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Quality matches strengthen BBBS programme

Local News 09 Feb, 2022 Follow News

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By Lindsey Turnbull


The pandemic has impacted the lives of everyone in the Cayman Islands, and children have been especially vulnerable to the anxieties and mental strains caused by lockdowns, quarantines, and keeping safe. While always playing a vital role in the community, entities such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cayman Islands (BBBS), which place a focus on the positive development of Cayman’s youngsters, have therefore never had a more crucial role to play.

BBBS is a non-profit mentoring organisation that relies solely on donations to operate, and which matches trained volunteers with young people. The mentor is referred to as the ‘Big’ and the mentee the ‘Little’. Bigs commit to mentor their young person for a year but often the relationship lasts a lot longer. Children from the age of six to 16 can be mentored, although a big focus of the organisation is the 8 to 14 age group.

In March 2021, Angela Martins took on the role of Executive Director and is responsible for the management of the match of the young person with their ‘Big’ (Brother or Sister) and Erin Kaufman became the Programmes Manager, overseeing the onboarding process, where matching takes place.

Upon joining BBBS, the pair undertook a review of best practices, reaching out to international BBBS organisations and this has helped them to create best practices that have been modified to ensure they have Cayman context.

A big focus has been to ensure longevity of the relationships.

“It’s not just about making matches, it’s about the sustainability of the matches,” Ms Martins advised. “The international standard is a check in [with the pair] every month for the first year and then every three months after that. I’m excited and proud that Erin and I closed out 2021 with matches in a good place right now, with around 40 matches currently in place.”

“What I have come to acknowledge is quality over quantity,” Ms Kaufman advised. “When we both came in, we said we were going to make all these matches, yet the deeper we got into the work, we started to realise the better contribution we could make was to work on restructuring the organisation, rewrite policies and focus on getting matches of quality and ones that will be sustainable.”

Ms Kaufman said she was particularly proud of the fact that their matches had all started off a on a good foot.

“To create sustainable matches and to allow them to journey together is definitely the goal,” she said.

“If you talk to some of our Bigs they don’t see the relationship ending just because the Little gets to 18. They see them as their person,” Ms Martin said. “The formal year out of BBBS is 18 and we no longer have any governance around that relationship, but invariably the Bigs are still in touch and helping their Littles to stay on track.”

Parental support of the relationship was crucial to its success.

“The lynchpin for the match is the support the parents give to the match,” Ms Martins advised.

Boys come easily into the programme, Ms Martins said, because boys tended to be louder in their need for assistance; however, BBBS is eagerly inviting referrals and applications for girls to mentor because, although they tended to not show their need as vociferously as boys, there are many ways that they too can benefit.

“We do have several trained female volunteers sitting waiting to be matched with girls. Before, our call out was for male volunteers to be Bigs to boys but, while that will always be the case, right now the call is for female Littles to match with women,” Ms Kaufman advised.

The pandemic has definitely made its mark on the programme and had affected all their children, Ms Martins said. The mental health impacts on Littles included children feeling the need to incessantly wash their hands and shower all the time, Littles uncomfortable going out with their Bigs believing the outside was not a safe place to be. And while there was fear in the child, there was also fear in the parents who were hesitant about letting their child out, she said. There was also the impacts of online learning and separation from their peers and lack of direct contact with the teacher, while some parents didn’t have internet contact.

Ms Kaufman said that relationships between Bigs and Littles were certainly challenged during the pandemic. Relationships which were further along their journey had been easier to maintain, although where there was a lot of fear in families, the relationship had still been strained. As a result, BBBS had to work hard to maintain connections with their Bigs and Littles, and managed to do so in creative ways, achieving notable outcomes in 2021 and in 2022 so far.

Read more about these and other work of BBBS next week in the Caymanian Times.

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