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Hello Idaho: Big Brothers Big Sisters keeps positive connections for kids, volunteers, during pandemic

"Our bigs were going through their own struggles but this stayed a priority for them because they understand how important it it was."

BOISE, Idaho — Social isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a harsh toll on mental health - for both adults and children.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho is doing its part to help both children and volunteers feel a connection that has been lacking in the era of quarantines and social distancing.

Emily Johnson, CEO of BBBS of Southwest Idaho, says all of their "bigs" and "littles" are local.

"The purpose of what we do is really very simple," Johnson said. "We match kids with adult mentors and then we let the beauty of that connection and that relationship change lives and I believe that's absolutely what it does."

Kids are usually between six and 15 years old, while mentors range from junior high students to senior citizens.

According to Johnson, they have volunteers who are in their 70s and 80s.

"We match on compatibility so if you're an outdoor, active kid we're going to match you with an active, outdoor big," she said. "If you like to play chess or read books or do makeup we're going to match you with a big that has similar interests."

Bigs and littles do all kinds of things together, Johnson said, from bowling, to caroling, to community service.

"We have a lot that do volunteer work that is a full circle," she added. "Teaching littles the importance of volunteering. It's a way for everyone to give back."

And during the pandemic, that connection is more important than ever.

"We have the most amazing volunteers and they all understood the value and wanted to stay a part of the little's lives," Johnson said. "Now more than ever, it was so important. So we put on our creativity hats and we started doing what worked - Facetime, Zoom, letters, notes on doorsteps, texting - our bigs were doing it to stay connected with our littles.

"The really incredible thing for me is our bigs were going through their own struggles but this stayed a priority for them because they understand how important it was," she added.

And although BBBS did pause for a short time, they are eager to accept more bigs and littles.

"Now I think people have kind of settled into the new norm, if you will, or maybe some of the negative side effects are surfacing so we know the need is high right now so we are virtually interviewing and training, enrolling families," Johnson said. "So we are taking families and volunteers and we have figured out how to do it safely during COVID.

"So if anyone is looking to connect or are looking to do something positive with everything going on in the world, this truly is an extremely impactful way to make a positive difference."

To volunteer or enroll in a child in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho, visit the group's website.

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