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Connecting From Afar: How JCS Mentors are Staying on Track During the Pandemic

By Jen Rudo 

Everythingand yet nothinghas changed. In March 2020, when COVID forced both professional closures and personal distance, we had to act quickly. Every aspect of our Jewish Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) program – which has a 100-year history of connecting Jewish children and teens with adult role models – had to be re-imagined, because the need for instilling confidence and providing stability for “Littles” all over Baltimore remained.  

In fact, it was more important than ever. 

I began my journey as Match Coordinator for BBBS just moments before lockdown occurred. After hearing for years of dinner dates and game nights and sporting events and more, I was eager to engage in in-person meetups, getting to know on a very deep level the relationships that keep BBBS the model program it has been for a century. 

Instead, I was offered the great opportunity to devise a new way of connecting, a new way of bringing people together. Thankfully, the BBBS program is filled with dedicated, thoughtful, and creative mentors with whom I would conceive our new reality. Our number one priority? Developing a virtual mentoring program that would keep relationships strong, even during these challenging and dynamic times … while protecting the safety and well-being of our Bigs and Littles.  

So that’s what we did. We stayed up to date on school and extracurricular activities via email, we enjoyed chats through phone calls and text messages, we smiled through dinner and dessert dates on Zoom, and we made wish lists of what we will do together when it is safe to be in-person again.  

Of course, with the peaks, there have also been valleys for both our families and our mentors. On top of dealing with COVID-related situations, such as illness and isolation, job loss, remote learning, and other stressors, our “Big”” Little” relationships had to adjust to new methods of communication and the expected awkwardness of physically distant connection, while keeping things authentic.  

But, as a program built on positivity and flexibility, we as staff and mentors pushed forward to ensure that our Littles are supported and to guarantee that the BBBS program – which fosters life-changing bonds between “Bigs” and “Littles” – will make a difference for generations to come in our Baltimore community. 

We all look forward to resuming inperson activities, but until that is safely possible, we will continue to keep our “Littles” connected and engaged in every way possible so they never feel isolated or alone.  

For me, I am hopeful that within the next few months I will have the opportunity to meet our matches face-to-face, plan some fun group events, and grow the BBBS program – matching new Littles with mentors who will light a spark in their heart. 

For more information on the JCS Jewish Big Brother Big Sister program, contact Jen Rudo at jrudo@jcsbaltimore.org. 

 

Jen Rudo is a Teen Outreach Specialist at Jewish Community Services 

JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.  

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