big Brothers and Big Sisters in the Birmingham area are using Facetime to stay in touch with their "Littles." (contributed)

The critical health concepts of social distancing go against the very fabric of Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is dedicated to helping youths through one-on-one time with caring adults.

Whether it’s a car ride, shooting hoops or getting a slice of pizza, the hours spent together are a crucial aspect of the nonprofit organization that matches about 1,400 girls and boys with men and women mentors around Birmingham. Those efforts are being pushed in a different direction by the demands of the coronavirus.

While “Littles” and “Bigs” normally spend several hours each month together, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Greater Birmingham is working overtime finding ways to overcome self-quarantine mandates.

“While our Bigs and Littles have been forced to social distance, they are finding creative ways to stay in touch,” said Sue Johnson, BBBS CEO who has worked with the agency since 1991. “It is critical the children stay connected to their mentors and positive role models. Our staff are also working very hard to connect our families to much-needed resources throughout this pandemic.”

A letter from a Little Sister expresses her feelings during the necessary distancing that comes with COVID-19. (contributed)

Bigs are using Facetime and Skype to communicate with their Littles. One Big directed her Little to find items on a scavenger hunt via Facetime. Another Big and Little shared handwritten notes via pictures with their phones.

More than a century ago, the BBBS national organization was founded on the belief that every child has the ability to succeed and thrive in life. At the core of that belief is aiding kids in difficult situations through meaningful, monitored meetings between adult volunteers and children ages 6 through 18. BBBS is the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network.

“I have been on multiple calls with the agency over the past week-plus to assess and discuss the agency’s efforts to continue to provide services to its clients and the greater community amidst the significant changes to the day-to-day operations and general challenges BBBS faces to sustain itself during this time,” said BBBS executive board member Kimberly Jackson, who is Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division Community Relations manager.

BBBS staff are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by:

  • Working with all program participants to provide assistance in helping families telecommute and connecting mentors and children through Skype, phone, text and other electronic means.
  • Identifying the immediate needs of program parents, children and volunteers, and compiling a list of needs, resources and referrals.
  • Developing an online volunteer orientation process.
  • Planning to go live with “Storytime” by reading books to program participants.
  • Trying to find funding to support the children and families during the coronavirus crisis.

“BBBS targets the children who need us most, including those living in single-parent homes, growing up in poverty and coping with parental incarceration,” Johnson said. “Starting something begins with finding a great match between a Big and a Little. Making these matches, and performing all the background work involved with them, is possible because of donations. It’s also why we’re able to offer such a wide variety of programs.”

A study of BBBS found that kids matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister are more confident and more likely to steer clear of drugs and alcohol, do better in school, get along better with family and friends and feel better about themselves, Johnson said.

During the coronavirus epidemic, support can be given to BBBS online at www.bbbsbhm.org through a donation today; a sustaining monthly gift of $10, $25, $50 or other amount; through a donation to honor someone; or a memorial gift. Donations can be mailed to: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham, 1901 14th Ave. South, Birmingham, AL 35205.

For more information, contact Anna Harris at 205-939-5590 or [email protected]

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