Become a virtual volunteer with youth group

A pioneering E Mentoring programme in Cork is currently recruiting volunteers. RACHEL O’SULLIVAN tells us more about the new virtual Big Brother Big Sister programme run by Foroige
Become a virtual volunteer with youth group

"The consistent virtual meetups become a source of support, encouragement and fun for both the volunteer and young person," says Rachel O'Sullivan.

SMART phones have become the organisers and connectors in our pockets. The pandemic saw us all launched into the world of zoom, Google Hangouts and FaceTime. Grandparents discovered Tik Tok and we invented virtual online games for families. The urge to connect when apart saw a digital evolution in Ireland that has shown us how virtual connection can be a support and place to turn.

We are still living with this pandemic but as we emerge, can we retain some of the lessons we learnt? Can we come together to help our young people readjust to society, school and friends after an event we could never have imagined in our childhoods?

Lockdown taught us many lessons in personal resilience. It showed us the importance of queue conversations. The feeling of being seen when your eyes meet a strangers, on your daily walk. We learnt the importance of connection to others! That it is the people around us that matter. That our mental health is as important as our physical health.

We witnessed our society stop. Go silent. Shut its doors. We observed a generation of young people sacrifice; school, sports, friends, family and be still in a way they are simply not meant to be! At a time when their developing personalities needed social education, they sat in their bedrooms. Some began to reach their friends online. Digital community became their portal for other people and friendship.

Foróige’s Big Brother Big Sister(BBBS) program listened to their mentees and developed a secure online platform called OurSpace to continue their mentoring relationships.

Foróige, Ireland’s leading youth organisation has connected 50,000 young people with its services in the last year. E Mentoring, a revolutionary project allows young people to connect with volunteer support through their laptops and phones. It can be the first step they take towards regaining confidence and empowering themselves with resilience and hope.

Foroige’s E Mentoring Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS), is one of three countries reaching out to young people in a way their generation can understand. BBBS is a programme that matches an adult volunteer to a young person under professional supervision. It began at the turn of the last century in the United States.

BBBS was established in Ireland in 2001 as a pilot programme in the West of Ireland (Galway, Mayo and Roscommon). In 2012, the programme expanded nationally to support BBBS matches in 14 counties across Ireland and currently the programme supports young people across 20 counties in Ireland.

Foróige’s BBBS programme was evaluated by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway in 2011. The evidence shows that the programme can play a critical role in promoting positive behaviours in key areas of young people’s development. The research found that young people who have a BBBS mentor are more likely to enjoy school, have better relationships with their parents and peers; are more hopeful and have a greater sense of efficacy in relation to the future, than those without a mentor. They also felt more supported, happier and have more educational plans for the future and are less likely to initiate drug and alcohol use.

E Mentoring allows a young person to develop a trusting friendship with an older person outside their family. The consistent virtual meetups become a source of support, encouragement and fun for both the volunteer and young person. A simple idea with life changing results!

Foróige’s BBBS E Mentoring, funded by the HSE, have co-created the customized OurSpace App to be used from laptops, tablets and smartphones across Ireland. This secure bespoke platform allows a volunteer mentor and a young person, mentee, to connect online, safely with professional supervision. The App uses video calls, an activity feed that mimics social media and an activities portal for inspiring ideas to take part in. The programme asks volunteers to donate an hour a week for a year. They are ‘matched’ to a young person with similar interests and shown how to access the Our Space App. There is no commute and you can connect from work or home!

The simple act of turning on your smartphone and being there for a young person, for an hour a week could affect the trajectory of a young person’s life. We have learnt the importance of connection above all else. The time it takes to watch a single episode on Netflix could be life changing for a young person. The E Mentoring programme is now recruiting volunteers to take part in this pioneering program. Approved volunteers will be trained and receive regular staff support. An hour can make a difference, how would you like to use yours?

For further information contact: Rachael O’Sullivan rachael.osullivan@foroige.ie, 0861031503 

For more about Foroige see https://www.foroige.ie/

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