COVID-19 Affects Everyone, But Not Equally
As the COVID pandemic impacts communities globally, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is focused locally. Our mission is now more important than ever, because while COVID-19 affects everyone, it does not impact everyone equally. The children we serve face adversity at rates that are higher than the average young person in America, even at the best of times. Now, their challenges are being amplified and multiplied by the pandemic.
The youth and families BBBS serves are facing increased physical, emotional, economic and social pressures, resulting in increased anxiety, stress, and fear, with young people likely to bear the heaviest burdens of trauma and economic fallout.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
“Over the past month I’ve heard from a number of families who have shared the struggles they are having to manage in light of COVID-19,” said Nick Vincent, BBBS Match Support Specialist. “The most common issues have to do with finances, food insecurity, and anxiety over how to take care of basic needs.”
Many of our Littles’ parents and guardians work in the service, retail, and hospitality industries; all of which have been greatly affected by COVID-19. Many have either been laid off or had their hours cut significantly.
In addition, they are dealing with the added stress of trying to help their children stay connected with their schools. Kids are being asked to complete their schoolwork online, but if families don’t have laptops or internet access, finding a solution is a constant ordeal. “One mother was blunt with me,” said Nick. “She said, ‘I’m just exhausted all the time having to figure everything out.’”
“I’ve experienced two main narratives with families lately,” said Mary Gillock, BBBS Match Support Specialist. “One has to do with unemployment and financial distress, and the other has to do with safety at home.” The parents of many BBBS Littles are having to go to work, or to work overtime, because of their essential roles in the community, and they worry about their potential exposure to the virus. That is compounded by concern over a lack of space at home to adequately prevent contamination or disease transmission to others, especially given that there is often more than one generation living in the home.
Some of our Littles also work, or work long hours, at essential businesses such as HEB, Target and family day care businesses, to help support their families, raising concerns about their potential exposure to the virus as well.
To cope, families seem to be taking a cooperative, day-to-day approach. “One mother told me that two of her kids share the computer provided by the school, taking turns completing their assignments,” said Nick. “Those with extended families in the area are collaborating in going out to grocery stores or food pantries to get essentials and dropping them off at their homes.”
In addition, many BBBS Littles are taking on more responsibilities around the household. “One Little informed me that he takes it upon himself to take care of the household pets; walking the dog, feeding the cat and the bird they have, but also playing with his baby brother when he has ‘recess’ so that his Mom can use the time to gather information about community resources,” said Nick. “Another Little, who is about 12 years old, said she learned to change diapers so that she can help take care of her baby cousin who is temporarily living with them.”
Our Big Brothers and Big Sisters have also stepped up to help their Littles and their families in a variety of ways. “One mom said her daughter’s Big loaned the family a laptop for her three children to share for use with their schoolwork since they did not have one,” said Nick. “Another parent said how much she and her son have appreciated seeing their Big drive by to say ‘hi’ from a distance, and providing them with a gift basket containing some essentials. Another mom, who gave birth to a baby in March, was enthusiastic about how “awesome” her son’s Big has been with her son. The two chat each week through Zoom, and they recently read ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ together.”
Even new matches are finding ways to support one another. “I am the most pleased and surprised with how well some of my newest matches are connecting during all of this,” said Mary. “One Big Brother found an online chess game to play during Zoom calls with his Little Brother. He really likes it because he feels like it gives them an opportunity to strengthen their relationship and to build some of the Little’s confidence in problem-solving.”
“Another Big Sister has been able to work around her Little’s shyness on video calls by drawing different pictures for the Little to color. The Big will drop one off, wait about a week and draw another, then drop it off and pick up the one her Little has colored. Together, they are building a COVID-19 scrapbook.”
Another match has focused on improving the Little’s self-esteem since the Little was previously experiencing bullying at school. The Big Sister asked her Little Sister to make a list of the things she likes about herself, as well as two things they like about each other, and to share them during their next FaceTime call. Once completed, the Little Sister hung up the list she had made for herself as an ongoing form of encouragement.
There have also been a number of birthdays during this time. “Bigs have made a lot of efforts to make sure their Littles and their families feel loved and remembered,” said Mary. “Everything from sending cookies from Tiff’s Treats, to baking a cake and dropping it off at the Little’s home, to driving by with a small gift basket, and making a variety of personalized cards.”
Hearing such positive stories offers much needed encouragement to BBBS staff members – each of whom manages a caseload of approximately 80 – 90 matches. “It is difficult to hear about all of our families who are struggling,” said Diana Hernandez, Match Support Supervisor. “As helpers, it takes a toll on us.”
“Supervisors are meeting with each BBBS staff member online once a week to make sure that they feel supported as well. We are also meeting virtually every Wednesday and making time to chat about how we are doing as a team. We are reminding staff members that we can show empathy and try to provide families with links to needed resources, but that we also need to practice some self-care. It is hard for our Match Support Specialists as they wish that they could help families with all of their needs.”
These trying times are a reminder that we are all in this together and that even small expressions of support can yield big impacts. Now, more than ever, it is important to be there for one another.
As BBBS is being called upon to offer even more support to children and families in our community, we need and appreciate the community’s support for BBBS. We are grateful for the volunteers, donors, families, staff members and community partners who continue to support our work.
It makes a difference.