“We tried to do virtual open houses and to start background checks,” Ms. Content said, “but we stopped since we couldn’t bring anyone in for interviews or observe candidates interacting with young people,” which is an important process to monitor, she explained, when such a vulnerable demographic is involved. Almost 250 mentees are on a wait list.
Bigs & Littles NYC was able to adjust to the pandemic more easily. Last spring, leaders of the organization, which oversees about 200 matches while also incorporating the mentee’s entire family in the process, immediately raised and set aside funds so that every child (as well as his or her school-age siblings) had a phone, computer and working Wi-Fi to do online school and to meet virtually with mentors.
“The amount of pressure to make this work was overwhelming,” said Vidhya Kelly, the chief executive of Bigs & Littles. “Our families had nowhere to go. They didn’t have summer houses. They didn’t even have internet access or computers. These children had to deal with the pandemic isolation and loneliness, and then some had to deal with the death of a parent from Covid.”
Well over 4,000 children in New York State have lost a parent to the virus, and over half of those children are in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens, Ms. Kelly said. Ansh was the organization’s first child to lose a parent this way.
Over the last several months Mr. Stankowski has seen Ansh become less fearful and more eager to share his opinions and break out of his comfort zone.
“Last month I helped him make a poster for a virtual improv comedy club he wants to start at his school,” Mr. Stankowski said. “He has lots to say, he’s very smart. He’s nervous, but he’s aware he needs to overcome it.”
Perhaps because of its size, Big Brothers Big Sisters New York City, which is responsible for 2,500 matches yearly, also successfully responded to the pandemic by taking its programs online immediately.