Big Brothers Big Sisters offers virtual program to expand reach

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Director Becky Hanna has a virtual meeting with a “little” for a match support check-in. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATT GREGORY

  • For the first time, Big Brothers Big Sisters is offering a completely virtual program to public high school students in Franklin County. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MATT GREGORY

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2020 3:46:21 PM

GREENFIELD – After being forced to go virtual as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County realized they could finally offer a program for local public high school students – a program they’d previously lacked the resources for.

The new, virtual program will be similar to one already offered by the Greenfield-based nonprofit, in which students from Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH) and Deerfield Academy are paired with children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old living in Franklin County.

“We’ve wanted to take this model with NMH and Deerfield Academy and transfer it into local public high school students,” said Executive Director Jennifer Webster. “But because of transportation and available space, we’ve been unable to start those programs.”

Meals for the Northfield Mount Hermon and Deerfield Academy program are typically provided by Deerfield Academy, she added, which Big Brothers Big Sisters couldn’t provide without a “serious increase” in cost.

Virtual mentoring, however, helped to eliminate some of those barriers.

“The virtual mentoring gave us this beautiful opportunity to start the program we’ve always wanted to,” Webster said.

In the new program – which Big Brothers Big Sisters recently opened enrollment for – rising juniors at local public high schools will be paired with children from throughout the county between the ages of 6 and 12 – the only requirement being the child live in Franklin County and want to connect online once a week with a mentor. The program is also open to community college students who live in Franklin County and wish to become a mentor.

Webster said the goal is to create 30 matches for the program, which she expects to begin in late fall.

“Matches are always made with lots of careful thought and intention,” she said. “We match them based on similar interests, personality types, as well as things like lived experience, family background and similar challenges they may have experienced.”

Once matched, mentors, or “bigs”, and their mentee, called “littles,” will meet once a week via Zoom.

“They’ll connect over things they both enjoy — board games, video games, bake, craft projects,” she said. “Things they can do over a video chat.”

Another new element to the program is the 12-month commitment, compared to the in-person 16-month commitment, according to Webster, who has been with the agency for eight years.

“Now that we can go virtual, we can make it a 12-month program and make it match students’ school schedules a little bit better,” Webster said.

Mentors will also meet regularly with Big Brothers Big Sisters support staff throughout the length of the program.

“We want to make sure we’re supporting students, the mentors, around how to connect with the child,” Webster said. “We want to provide a lot of support for them so they can … feel like they’re getting something out of the program as well.”

The new program makes for three programs currently offered by Big Brothers Big Sisters, all of which have gone virtual since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its website. In addition to the Northfield Mount Hermon and Deerfield Academy program, there is also a community-based program that is open to any member of the community 21 years or older who wishes to be a mentor.

Like other nonprofits, the pandemic has hit Big Brothers Big Sisters hard, Webster said.

“Fundraising is always a challenge, but because of the pandemic, we’ve had to cancel our major fundraisers for the year, so it’s been a hard pass for us,” Webster said. “But we really feel these programs are a beautiful silver lining … and given us these opportunities to serve more kids.”

Those who are interested in enrolling as a “big” can do so at no cost by visiting bbbs-fc.org/volunteer. “Littles” can be registered via bbbs-fc.org/enrollachild.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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