Staying connected while being apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all residents of Connecticut, and that is especially difficult for children who live in single-parent and no-parent homes.
The social and emotional well-being mentoring that Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters facilitate has taken a hit in the past few months due to sheltering at-home recommendations. According to the organization, the waiting list for children seeking to be paired with adult mentors has grown since March.
That’s why the not-for-profit has launched the 50 For Fall mentor recruitment campaign. The goal is to recruit 50 mentors (or more).
“For many of our kids, just knowing there’s a person they can turn to who cares makes a huge difference,” said Andy Fleischmann, president & CEO of Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters. “A person who’s not judgmental, who’s willing to listen and give support can have a lasting impact on a child’s life.”
Fleischmann says there’s a specific need for Latinx male mentors. “In 2019, 43% of the children we served were Latino, compared to just 12% of our mentors,” he explains. “We want to close that gap.”
“There are currently about 156 children statewide on the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters waiting list,” notes Ryan Matthews, Director of Programs at Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Of those, 122 are boys. And of those 122 children, 59 are Latinx.”
“With so many people understandably focused on racial inequities and divides right now, Fleischmann says, “becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister is a good way to help bring our community together.
Multiple studies over the past 25 years have shown that mentoring relationships between a caring adult and a young person that lasts for one year or more have a positive impact on the child for a lifetime.
Little Brother Zamarion Melendez is one of the children benefitting from the program.
“I love the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters program!” says Carmen Melendez, Zamarion’s grandmother, and legal guardian. “Michael is such a great help to Zamarion, especially with math and taking him places. Zamarion never gets out, so he really needs Michael.” Michael Johnson is Zamarion’s Big Brother.
Mathews says the positive experience of the program doesn’t only benefit mentees. “They (mentors) are enlivened by seeing life through the eyes of a child, experience renewed ties to their communities, a more positive sense of self and greater feelings of personal growth, productivity, and meaningful impact on their part of the world,” says Mathews.
Mentoring volunteers who sign up during the 50 for Fall recruitment campaign could choose either the Community-Based Program or the Site-Based Program. Community-Based mentors meet for between 6 to 10 hours each month at locations they mutually agree upon (restaurants, parks, theatres, sporting events, concerts, etc.). Site-Based Mentors meet with their mentees for about an hour and a half each week at designated locations (usually schools or corporate facilities).
There are no educational requirements for Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring — new volunteers receive training before being matched with a child. Mentors need to be 21-years-old and ready to commit to regular communication with a child in need. COVID-19 has forced the youth mentoring program to pivot to a virtual model, but in-person get-togethers will resume when social distancing guidelines permit.
“We have lots of Latinx Little Brothers and Sisters who specifically ask if they can have a mentor who comes from the same background they do,” says Fleischmann. “And we want to do everything we can to honor those requests.”
To find out more on how to become a Big Brother, Big Sister – go to www.nbbbs.org.
Publisher’s Note: all pictures are prior to COVID-19 with the exception of cover – Big Brother Tom and Little Brother Khrys recently hiked at Bluff Point in Groton.