Francisco and Eric were matched by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound in October 2019, but by March 2020 all of their communication had gone digital. They set up a regular weekly appointment to talk and play games online, joking and talking their way through UNO just like they’d done in person.
Little Brother Francisco says he’s really made a difference for Eric this year — he “kept him sane” and “taught his Big Brother not to take life so seriously all the time.”
The mentorship program came to the Enumclaw Plateau region for the first time in the fall of 2019, a partnership between Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, Enumclaw School District and White River School District. It was a challenging year to pilot the program, but also more essential than ever before.
“Anxiety and depression are growing problems for our middle and high school students. King County data shows an increase in anxiety and toxic stress in youth, stemming directly from the healthcare crisis,” says Greta Huntley with the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation. “Connectedness is a key protective factor against anxiety and depression, and making connections is important to maintaining well-being. It is now more important than ever for mentor programs to connect youth with supportive, caring adults.”
Local matches, virtual meet-ups
In their first year, the program has supported 13 local active and in-process matches in the Enumclaw Plateau, and they hope to double that number in their second year. Anyone can refer a student — students can even refer themselves — and more mentors are needed.
“I didn’t succeed in high school. In fact, I dropped out and got my GED instead. Fast forward — as a PhD student in engineering, I felt like I had a lot to share about my unique experiences. Becoming a mentor seemed like a great way to hopefully make the path of another a little easier,” wrote one volunteer mentor on the BBBS Puget Sound Facebook page.
Mentors receive training, resources and ongoing guidance from Big Brothers Big Sisters, including brand new online programming (the monthly virtual match parties are now a hot ticket for both Bigs and Littles). The volunteer commitment is four hours a month for 12 months, and mentors coordinate directly with their mentee and their family to create a schedule and plan activities.
Camber and Ashley spent their first virtual match meetings playing Disney’s Princess Dress-Up online, and continue to meet virtually twice a month. In November they made turkeys out of construction paper, which Camber’s family used as the Thanksgiving centerpiece!
Community members interested in volunteering can start the process at inspirebig.org/volunteer, and parents/guardians and school staff (with guardian consent), can start the student enrollment process at inspirebig.org/enroll-a-child.
Questions about the Enumclaw Plateau program? Contact Greta Huntley, Integrated Student Support Program Coordinator at Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.