When the pandemic led to restrictions on in-person activities in 2020, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peterborough faced a problem.

The organization pairs young people with adult mentors in a safe and non-judgmental environment. It’s a model that has always depended on personal, face-to-face connections. The kinds of connections that suddenly stopped during the first wave.

The organization knew that the young people they served still needed those personal connections. Someone to share their dreams and fears with, to be a friend, to offer guidance, a dependable adult that they can trust.

So they shifted their programs online to keep young people and their mentors connected. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works to create the kind of consistency that youth and their mentors need.

Except it wasn’t easy to make the switch to virtual. Big Brothers Big Sisters found that they didn’t have office space or the IT infrastructure to meet the demand for virtual programs.

“We needed to create a space with work stations for volunteers to run our small group programs and virtual field trips,” explains Mark Shuwera, Executive Director at Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Stations that could also be used by children who need access to tech to connect virtually with a mentor.”

Like many local charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters doesn’t get operational funding from the government. Because funds are always tight, organizations delay investments in technology to focus on funding for staff and programming. When the COVID-19 crisis struck, many charities found themselves at risk from under-investing in IT and overhead.

A grant from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund helped Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peterborough buy laptops and tablets so young people and their mentors could stay connected.

Shuwera says that funding for tech was instrumental in keeping programs running during the pandemic. Still, he admits the organization ended 2020 with a deficit.

“My concern going forward is, what will happen over the next year or two? We need to remain viable and stable as we plan for a new way of doing things over the next couple of years. Securing funding as COVID continues is going to be our biggest challenge.”

The COVID-19 Community Response Fund is here to support and sustain local charities through the pandemic.

In 2020, our community came together to provide support to charities through the Community Response Fund. In collaboration with individual community builders, partners and government, the Community Foundation was able to provide $1.5 million of emergency grants to local charities in 2020.

As we pass the one-year mark of the pandemic, we know that local charities are stretched thin. The Community Response Fund will provide another round of grants in May, and we’re looking to the community to help re-fill the pot. Whether you give $10 or $10,000, we know that we can make a bigger difference by giving together.


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