Making New Connections – Virtual Match Introductions

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve ALL had to dramatically adjust how we maintain our relationships and connect with others, how we support our family and friends and overall, how we do life,” says Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. “This time has been extremely hard on the families we serve at BBBS– many were already struggling and are now facing an even tougher situation with loss of jobs, income, food insecurity, housing instability and more.”

When BBBS’ physical offices closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the ways our Programs team typically created and supported mentoring matches were no longer possible. Staff could no longer conduct in-person meetings and interviews with potential volunteers or families interested in enrolling a child. They also were unable to introduce new matches to each other, a celebrated occasion that generally takes place at the new Little’s home.

“Even after our offices closed, we have had just as many families asking about getting a Big as ever,” says Joe.  “The need is definitely still there, and we quickly realized that we had to figure out new ways of supporting existing mentoring relationships while also continuing to make new matches too.”

As a result, BBBS has initiated a unique, temporary option to facilitate the creation of new matches — Virtual Match Introductions (VMIs). At a time when kids in our community need adult support more than ever, this adaptation to our regular process enables potential volunteers and families to meet each other and participate in mentoring match relationships entirely through electronic means, such as video conferencing, phone communications, and sharing online activities.

“VMIs are not a new model or program for BBBS, however,” says Joe. “They’re not intended to continue as “virtual matches” when in-person meeting restrictions are lifted. VMIs are a temporary adaptation to our program that allows Bigs and Littles to start getting to know each other with a plan to continue their mentoring relationships through regular, consistent in-person interactions once restrictions are lifted.”

Sergio Guzman, Bilingual Senior Match Support Specialist, recently facilitated BBBS’ very first VMI meeting between new Little Brother Dylan and Big Brother Robert.

“Overall, the VMI went well,” said Sergio. “Although Dylan was a little shy and quiet at first, Robert got him engaged by asking him about his favorite video games and making plans for them to play together online.”

“Dylan’s mother was also excited to get started,” he said. “She’s happy that Dylan now has a male role model he can talk to.”

The BBBS team is excited that a number of additional VMIs are already scheduled for the near future. With almost 500 children in Central Texas still waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister of their own, this unique way of introducing Bigs and Littles will allow us to continue supporting kids at a time when the need is greater than ever.

“We’ve figured out how to adjust our processes to continue enrolling participants and start matching, how to direct our kids and families to more resources, and how to provide a different level of support through new methods,” says Joe. ““I’m so proud of our team.”

If you have questions or would like to learn more about Virtual Match Introductions, please see our list of VMI Frequently Asked Questions at www.bigmentoring.org/virtual-match-introductions-faqs/   or contact our Program team at 512-472-4646.

Social distancing is necessary right now, but so is social connection– the need to bring people together in meaningful relationships hasn’t changed.

So, even as we adapt and innovate in order to meet the challenges of the present time, our commitment to mentoring is as unchanging and enduring as it has ever been. And now, more than ever, being there for one another, and staying connected, matters.

Additional information about our services can be found on our website at www.BigMentoring.org.

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