Staying connected during COVID-19 pandemic: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas needs volunteers

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, Karen Vilches met 13-year-old Syriana Chacon last July. Since then, the pair have spent time together sharing birthday celebrations, volunteering, hiking and going on walks.

“That’s my favorite part because we get to talk more and have more time together,” Chacon said.

It’s part of the nonprofit’s program to match children with adults who serve as mentors, advocates, resources and guides. At present, there are more than 450 children across Travis, Williamson and Hays counties waiting to be matched with “Bigs” like Vilches. About 85% of those waiting to be matched are young African American and Latino boys.

“We talk about how COVID-19 affects everyone, but it’s not the same,” Joe Strychalski, the nonprofit’s vice president of programs said. “Our families are disproportionately impacted by this.”

For Chacon and Vilches, the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily put a pause on their moments together. Luckily, the pair can stay connected online.

We’ve been so lucky to be able to text and have Zoom calls, so having technology in place has been helpful,” Vilches explained.

Those at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas said the connection between mentors and mentees is even more important now.

“It’s frustrating,” Chacon said. “It’s different because I’ve never been through anything like this.”

Since the pandemic surged in mid-March, the program’s volunteer inquiries have taken a hit experiencing a 75% drop. In hopes of bridging the gap, the nonprofit moved the volunteer process online.

“We tell our volunteers, you don’t have to be a superhero,” Strychalski explained. He said during this time, a virtual chat can make all the difference.

“Not only are you being intentional about connecting with someone that you can make an impact for but they can also make an impact on you and that’s what we need right now is connection,” Vilches said.

The nonprofit requires volunteers to commit to the program for at least one year. At present, they’re not recommending in-person meetups and are sticking to online hangouts.

Free online sessions are being hosted each week for those interested in learning more information about the program.

Just like many other nonprofits, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas have had a hard time raising money, and at present are working to raise $50,000.

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