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Spotlight: Help in traumatic times

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Submitted Photo Big Brothers Big Sisters of southeastern New Mexico continues helping children and their families during the COVID-19 crisis.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico continues supporting their ‘Littles’

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The children, called Littles, under the care of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern New Mexico (BBBSSENM) program are already in dire need at the best of times. According to the data of BBBSSENM, these children often come from homes with single low-income parents; some are raised by their grandparents or even great-grandparents for various — and always tragic — reasons.

These children and their caregivers were hit especially hard when the stay-at-home order was put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In the U.S., 39.3% of these low-income families work in hospitality as waiters, bussing or as part-time workers and have applied for unemployment, second to those who worked in service industry with 23% and wholesale and retail trade with 17.1% as of May 11, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions reported that as of March 20, there were 1,605 persons listed as unemployed, 269 more than in February. Behind each of these numbers is a person, a family and often children.

Bill Wolf, BBBSSENM chief executive officer and Amanda Ware, BBBSSENM program manager said during a conference call that their support teams have been working hard to support families who are or have applied to be in its program.

For those who are unfamiliar with BBBS, the nonprofit organization has been in Roswell for more than 20 years. They bring together adult mentors and role models, the “Bigs,” with children, the “Littles,” who have nobody to talk to, share their dreams or confide in. The success rate of the organization shows that children who have such a role model are more likely to succeed as an adult and are more stable, and are able to achieve higher education and a better job. The organization supports the volunteers from the community and the families and children. In this pandemic, they are facing even greater hurdles — besides having to postpone their main annual fundraiser Bowl for Kids’ Sake.

“Right now — since everything is locked down — we are not allowed to meet in person,” Ware said. “We switched our platform to online match support. Match support is once a month when our girls are calling the active matches and the people on our waiting list to check in with them, meaning, they are contacting everybody, both on the active list and on our waiting list. Everybody who signed up so far, we’re contacting once a month to make sure that they have the support they need and just do check-ins, especially with our Littles and their parents, to make sure that everything is going alright in their household.”

Asked what this support entails, Ware said, “We made a lot of resources available that our support staff can share with families, with Bigs and Littles, like online resources where they can get ahold of homework help; where they can get food assistance; sometimes where they can do virtual tours like at museums. Our match support specialists are sharing those resources with our Bigs and Littles. A lot of them are doing virtual things, like they’ll walk through a zoo together or they’ll walk through a museum together and that counts as a match meeting. Our staff is supporting them through that. Mostly just checking in to make sure that the families, both our active matches and on our waiting list, have as much support as they can, while everybody is sheltering at home.”

Not every family has access to the technology that so many take for granted, but BBBSSENM is working on this problem. “Right now, a lot of our Littles — depending on what area they are in — they simply don’t have that access, so our staff is getting resources out to the Bigs so that they can make phone calls to the Littles and play games like ‘I Spy’ or matching games over the phone,” Ware said. “Internet access is kind of spotty out here; a lot of the families just don’t have access to that, so we are trying to beat it in two ways. One, with internet access; two, telephone access. Then places like in Artesia, I know that the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, they are putting out luminaria kits for parents to come pick them up at the building, and then they have an activity to do when they get home with their children. All the supplies were included in that. Our staff is making sure to keep up with community resources like that, that have physical aspects to it. That way they’re aware what’s happening and where it is going to be so the children can have as much resources at home as possible. Our staff is keeping on top of all of it every month. They are making sure to inform them what is out there to support the children while they are sheltering at home.”

A growing concern with children being isolated has been how their mental health will be affected. “Statistics show when people are sheltering at home or isolated within families, instances of abuse arise or mental health disturbances,” Ware said. “BBBS is a national platform, they have a lot of additional staff training. My staff has taken a lot of training over the last two months on trauma-informed care; how to work with families who are in mental crisis and need support systems that they can help them build. With BBBS, all our program staff are actually degreed social workers or have a bachelor’s degree in some kind of social work or social field — it’s licensed or degreed persons reaching out to these families. BBBS at the national office keeps putting out a lot of information: Both training, resources that we can use on a national and local level to help our staff support the families at home; to make sure that they have the tools and resources that they need to support our families that are out in the community.”

Asked about the Bowl for Kids’ Sake being postponed, while in other cities, events go virtual, Wolf said. “We looked into virtual, it works for some cities, but I think the people that bowl with us, the only reason they do it is to get out and bowl and have a beer and have some fun,” he said. “Financially, we always need more donations; we got some people who did donate for Bowl for Kids’ Sake before it was canceled, but they are all saying, ‘Keep it and we’ll take it up when you guys can do it.’

“It’s tough, not only do we have it (the area) closed down, but also the oil fields are just falling apart and some of those companies were donors for Bowl for Kids’ Sake, and we have offices in Artesia and they are big supporters of them, too. It is rough; we get some contractual work from the state and I know it is going to be cut, the amount of dollars that we can expect to receive from them. We are just like all the other nonprofits out there, we rely entirely for our funding on our donors. We don’t charge the kids or the families for our services — the only way we can keep our programs going is through financial donations and special events. We’re trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to lay anybody off yet, everybody’s been performing from home, and we are just doing our best to watch out for the kids we have. The kids we have, most of them are already in a bad situation and then you throw all this stuff on top of them, no school; they are without friends; they are socially isolated, some of them have one parent and that parent is laid off, it’s a big crisis in the home,” Wolf said.

Ware said that when the support staff calls the families of the Littles, more often than not, the adults need moral support. “They are just talking to the parents for 30 minutes, trying to make it a little better to them, and it trickles down to the children.”

Wolf said that he is getting, at the moment, a lot of calls because of the organization’s green bins been pulled. He said the reason is that they have no way to sell donated items. As soon as possible, the 15 bins will be returned.

Asked what the public can do to help, Wolf chuckled and said, “We need Bigs and bucks.”

“Even with everything shut down, we can still take and process volunteers and even Littles. We can do our volunteers online. We just have to wait to make a match until everything is opened up. They get to meet and have their outing, and that has to be under supervision of our program staff, the first time it happens. We will gladly process any volunteer who is willing,” Ware said.

For more information, visit bbbssenm.org or email info@bbbssenm.org.

 

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