Finding ways to connect with children during the pandemic is important for Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, so imagine their excitement when AT&T decided to donate 100 smart phones to help with virtual mentoring.
“We’re extremely excited for our kids,” said Andy Fleischmann, president and CEO of Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It’s important to realize that a lot of kids have never had a smart device of their own. So knowing they will have one and are able to connect with their mentors during the pandemic is very exciting for them.”
When the pandemic first hit in March, the mentoring services organization launched a full virtual-mentoring platform that mentors and mentees have been taking advantage of. Through the platform, the mentors are able to connect with their mentees through virtual activities such as playing games, exploring tours, working on homework, or just to stay in touch.
“A lot of children are experiencing extreme social isolation by not being able to go to school and not seeing their mentors regularly,” Fleischmann said. “A lot of schools distributed Chromebooks but those are limited to schoolwork. By having their own phones, they can talk to their mentors or do activities with them. Being able to connect on a regular basis and seeing each other’s smiling faces, while virtually, can make a huge difference for both the children and their mentors.”
For Casey Roy, 36, a single mother of five children in New Britain, to have a smart phone her children could use will make a huge difference. Her son, Trey, 14, is matched to a Nutmeg big brother and to have a male presence in his life is important to his mother.
“We went through a hard time in 2016 when my mom passed away and I was getting out of an abusive relationship,” Roy said. “Trey was having a hard time and he was frustrated. Which is how we got involved with Nutmeg. For him to have a mentorship with his big brother really helped him through a lot of things.”
Roy has four school aged children and all of them share her phone’s hotspot to do their schoolwork with one Chromebook during distance learning, something that has been extremely challenging and basically impossible to continue.
“That’s four different grades working with four different teachers, you can imagine how crazy that is with one device,” she said. “I know this is so little in the grand scheme of things but to be able to have one more phone would change so much, especially because we can’t afford anything extra right now.”
Prior to the shutdown, Roy worked as a childcare provider. Now she is unemployed and said to have Nutmeg’s support gives her a lot of happiness and optimism.
“Everyone’s having a rough time so I’m just trying to stay positive,” she said. “I’m just really appreciative for Nutmeg and Trey’s big brother because since we don’t have much family around, they have become our family.”
With the new smart phones, which are all in the process of being delivered, comes with two months of free AT&T service. Families and their children will also be able to use them for distance learning during the remainder of the school year, and beyond.
“We are grateful to play a small part in the virtual mentoring efforts undertaken by Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said John Emra, president of AT&T Connecticut. “We hope these phones will enable children and mentors to remain connected an on track during this critical time.”
Fleischmann emphasized while they are still in lockdown, the organization is very much still hard at work in matching children with mentors and the waitlist for mentors remains long.
“Nothing has stopped because of the pandemic,” he said. “We’re still mentoring, still matching, and still looking for more volunteers. There are a lot of children who can really use the additional adult support and in some way, the needs are greater today than ever. So we really encourage volunteers to reach out, because the kids really need them.”
For more information, visit: www.nbbbs.org