MUSCATINE, Iowa–In March, things changed radically for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Muscatine County. As schools and the Muscatine Community YMCA closed in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, bigs found themselves unable to meet with their littles as they usually would. In response, Big Brothers Big Sisters has developed new ways for matches to meet virtually and for new participants to join their program. This model continues to thrive even as schools move back and forth between virtual and in person learning and businesses adjust to changing restrictions.
When area schools moved to virtual learning in March, Big Brothers Big Sisters moved to an all virtual model too. Using Zoom or Google Meet, bigs and littles could continue to meet without having to go out in public. Each week, Big Brothers Big Sisters gives bigs new ideas for what they can do with their littles. These include fun conversation starters, activities they can do with virtual white boards included in the meeting software, and scavenger hunts, just to name a few. Big Brothers Big Sisters Director Lindsey Phillips reports that using Google Earth together has proved one of the most popular online options. “A favorite has been using Google Earth to take virtual vacations and see other places and cultures at a street level view,” she said.
As the weather warmed, some of the community-based matches did have opportunities to meet outside, following social distancing recommendations. The majority of school-based matches have continued to meet online, and as winter approaches, many community-based matches will do the same. Phillips stressed, “we are following the lead of the schools, the CDC, and Public Health and changing as needed.”
Though enrolling new bigs and littles during this time of social distancing has produced unique challenges, Big Brothers Big Sisters has striven to meet them, bringing around 20 new community matches into the program. Big Brothers Big Sisters brought in the majority of these matches through their 30 Bigs in 30 Days campaign in June. Through several in person meetings, they helped facilitate these new matches and help them prepare for ongoing virtual meetings throughout the year.
Based on these successes, Big Brothers Big Sisters plans to unveil several more big recruiting initiatives at the beginning of 2021. “We have tried to continuously inform the community there is still a need for relationships and mentoring,” stated Phillips. We know that this pandemic has been extremely isolating; the constant uncertainty and increased mental health needs shows that it is crucial we provide stable relationships to the youth in our community.”
While transitioning Big Brothers Big Sisters to a predominantly online program has had its share of difficulties, Phillips still takes pride in how well it supports area children. “While virtual is not ideal or how our program has historically worked, it is such a great tool and we are thrilled to be able to provide the opportunity,” shared Phillips. “Our bigs, school staff, and families are doing all the hard work and we are so thankful to them.”