From the desk of Gabriella Tufo Strouse, Community Outreach Director
Experts tells us that maintaining “connection” is one of the most important factors for kids during this pandemic in order to maintain some semblance of social emotional health.
This is true for adults as well as youth. I am fortunate to enjoy professional and personal friendships with mentoring coordinators from around the state. During the pandemic, I’ve been participating in weekly calls with Mentor VT (where I also serve as a Board member) as well as the Chittenden County Mentoring Network. Sharing tips and resources with these colleagues outside of King Street Center has been extremely helpful during this time.
As we focus on the needs of kids, I wanted to share a message from Jessica DeMink-Carthew, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Middle Level Education Program Coordinator, University of Vermont Department of Education provided this advice in a recent webinar. “Keep your eye on big picture for your children. The primary goal should be that they come out the other side of this pandemic prepared to engage as a learner. They need to be healthy physically and social-emotionally, know that they are loved, and with a positive self-image. It’s important that they stay connected to people who care about them.” King Street Center is proud to “host” 66 mentoring matches who are an important part of keeping kids connected during this time.
As many of our readers know, mentors are volunteers who make a one-year minimum commitment to spend time each week with a child out in the community. They are paired with a student who is ready & able to sustain a healthy relationship with an adult and whose parents appreciate the benefits of the one-on-one attention a kid enjoys during these weekly outings. Typically, mentoring pairs might bake together, go on a bike ride, taste-test hot chocolates up and down the Church Street Marketplace, or hit the library to find the next title in their favorite fantasy series.
Today these “outings” look very different. To be honest, not every mentoring relationship is thriving as both kids and volunteers are distracted by the complexities of this pandemic. And, that’s ok, too! As I speak with other professionals in the field, this trend is state-wide. I take comfort in the fact that many mentoring relationships are long-term and the kids know that mentors are there for them when they are ready to re-connect. This is a demanding time, so I encourage mentors simply to reach out weekly to say “hi” in whatever capacity works – whether that be text, phone, email… any kind of contact helps. I feel like these tips from the Search Institute are a good guide.

“___ and I have been connecting by text. One thing we started doing was keeping a running list – as we think of them – of things we want to do when this whole thing is over and we can see each other again. It’s fun to come up with stuff and gives us things to look forward to.” 

“___ and I have been FaceTiming at least once a week – often for over an hour at a time! We text throughout the week with funny memes or videos she has found. I’ll send photos of what my niece is up to. She absolutely misses real life!”

“___ and I typically now meet daily for at least an hour via Google meets. We play Roblox together, or sometimes just talk or she plays with dolls. Last week I mailed her a new OMG doll that she had wanted (I hadn’t used any of our budgeted Big Buddy money this month). She called me when it arrived and asked if we could meet earlier than planned that day because she couldn’t wait to open it together! We logged on and she opened the package with her little sister. She was SO excited and happy it was such a nice thing to be able to share the moment together. After we all played (virtually) with the new doll and her other ones. It was my favorite moment of the week! The first few weeks were hard to get into any type of regular routine, but now that she has the chromebook for school she is ready for our meetings and is responsible about making it to them!”
“I’ve been focusing on smaller more frequent touchpoints. Reaching out every couple days over Snapchat with a quick check in. Sometimes these are a back and forth over a couple minutes and sometimes just something that ___ responds to later in the day. I’ve started taking the same approach with video chats and just doing them when I have 10 minutes to check in and see how things are going. We usually talk about what school is like for him now, how his family is doing, and what he is doing while at home. We’ve figured out how to play Uno through an app and have done that while video chatting as well and that has been enjoyable.”
“Having a relationship that has been established over the past 2 years or so has definitely made this remote mentoring easier for us. It is apparent that even as a 10th grader ___ appreciates that I’m reaching out and the outlet to talk with someone outside of his family about how things are going.”

“___ and I have been connecting by text. One thing we started doing was keeping a running list – as we think of them – of things we want to do when this whole thing is over and we can see each other again. It’s fun to come up with stuff and gives us things to look forward to.” 

“I have been sending cards and little things like stickers to ___ and ___ each week! We are Face Timing ___, in fact he just called us today which we are soooo happy about!”

“I did stop by ___’s this weekend with a bag of activities – coloring books, paper, etc. I did put a few of her favorite snacks in it – apples and pistachios.  We’ve also agreed to a weekly Facetime.”

“___ and I have been connecting via the video chat option on Instagram. We check in usually on Sundays at 2 pm for an hour or so. I also started an online “journal” for the two of us. It is really just a Google doc that I dressed up – I put several prompts on there that we could chose to write from but also encourage her to write about anything that is coming up for her.”

“I will usually just call ___’s mother once a week or so and ___ will come to the phone. Yesterday I went for a run from my apartment and stopped by the apartment to talk to him up through the window, which he seemed to like. I think going forward I’m going to try to do that to get a quick “facetime” moment with him from the yard. A few weeks ago I dropped off my old copies of Captain Underpants and Magic Treehouse.”

“I’ve been dropping off a sweet treat once a week with a card outside ___’s door and also tried the window “facetime” this past weekend which was really nice.”

“___and I have been connecting briefly every week when I drop off a small, wiped down treat for her on her back step and we chat from the parking lot to her window above. I’m trying to persuade her to begin a pen pal relationship via email, but am not having much luck.  Phone and texting have been difficult, too…”

“I have been able to talk to ___ a couple times recently and went over to his parents last week to drop off a package and ended up chatting with him and his dad from across the fence for a bit!”