Adapting for 2022

A new year, a new set of goals, a new set of hopes, as many of us look to make 2022 a better year than the last. But the pandemic is still with us in Central Texas, and like it or not, it impacts the way we do business, especially given our business of working with people.

While we know more about what we’re up against than when COVID first began, there are still obstacles and challenges to work around so that everyone in our program can feel safe and have the best, most impactful, experience possible.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been offering all of our services/processes virtually,” said Joe Strychalski, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ VP of Programs. “Information sessions, interviews, match intro meetings, even some match activities. We’ve selectively offered in-person services only when we feel we can do so safely and effectively, following Austin-Travis County health guidelines and recommendations at each stage.”

“Right now, for matches that started pre-pandemic, while we’re giving them a great deal of information and direction,” said Joe “we’re essentially allowing them to determine whether they are open to meeting in person or prefer to stay virtual, provided all match parties agree.”

BBBS looks to local, state, and federal health guidelines, as well as to our staff, Bigs, and families, to determine how to proceed. This informs the guidance we offer and allows us to ensure the safest and most effective ways for our matches to connect. It was obvious early on that the agency needed to offer all services virtually.

While the pandemic has drastically changed how BBBS delivers its services, our staff, Bigs, Littles, families, and volunteers have adapted to make the best of a tough situation. Whether enrolling online, starting a new match virtually but transitioning to in-person visits, or being a veteran match figuring out how to stay connected virtually – everyone has done an amazing job of working together to ensure that match relationships, as well as the health, well-being, and support for our young people, remain a priority.

“It’s been tough for many of our matches,” said Joe. “Whether they’ve been together for a long time or just met for the first time and had to start virtually, we’ve seen many matches struggle to connect, develop, and maintain their relationships.”

BBBS Match Support Specialists are there to offer support and encouragement in these cases, often recommending that matches connect more frequently but for shorter calls or outings during the pandemic. Staff have also worked hard to create new ways for matches to remain engaged and connected from a distance, setting up a range of virtual activities from bingo and trivia nights to online escape rooms.

“Our staff does everything we can to help guide matches virtually, but we will also connect matches in-person if we believe we can do so safely,” said Joe. “And it’s important to remember, for every match that we hear is struggling, we hear of many more who are sharing all the creative ways they’re connecting and supporting each other during this uncertain time.”

Being connected so closely to families in the community, BBBS staff also see the additional struggles and challenges the pandemic has created for them, including job losses, supply shortages for families who frequently have greater needs, and barriers to education due to a lack of access to virtual learning.

“We find ourselves seeking out and offering more resources as our families are being impacted by the pandemic,” said Joe. “In many cases, families are relating how much of a support, or even a stabilizing effect, having a Big to call and connect with has been.”

“We often just hear how grateful our Littles, families, and our Bigs are to have this connection with one another and this consistency from BBBS,” said Joe.

Early on we recognized that while COVID affects everyone, it does not do so equally. Everyone’s been impacted, but many of the kids we serve are being asked to do more in their homes and for their families with fewer resources and support systems to turn to for help.

“The incredible resilience and strength we’re seeing in these kids and families is amazing,” said Joe. “It’s a privilege to be able to offer them the support we can and to try to help them navigate these challenges. We will continue to be flexible, to monitor the situation, and to adapt to meet the needs of those who rely on us.”

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