Teigan and Sandra have been hanging out for about two and a half years now.
Paired together through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa’s (BBBSO) mentorship program, Teigan and Sandra prefer to spend their time going to movie theatres, building massive ice cream sundaes, attending local festivals, hanging out in parks and getting boba together.
Even though the pandemic has put a stop to all of their in-person activities, the two have continued to spend meaningful time with one another through virtual hangouts.
Over ice cream sundaes they made in their own homes, Teigan and Sandra shared how important their friendship has been, especially during the challenges of COVID-19.
Adapting to a new normal
As our communities continue to keep our distance to limit the spread of COVID-19, kids are in need of meaningful mentorship more than ever.
Even before the context of the pandemic, one in five youth in Ontario struggled with their mental health. Additionally, 65 per cent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 reported that their mental health had worsened since March 2020.
COVID-19 has created significant challenges in maintaining the mental wellbeing, safety, and connections youth rely on, whether they’re learning from home or attending school in-person. In the early days of the pandemic, United Way East Ontario saw the need to innovate and support youth so they wouldn’t fall behind.
When youth have problems or stresses at home, being connected to a trusted adult can be helpful for their wellbeing and their ability to cope with challenges. Backed by collaboration at the COVID-19 Community Response Table, United Way helped organizations like BBBSO adapt their programming to serve youth and their mentors in a virtual context.
A friend in a tough time
Sandra says that her favourite part about being a Big to Teigan is having a best friend she can share life with. And for Teigan, the feeling is mutual: “I know I can always count on her and she can always count on me,” says Teigan.
Sandra and Teigan’s hangouts used to be much more activity based, but now they are grounded in conversation and keeping lines of communication open. They send texts to each other throughout the week, they video chat, and keep each other up to date on their lives.
Especially during the added pressures of COVID-19, Sandra sees the value of being a mentor:
“Programs like these are great for people who have undergone various trials and tribulations and have made it out the other end. We can now look back and try to communicate the lessons we’ve picked up along the way, to let the younger generation know that it gets easier, and we’re here to help, support, and listen. It is so important to be active members of our community and to remember that we are not just living in these insular bubbles.” — Sandra
The importance of youth mentorship during COVID-19
The pandemic has made many challenges in our communities much worse. For youth in low-income neighbourhoods, for rural youth, for kids in unstable and violent homes, and for kids at risk of falling behind in school, COVID-19 has meant even greater challenges than before— and the threat of even worse outcomes.
When we don’t have in-person contact with kids, we risk not being able to identify the opportunities to intervene and help them when they need it. This is why programs like those offered at BBBSO are critical for youth, especially under current circumstances.
United Way East Ontario has been working hard to bolster frontline services as we continue to feel the effects of COVID-19. With the help of our community, we can ensure that more youth have access to trusted adults, who can help them advocate for the support they need and can foster a sense of belonging while we’re physically apart.