Now more than ever, Central Alabama is finding new ways to stay connected. Everything from classes and meetings to graduations and weddings are moving online, reminding us that socially distant doesn’t have to mean socially isolated. For many United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) partner agencies, volunteer opportunities are going virtual, too — just ask Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham.
Just as many other organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) has had to quickly evolve in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The longtime UWCA partner agency pairs school-age-children (commonly referred to as “littles”) with adult mentors (known as “bigs”). Many of these duos are facilitated through schools or afterschool programs, so they were obviously impacted by the closure of schools.
“Because they met in person, they didn’t always have each other’s contact information,” said Anna Harris, Chief Development Officer at BBBS. “So that became our main focus: getting everyone connected. Once we had done that, we started thinking, ‘Okay, what do we do besides talk on the phone?’”
The organization took the opportunity to be innovative on social media by hosting virtual story hours
featuring local celebrities, including Mayor Randall Woodfin, WVTM-13 Anchor Brittany Decker and even UWCA President and CEO Drew Langloh! Additionally, the “bigs” have upped their social-distancing socializing game as well, with mentors creating fun video-conference projects for their mentees, such as scavenger hunts or even gardening.
“We want the littles and their parents to know that just because we can’t meet one-on-one in person doesn’t mean we’ve taken our hands off the wheel and disappeared,” said Harris. “We’re still here.”
With about 130 unmatched littles, the team at BBBS was faced with a particularly hard challenge. Much of the rigorous volunteering process, such as in-person sessions and home visits, cannot be completed due to social-distancing guidelines. As with other aspects of the program, however, they’ve used this time as an opportunity to innovate.
“We’re allowing new matches to participate in our new E-Mentoring Program,” said Harris. “Everything is online. It’s something we’d planned to do for a while because it gives volunteers the chance to get involved with less of a time commitment.”
Throughout the community, organizations are getting creative to keep us connected through these unprecedented times. You can learn more about the Big Brothers Big Sisters E-Mentoring Program on their website, or browse other remote volunteer opportunities, including making postcards for healthcare workers and seniors, on INVOLVE, UWCA’s online volunteer platform.