Little PALs participating in the Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) PAL Program across the Atlanta area shared this sentiment as everyone continues to stay at home and exercise precautions during the pandemic. Their Big PALs know how important it is to support the Littles and help them through quarantine. Despite not being able to see their Little PALs in person, Big PALs continue to discover new ways they can keep in touch with Littles that have strengthened the connections they share.
Atlanta’s only Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister Program, the PAL Program at JF&CS, matches Little PALs ages 5 to 17 with Big PALs in a mentorship program. Little PALs have a variety of family situations—often raised by single parents, grandparents, legal guardians, or they may have siblings with developmental disabilities. This mentorship provides Littles with a role model and a friend.
Prior to Covid-19, Big and Little PALs would get together at least twice a month for some one-on-one time to do what the Little Pals found fun and interesting. However, due to the pandemic, PAL matches have not been able to see each other in person since March. In order to adapt to the situation, PALs now reach out to each other once a week through FaceTime, text, or Zoom. Some matches even play online games together!
Sarah Bernstein, PAL Program Manager was touched by how Big PALs stayed connected, despite their own personal troubles.
“Many of our Big PALs started reaching out early on during lockdown to see how their Littles were doing. We have so many matches that have been in the PAL program for years, they are like family by now,” she said.
A lack of social interaction with friends due to the pandemic has had a large impact on kids and teens, and Little PALs have felt the effects. Virtual school has also caused increased stress for many families. Many Big Pals now choose to contact their Little PALs every week.
“It’s so nice to hear the stories about how important it has been for both Big and Little PALs to support each other during this time. We have found that a short 10–15-minute phone call can go a long way,” said Bernstein.
One Big PAL found a creative way to still do activities with her Little PAL of 5 years.
“This time has been very challenging for many people and learning how to adapt took some time. Once we understood how to get creative, we set up FaceTime calls, and I sent packages to her house. Together, we have made jewelry, painted signs, and decorated cookies. We also exchanged photos of the different crafts we do in our own time to stay in touch,” she said.
While there is no doubt that Big PALs have been a positive and stabilizing force for their Little PALs, the Bigs themselves have also been inspired by the ways Littles are navigating the changes in their environments. One Big shared that she has been very excited to get to know her Little PAL over video chat. She knows that the pandemic has been rough for her Little PAL, and is amazed to see how strong and resilient her Little has been these past nine months.
Bernstein is continuing to match Big and Little PALs virtually, providing support for families during this difficult time.
“My daughter seemed to hit it off with her Big PAL right away. It’s been hard with COVID because they haven’t been able to get together in-person, but I look forward to seeing them develop a great bond like other PALs have made in the program,” said the mother of a 7-year-old new PAL.
The PAL program has been making matches, and life-long friendships for more than 30 years. The need for connection and mentorship is strong during this time, and Big Pals can make a huge difference.
“Right now, everyone can use a little more support and that’s just what the PAL program is doing,” said Bernstein.
If you are interested in becoming a Big PAL or know of a Little PAL who could benefit from a mentor connection, email Sarah Bernstein at email@example.com.
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