The last time big and little brothers and sisters gathered as a group was about a week before Ontario’s first pandemic state of emergency was declared.
It was March 7, 2020 at The Bowling Alley for the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake event. This was before public health orders, isolation, masks, remote learning, and other daily reminders of COVID-19.
For an organization founded on mentorship, hanging out and fun, shared experiences between “bigs” and “littles,” pandemic restrictions have been a challenge, said Mandi Lamb, mentor co-ordinator with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grey Bruce.
“It has been hard,” she said from experience, with a laugh. “Remote school is hard. I haven’t met a kid, I don’t think, that prefers remote school.”
But it’s also been encouraging. “Families are rallying around together and people are reaching out to talk to each other, trying to stay connected.”
When not required to stay at home by provincial order, as we all are supposed to do now, physically distanced, safe outdoor activities like biking and hiking were among the activities bigs and littles could do last summer.
The annual golf tournament also went ahead, following public health precautions. But then came the second wave last fall, and now the third. Lamb hopes the golf tournament will return in July.
The organization’s in-school mentorships have been on hold, as have monthly gatherings known as Big Bunches, for any bigs, littles and those on waiting lists who want to come out. Popular events included a day camp and a sports day.
So to help give big sisters and brothers something to do with their littles and maintain a shared sense of belonging, Lamb has been producing a newsletter with photos of past and current happenings, and with ideas for activities.
Bigs and littles have met on Zoom, Google Hangouts, played a board game online, and video games with a chat feature together, including the popular Roblox game, while each has been in their own home.
Some have set up the game to admit only people they know, for Internet safety, which Lamb has reminded everyone about.
“But I do think people are also getting tired of the virtual world,” she said.
She created craft challenges, to see who could make the longest paper chain and a baking contest in which photos of Christmas cookies were judged on looks by popular vote. Those were activities bigs and littles could do on their own, or while on the phone with each other, but without a video camera or computer involved.
A provincial lockdown closed bowling alleys this past April 1, then the stay-home order followed. Bowling in person was out so a virtual event took its place in April.
It culminated with a live, online broadcast Saturday. Prizes were handed out for top fundraisers, there were live draws, greetings from political representatives and musical entertainment.
About 45 people bowled online, using a video bowling app still available on the BBBS website. A couple of others set up makeshift games in their backyard.
The event raised $17,500 and counting. Donations are still accepted on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grey Bruce website.
Expenses didn’t stop during the pandemic but the community has helped protect the organization’s financial position, Lamb said.
“I am really just so grateful for Grey and Bruce counties and the people that live here and their belief in youth and their belief in mentoring,” she said by phone after the broadcast.