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The Perfect Match 

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon continues mentorship program amidst pandemic

Think back to when you were a kid. Was there an influential adult in your life to whom you weren't related? How did they help you get to where you are today?

This thought process is precisely what's behind Big Brothers Big Sisters, says Program Director Sandy Cassio. Surprisingly, children who have parents who are involved and supportive might still need that external support, and as Cassio is quick to point out, sometimes parents can't give their children the support they need to reach their full potential.

Many relationships established through Big Brothers Big Sisters last a lifetime. - COURTESY OF BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OF AMERICA
  • Courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
  • Many relationships established through Big Brothers Big Sisters last a lifetime.

"Not everyone has parents with the capacity to be that voice that tells children they can be whatever they want to be," Cassio says. "So many kids have a negative outlook because they aren't hearing that, and it can have a huge impact on the rest of their life."

This is where Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon comes in. Families can apply for their child, often referred to as a "Little," to be partnered with a community volunteer mentor, or "Big," to start the ball rolling toward a match. Children go through a screening process to match them with someone who has similar interests/personalities. Then the mentor has a meeting with the parents, facilitated by the match specialist, to get to know more about their potential Little and to determine if it is a good fit. From there, they meet their new Little and start spending time together.

While BBBSCO tries to work with at-risk children, Cassio stresses that at-risk can mean a lot of different things, and children may not fit the stereotypical at-risk profile.

"BBBCSCO is for any child who could benefit from extra support, whether it's because of low self-esteem, because they are in foster care or because they've had trauma in their lives," Cassio explains. "We don't limit our support to just people who fit a typical high-risk profile."

Although the purpose of BBBS might be hard to quantify, the program gathers a significant amount of data on the local as well as national level to show the positive impacts of the program. Cassio said they are constantly going over data to keep track of how their matches are going, some of which they gather through regular check-ins with both Bigs and Littles or the parents of the Littles.

Not surprisingly, the data they've gathered over the past year has shown that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the lives of the people with whom they work. With limited in-person interactions, things have changed regarding how Bigs and Littles interact, but Cassio stresses how important the continued support of a mentor can be in a child's life, especially during a tumultuous time like a global pandemic.

"We've been doing more and more education to help mentors, parents and Littles understand what's possible," she says. "It's a process that's going to continue into 2021. We've talked about all the different ways to stay connected, from talking on the phone to going on a virtual museum tour."

Sharing interests helps Bigs and Littles get to know one another - COURTESY OF BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OF AMERICA
  • Courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
  • Sharing interests helps Bigs and Littles get to know one another

The pandemic has brought a lot of insecurity to families all over, and Central Oregon is no exception. One small silver lining for the five staff behind the scenes is that even though they see families experiencing a lot of hardships, because of the relationships already in place, it has been easier to help connect families in need to other local resources, from food to furniture to laptops that make online school possible.

Cassio wants people to know that although it may be harder to meet in-person right now, the need for Bigs and the availability for Littles has not diminished, so anyone looking to be a part of BBBSCO should not wait to reach out.

"I want people to know that when you support at-risk kids you support the community," Cassio says. "I moved here from the Seattle-Tacoma area and it felt like every man for himself here, in a sense. There is a need for people to pull together for the betterment of the community."

That need has only grown in the past year.

For 2021, BBBSCO has a goal of serving at least 200 children, and Cassio set a goal to reach more children in both Crook and Jefferson counties.

"We believe that you need to look at a young person and really see their full potential so they can become someone who can contribute to their community," Cassio says. "Our motto is 'defenders of potential', but you can't defend potential until you really believe in someone first."

If you are interested in becoming a big brother or sister, or if you know of a child who could benefit from being a little brother or sister, visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website to get more information. bbbsco.org

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