Big Brothers and Big Sisters provide comfort in uncertain times
— Created October 21, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Alec Brown
“Things have changed a lot for us,” said Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County Executive Director Tiffany Scribner.
The BBBSIC is normally a program that matches Bigs and Littles—adult volunteers and youth in need of guidance, support, and companionship. On March 16, when COVID-19 lockdown procedures began, the organization had to quickly adapt. The office was closed and staff pivoted to remote meetings for several months.
While operating online, Bigs and Littles could only meet digitally or outdoors.
BBBSIC volunteers frequently operate on school campuses. Bigs would meet with their Littles for lunch, recess, or study sessions after school. Now that schools aren’t allowing outsiders, the “normal” way of operating is impossible.
But several matches have made this new, long-distance arrangement work. They replaced their in-person time with video games online, kayaking or hiking outside, or by other means. But it’s been more difficult for others.
“Everyone’s in a different situation right now,” Scribner said. Many littles don’t have access to computers and can’t meet with their bigs online. The BBBSIC office is open, however, and offers access to five laptops for matches who need them.
Scribner said now, more than ever, they need their Bigs.
“Kids are perceptive,” she said. “They feel and see what’s going on. They can’t help but be impacted because everything is different; their meetings with friends aren’t the same, their meetings with Bigs aren’t the same.”
Ana Sexton, the Big for Riley Roby, described how “during the initial restriction of movement order, Riley and I had to cease our in-person meetings. We only corresponded by voice calls, text messages and yes, even snail mail.”
Though times are stressful, Sexton has seen first-hand how Bigs can have a positive impact on Littles.
“I could tell after several weeks of being out of school, Riley was growing restless and impatient for [things to] return to normal. However, Riley is like most children, kind words and words of encouragement can go a long way to keeping them happy and bright.
“Eventually, we received approval from BBBS to resume match meetings as long as we adhered to social distancing measures and precautions,” Sexton continued. “For awhile, we had to be more creative with the closure of the local library, dining establishments and the base theater – like grabbing some take-out and enjoying it at the state park or going camping for some beach fun. Being flexible but consistent is the key.”
Roby said she and Sexton would stay in touch with hand-written letters, whereas before they would go out to the movies and eat together.
“Ana and I have been matched for two-and-a-half years and she is the best big sister I could’ve ever asked for,” she said.
While the BBBSIC wasn’t matching Bigs and Littles for several months because of meeting restrictions, the organization is now matching again. There are 10 volunteers currently being vetted while there are 45 Littles in need of Bigs.
The organization asks for a year of commitment from Bigs after they have passed their interviews and background check, which can both take time.
Bigs and Littles can sign up at bbbsislandcounty.org.
Scribner said the organization is here to help and defend the youth of Island County.
“We can’t do it without the support of the community, and that includes both the volunteerism that is happening and has happened in the community for many, many years, as well as the financial support,” she said. “Everything is different—everything is new—but we’re still here.”