Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton and Hamilton forced to ‘pivot’ amid pandemic

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Published December 3, 2020 at 8:35 am

The struggles faced by Canada’s business sector have been well documented throughout the pandemic. But what’s been somewhat lost is the effect that COVID has had on the not-for-profit and charitable sectors.

Sectors that are especially important during the winter months and holiday season.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, specifically, relies on two main components: fundraising and peer-to-peer relationships.

Fundraising can be difficult enough for any charity, but the pandemic has forced the cancelling of events and prevents Big Brothers Big Sisters from being active in the community. Meanwhile, the peer-to-peer mentorship program that matches an adult with a child or youth is most effective when in-person relationships are cultivated. Of course, COVID-19 has made it so many “littles” have gone several months without seeing their “bigs”.

“Like everyone else during this pandemic, we’ve had to pivot,” said Natalie Michlewicz, channelling her inner Ross Geller.

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As Manager of Communications at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton and Hamilton, Natalie says they’ve had to get creative and rethink the way services are delivered.

“Our mentorship program has mostly moved to a virtual setting. Some of our long-time matches have actually entered each other’s social bubbles so they have been getting together in-person, but even that’s not quite the same because a big part of the mentorship program is about going outdoors and doing activities.”

One positive that’s come from the virtual mentorship program is available regardless of geography.

“We had kids who spent several months on a waiting list because we didn’t have enough mentors,” said Natalie. “But now that we’re virtual, mentors who live hours away can log-on and hang out with one of our young members.”

In fact, the virtual mentorship program could become a permanent fixture, even after the pandemic ends and it’s safer to go outside.

Taking advantage of technology, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton and Hamilton (BBBSHH) also hosts virtual live cooking and baking demonstrations where “littles” follow along at home while watching accomplished local chefs and bakers.

As for fundraising, Natalie says they’ve had to dig deep.

“People assume that because we’re a well-known and established charity, we have an influx of government funding to fall back on. That is absolutely not the case.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton and Hamilton relies heavily on public and private generosity.

The organization has again partnered with IKEA Burlington as the beneficiary for the store’s ‘Tree Lot’. A portion of the proceeds from each tree sold, and full proceeds from tree bag sales will be donated back to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Last year, over $20,000 was raised to support BBBSHH mentoring programs. Those interested in volunteering can send an email to Tracey OConnor.

You can also cross off some items from your holiday shopping list with the BBBSHH 17th Annual Shop for Kids’ Sake Online Auction.

Proceeds will help support the PAL “virtual mentoring” Program, “which helps to ensure that the immediate social and mental health needs of vulnerable young people in our communities continue to be addressed during the pandemic and beyond,” according to the organization.

Bidding is active from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 at 9 p.m.

You can bid here: https://www.32auctions.com/ShopForKidsSake2020

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