Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colchester adapts to a hybrid program to promote health and wellness during pandemic

Virtual programming via Zoom is used to connect and present experiences for bigs and littles.

Each year, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Colchester provides impactful mentorship for hundreds of children and youth in the Colchester and East Hants areas.

Through relationship building between a mentor (big) and a mentee (little), young people realize and reach their full potential – all while increasing their social and emotional competence, mental health and wellbeing, education and engagement and employment readiness in the process.  

When the pandemic broke out in Nova Scotia and public health restrictions went in place, BBBS knew they needed to adapt to continue to provide vital mentoring opportunities to littles who could not meet face-to-face with their bigs.

Virtual programming began to connect and present experiences for bigs and littles. 

Most recently, as public health restrictions begin to loosen, a hybrid program – known as the Big Fun Summer Project – has given bigs and littles a chance to meet virtually and in-person throughout the summer.

“We have learned how detrimental social isolation can be,” said Nick Sharpe, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colchester. “One benefit we’ve always had at BBBS is that we do not rely on brick and mortar ways of doing things to support our young people and communities. This program gives us the flexibility and creativity to give meaningful experiences to our young people.”

There are six sessions that take place on Monday evenings and each session focuses on one of three areas: nutrition, creativity and mental health, and physical fitness.

For the sessions that are offered virtually, bigs and littles meet up at the bigs’ house and tune into the Zoom platform together.

The first virtual session was focused on nutrition and how to prepare healthy after school snacks. Packages of ingredients were given to each big and little match. They were led through the preparation on Zoom and everyone enjoyed the food together. 

The second session focused on creativity and mental health. Sam Madore, a local children’s author from Truro led the session virtually and discussed the process she takes in writing her stories. Madore’s stories have strong mental health themes, and always include her dog – who made a guest appearance on Zoom. Afterwards, littles wrote their own stories with their bigs.

The third session was in-person and led by a local fitness instructor to show the importance of physical activity.

There will be three more sessions offered on nutrition, creativity and mental health, and physical fitness.

“You can’t compare virtual programming with face-to-face in person interaction as far as the benefits and the social skills that build with that,” said Sallie Murphy, manager of community mentoring at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colchester. “What we like about this project is the mix of virtual and in-person programming.”

There is great opportunity with a hybrid service model. “We are comfortable that you can meet the needs of the littles with a hybrid model,” said Murphy. “There is still a connection and developmental relationship.”

“We are all about depth of impact at BBBS,” said Sharpe. “We want to know for sure that our young people are getting the most impactful and positive experience.”

In 2020, this program received funding through the East Hants, North Shore Area, South Colchester, Truro and Area and Along the Shore Community Health Board (CHB) Wellness Funds.

Each year, Nova Scotia Health designates funds for each CHB in the province to distribute as Wellness Funds.

This Wellness Fund is for non-profit groups working to improve health in their communities and must address the health priorities identified by CHBs in their current community health plans.