Our Changing Family & Volunteer Needs
In many ways, the lesson for the last couple of years has been to adapt and be flexible. This is something that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has been doing for over 50 years, however, as we have adapted to meet to the ever-changing needs of our community and the families we serve. As we head into 2022, we are seeing some new factors that are influencing our need for volunteers and our ability to match kids with the mentors they want and deserve.
When COVID first hit, BBBS’ services were significantly impacted. “We faced a number of challenges to matching Bigs and Littles,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS VP of Programs. “Working to manage all of our processes virtually affected our ability to make new matches because many matches were not interested in starting their mentoring relationships virtually.”
“Our families and volunteers also faced additional challenges due to the pandemic,” said Joe. “Many experienced job losses, some endured health challenges. Plus, Littles faced the new challenge of online learning. There were a lot of issues to address all at once.”
BBBS adapted by improving its online processes and adding accessible virtual events to facilitate match connections and make them more fun. Over the past 6 months, we have increased the number of new matches made, and seen an increase in applications from kids and families wanting to join the program.
Now, as 2022 begins, a new set of challenges is emerging.
For many years, we’ve seen the impact of Austin’s growth on our families. As new areas are developed, the cost of living increases, and many of our families are often displaced and forced to move further beyond the city limits. This dynamic has increased exponentially in the last six to 12 months as the cost of living in Austin has skyrocketed. “This means that many of the areas where our volunteers live and work are now much farther from where our kids/families live, and not within a reasonable matching distance,” said Joe. “Today, 60% of the kids on our waiting list come from outside of Austin. Thus, we have pockets of Bigs who are waiting to be matched in areas where we have no kids waiting, and vice versa.”
Consequently, we have a greater need for Bigs who come from specific geographic areas. We have always needed more men, men of color, and men who are bilingual to become Big Brothers. Now, we have a growing need for male volunteers who come from Williamson County and Pflugerville, as well as north, east, and southeast Austin.
“We also have a need for volunteers who are open to working with kids who may have faced greater challenges or risk factors due to the pandemic,” said Joe.
To address these issues, we may consider matching participants who live a little further apart than we normally would and exploring the willingness of volunteers to work with kids who have more complex needs. “We have to be extremely careful, however,” said Joe. “These are things that can potentially impact the quality, strength, and longevity of a match. Asking participants to drive a bit further may become burdensome and impact the ability of the match to connect. So, we have to be extra cautious that we don’t sacrifice match quality simply to make a match.”
In 2022, we are also actively recruiting more kids and families. “We happen to have a number of Big Sisters who are waiting to be matched with Little Sisters. We have the ability to enroll and match more girls in our program, so we are trying to spread the word. There are kids from across our entire region who would dramatically benefit from having a volunteer mentor,” said Joe. “We’re collaborating with schools and other youth service organizations to let them know about our ability to enroll and match more kids, especially Little Sisters, and asking them to share this with the kids and families they work with.”
BBBS is also offering online Volunteer Information Sessions to provide community members with information about our program, our volunteer needs, our processes for enrolling and making matches, and how to refer others to us. Upcoming sessions are included on BBBS’ website at www.BigMentoring.org.
“People can help us by spreading the word about our specific volunteer recruitment needs,” said Joe. “Share that we need more male volunteers in these particular geographic areas, and remind people that all kids can benefit from having a mentor in their life.”
Ongoing refinements and adaptations to the way we work further our efforts to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Recruitment increases the number of kids and families looking for our help, as well as the number of volunteers who can provide that support.
As times and conditions change, we will continue to adapt to help kids in our community realize their full potential.