Hartford nonprofit connects children with volunteer mentors virtually

Hartford

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– A Hartford-area nonprofit that connects children in need with volunteer mentors is adapting to virtual-times amid the pandemic. It’s a new approach to help kids that were dealing with trauma before the pandemic hit.

“He was super into virtual reality, so that was fun,” said Phil Getzen, Hartford.

When Phil Getzen relocated to Hartford, he wanted to give back to his community and signed up to be a mentor. Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters paired him with 6-year-old Leo. The pair started on adventures to the library and trampoline park.

“That’s kind of when everything started to shift and started transitioning into more of a virtual relationship,” said Getzen.

When Covid-19 hit, their relationship turned virtual.

“It was a learning experience for both of us. I think we’re both able to discover some new hobbies and shared interests,” said Getzen.

Connecticut’s largest volunteer mentoring network went to work to adapt to virtual times, putting together a kit to help “bigs” like Phil.

CEO and President Andy Fleischmann says many of the children they pair with “bigs” have already been through some form of trauma.

“Their fight or flight instincts are on high alert and they’re more likely to respond with anxiety and upset to anything new that happens,” said Fleischmann.

That’s where consistency with a mentor comes in to play. Instead of play dates, “bigs” and “littles” are exchanging calls, texts, and virtual chats once a week.

“To have this consistent connection maintained is really important both for myself and all of the “littles” out there,” said Getzen.

And once a month “bigs” and “littles” check in with support staff for an update on how it’s all going. Fleischmann says his team is still making new connections amid the pandemic. These days, they just start virtually.

“If you really care about kids and you feel like you have something to give, you don’t have to have any special training. You just have to be prepared to show a child in a consistent way that you care,” said Fleischmann.

The number of adults signing up to be mentors has dropped amid the pandemic. And like many nonprofits, Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters has had to cancel fundraising events due to social distancing orders.

If you are interested in helping in any way, click here.

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