FREEHOLD, NJ – When the COVID-19 pandemic struck New Jersey, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Coastal & Northern NJ (BBBSCNNJ) suddenly had to plan for ways to provide services to families and kids in an increasingly virtual world. BBBSCNNJ Program Manager Brendan Ward acted by tapping into the Monmouth ACTS network.
BBBSCNNJ provides a community-based program that features 1:1 mentoring for youth ages 6-15, as well as workplace, college and school-based mentoring programs for students up to age 18. Kids are matched with members of the community, or mentors, who provide them with the tools they need to reach their full potential. The program prides itself on being hands-on and developing impactful relationships through social interaction.
When the pandemic hit, Big Brothers Big Sisters had to shift their programming to meet the new standard of limited social contact. “Typically, we have a long waiting list of children and a short list of mentors,” says Ward. “But during COVID, we experienced just the opposite.”
To accomplish this, Ward reached out to Monmouth ACTS’ Positive Youth Development Hub, whose COVID-19 response priority is to “increase opportunities for community connection and socialization among youth.”
“After the COVID lockdown struck, we’ve seen an uptick in mentors, especially females,” continues Ward. “We have six women from the Asbury Park and Neptune area who are ready to be matched, and knew that kids in the community needed mentorship now more than ever.”
Historically, BBBS relies heavily on schools to send referrals for children. In the wake of COVID and the strain on schools, referrals decreased and so Ward reached out to community connections. Through the Monmouth ACTS Advisory Council (MAAC) and connections from the Positive Youth Development Hub, Ward was connected with local non-profit Monmouth Cares and received seven referrals for children within just two months.
“The connection we made with MAAC has helped us to stay informed and connected to families who may be struggling and need additional support,” says Ward.
Ward attributes the increase in mentors to the at-home lifestyle of COVID. “People are looking at the world around them and seeing the challenges people are facing. It empowers them to do something to help and make a change.”
“The partnerships developed through Monmouth ACTS position us to better respond to needs,” says Desiree Whyte, Director, Monmouth County Division of Behavioral Health. “This collaboration is a prime example of how community partnership benefits our residents. The creativity and dedication displayed by Big Brothers Big Sisters and other agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic has been amazing.”
The success is also due in part to the program’s careful and creative shift to virtual events. In a typical year, Big Brothers Big Sisters hosts events like cooking classes, pool parties and hands-on activities. Now, program members participate in web-based activities, such as virtual movie nights, gaming sessions and Zoom meetups, as well as presentations from special guest speakers.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters is a prime example of what Monmouth ACTS can do – help essential organizations in the area connect to a network of resources, and not only continue to operate as normal, but flourish in the face of challenges,” says Freeholder Deputy Director Susan M. Kiley.
“As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are far-reaching, it’s critical for local government and organizations to work together to uncover and address challenges faced by Monmouth County residents,” says Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone. “This partnership is a great example of just that.”
For more information on Monmouth ACTS, visit http://monmouthacts.org/.
PHOTOS: Mentors and mentees connected though Big Brothers Big Sisters of Coastal & Northern NJ (BBBSCNNJ).
About Monmouth ACTS: Monmouth ACTS (Assisting Community Through Services) was launched by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2019 to carry out recommendations of a Human Services Needs Assessment. This innovative public-private partnership brings together County employees from the Department of Human Services and community partners on the Monmouth ACTS Advisory Council (MAAC) to enhance access to services for County residents. For more information, visit www.monmouthACTS.org.
About BBBSCNNJ: Since 1976, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Coastal & Northern New Jersey has been making a positive difference in the lives of at-risk children through professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships with adult volunteers. There are currently over 100 kids waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister of their own and most are boys hoping to be matched with an adult male role model. BBBSCNNJ and our volunteer Bigs empower children to achieve their highest potential as they grow to become confident, competent, and caring individuals. For more information on becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister or to make a donation, visit: www.mentornj.org