Big Brother Big Sisters of Lacombe and District (BBBS) has had to significantly change their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BBBS received a national directive early on to put their in-school matches on hold. This was followed by all of their community matches moving to being completely digital.
Crystal Zens, BBBS executive director, said their in-school matches ended abruptly and they are now sending emails and lettings to say goodbye. With community matches, BBBS staff have been doing wellness and welfare checks due to the significant impact the pandemic can have on their families.
”This is quite an impact on the kids, so we are seeing if they need resources,” she said. “Homeschooling and support will be a challenge for some families that don’t have wifi, so we are working with different resources we can access to help those clients out.”
Zens said the feedback they have received shows their programming is needed more than ever and they are trying to adapt their approach to ensure they can continue delivering to the community.
“We are on week two and it has been great to see our matches connecting digitally. Some of our matches are 10 years into matching, so they are strongly connected already but even with our newer matches — it is great to see them Skyping, Facetiming and playing games online,” she said.
Zens said the success of their digital approach has given their staff some peace of mind, but they continue to seek out resources to help families.
“There is a program through Shaw where our families can access minimum Internet for no cost right now. We are trying to share any resources that our other Big Brothers Big Sisters bodies are finding,” she said. “If they need food support, we are also getting those referrals in for them.”
COVID-19 however has dug a $65,000 hole in BBBS’s $200,000 annual budget due to the loss of stable revenue elements such as their casino night.
“If we can keep kids at the forefront of our mission, we will come okay. We will have to strip everything down to our two major programs that will make the biggest impact. Those are our community mentoring and our in-school mentoring. Keeping those priorities in place will help us make the proper choices for our agency,” she said.
Zens said they were forced to lay-off one staff member and also cut back on hours in order to “make dollars go further to make sure we come out of this.”
Zens said that while they are still accepting support from the community, they understand the business community has also taken a huge hit due to the pandemic.
“Our business community is an extension of our family. We are trying to be very sensitive to what they are going through and we are all in it together. When we are back open for business, hopefully we can support each other and get back to some normalcy,” she said.
Zens said they were fortunate enough to finish of their eight Bowl 4 Kids events before the pandemic, which gave them a $35,000 to rely on for the next while.
“Our Board of Directors is working cognizant and cohesively together to do the best for our core programs. We had to cancel Kids and Cops this year and that is one of most popular programs. We are making hard decisions that are going to be safe and healthy for the community,” she said.
Zens said she is thankful for the community of Lacombe and Blackfalds.
“Our community sticks together pretty closely. We are lucky that way and we really appreciate all the businesses, donors and sponsors that hold us up all the time. We really want everyone to know we are sensitive to what everyone is going through and we will be here in the end together to rebuild,” she said.