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Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring goes virtual

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    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i has a flier for its new app for virtual mentorship.

LIHU‘E — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kaua‘i received a $40,000 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Grant from the county to implement a “Virtual Future” app to assist in helping to mentor kids of Kaua‘i.

Nicole Cowan, regional director of BBBS, said she is overjoyed by the news of the approval of the CARES Act grant proposal she sent in June.

“It’s an honor to be chosen, and to feel so much support from the community,” Cowan said.

“In response to the sudden, drastic needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we expanded our services to provide more and higher-quality support to the children and families we serve, as well as to the volunteer mentors who we support.”

According to Cowan, since Mid-March, their case managers have seen increased time with clients to support a variety of needs related to the pandemic crisis.

Managers have been called on for resources and referrals to address domestic violence, suicide prevention, abuse or neglect, as well as holding virtual activities for children to participate in, webinars and online support groups for families and volunteers.

Cowan said the federal funds will be used to maintain three current positions through December 2020 with the purpose of overseeing the app project among other things.

“As we see a greater need to keep youth connected while practicing social distancing, we are integrating technology into our mentoring approach through ‘The App’ created by our national organization, BBBS of America,” Cowan said.

“We originally (were) working with a team at Massachusetts University to incorporate their app, which featured youth-based curricula that targeted specific goals.

However, we became aware there would be an age requirement of 14 and older and had to pivot,” said Cowan.

Cowan said they had to switch their focus to “The App” made by their national organization, which allows any youth with access to the internet to participate.

Kaua‘i youth will be paired with a virtual mentor as they pilot the program with a trained mentor from ‘Iolani School on O‘ahu, after which they will then expand services.

With the support of a virtual Big Brother or Big Sister to promote engagement with “The App,” they can target specific goals, such as education, social-emotional growth, self-regulation and mindfulness, according to Cowan.

“The App’s” integrated text feature allows communication between youth and their mentors, which can to be monitored, recorded and view-able by BBBS staff, Cowan outlined.

“Mentors will meet virtually with BBBS staff monthly to get tips on how to engage with their Little Brother or Little Sister, and the match can connect as often as they’d like,” Cowan said. “’The App’ also provides resources to help Bigs feel more prepared as a mentor.”

Cowan said funds will go towards program coordination, to include quality assurance, enhancing of mentoring interactions, and the outcomes and impact of those interactions.

“Due to COVID-19, we were not able to hold our largest annual fundraiser, therefore we are currently in the middle of a COVID-19 campaign to raise funds with a goal to raised $300,000,” Cowan said.

“We are grateful to have received grant funding from the state of Hawai‘i, City &County (of Honolulu) as well as received an SBA Payroll Protection Plan loan.”

Cowan said they are currently working to enroll youth from Kapa‘a Elementary School and mentors from ‘Iolani School.

“We will further be contacting our other school partners at Koloa and Kekeha elementary to offer this virtual mentoring service as well,” Cowan said.

To measure the effectiveness of mentoring programs, BBBS affiliates use a test known as the Youth Outcome Survey. Children complete this survey upon enrollment and after each subsequent year in the program, to illustrate how mentoring has a positive impact on them, according to Cowan.

“Our goal for this project is to have 80% of children in our program show improvement in one or more of the assessments we use to measure social-emotional growth,” Cowan said. “We aim to increase the resilience of Kaua‘i youth, and offer support to more youth, families and community volunteers.

“In addition, we plan to work with other youth-serving organizations to provide programs to their clients that have higher needs for relationship support due to COVID-19,” said Cowan.

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Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or


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