Rolling with the Punches
"I feel like we've seen a different side of people and of our participants that's a little bit more personal and individualized because each person is joining our program from home."
I remember hearing about COVID and for me it kind of felt like a wave that was coming. I have a lot of contacts overseas, so just hearing about the COVID experience there, and then knowing that eventually it would come stateside, I just had this sense of, “Oh no, what's going to happen?” Very unsure, uncertain about what that would look like for us and for our agency. So I remember when COVID first hit, it was just very disappointing because we did have to shut down our program pretty much overnight. It seemed like one day we were in the schools, running our program in person, life as usual. And then the next day I had to send out an email to all of our participants and liaisons and let them know that we had to stop the program very abruptly. And so that felt disappointing. It felt...sad. There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of the unknown for how we would kind of cope with this situation.
For our program, we match high school students. They are the “Bigs” and our “Littles” are elementary school students at Rama Road Elementary School. The matches meet on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis in person, according to their partnership. Usually the high school Bigs come over to Rama Road to meet with their Littles one-on-one in person for about 40-45 minutes. So since the schools shut down, that meant that the Bigs could no longer come on site to visit with their Littles and their in-person relationship just came to a halt very abruptly. We did our best to keep those matches together. The matches that were able to stay in touch via phone calls kept in contact for about a month or two after COVID hit. And then after that, our program went on summer break. So the matches didn’t have contact over the summer because we are a site-based program, but we were able to pivot to a completely virtual program for this school year.
I feel like we've seen a different side of people and of our participants that's a little bit more personal and individualized because each person is joining our program from home. So that allowed for a lot of show and tell and personal interactions that were a lot more detailed and individualized to the kids. So through the Zoom program, they were able to show their pets, for example, like introducing their Bigs to their dogs or their cats or whatever pets they had. They were able to show their favorite toys. We got glimpses into each other's lives and personalities that we would not have had otherwise.
I think in general, the community was curious about how we would continue to keep our matches connected throughout the pandemic. But surprisingly, we were able to just continue our mission, continue our vision, continue supporting our matches and even creating new matches. We are really thankful and grateful to all of our staff team, our partners, and everyone who was able to help us and support us along the way.
I'm looking forward to just resuming our program, whether that will be virtually or in person. I always look forward to getting a new batch of kids every school year. So that's something that's very exciting getting to know our new Bigs and Littles. Something that concerns me a little bit is just, again, fear of the unknown, because at this point today, we are not sure what exactly our program will look like going into next school year. But I would say I'm just ready to dig in. I'm ready to pivot. I'm ready to roll with the punches with whatever next school year looks like.
I've learned that I'm more creative than I gave myself credit for. I think the pandemic definitely forced me to be creative and to think outside the box and to come up with creative solutions for issues that we've never ever faced before. So, yeah, I recognize my creativity that was deep down inside that I didn't know I had.
- Jazzmin Rivers