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Last year saw a lot of fallout, upheaval, change, pivoting. Just because the world seemed to stop didn’t mean that the needs of our youth stopped.

There are quite a few programs that lend a hand to youth in Central Oregon, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Friends of the Children and the foster care program.

These are all worthwhile efforts, and all took a bit of a hit in 2020 when adults and children went into lockdown, connecting only over social media.

Now that we’re reconnecting with one another, let’s not forget the children.

“Every child could use a mentor,” said Sandy Cassio, the newly minted program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters. “If you trace your own trajectory from being a child to becoming an adult, you realize there was someone older guiding you, advising you.”

Oftentimes, adults don’t stop to realize who was pivotal in their lives, who helped them figure out what path they wanted to choose. But it’s worth reflecting on.

Here are some sobering national stats from last year, regarding kids and the effect of COVID-19 lockdowns. From March through October 2020, the share of mental health-related hospital emergency room visits rose 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% among adolescents ages 12 to 17, when compared to the same period in 2019.

Closer to home, in Central Oregon, Cassio has examples of children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program who have lost the ability to be simply social; many who are stuck at home with a laptop but no friends to meet up with. Many just want an adult to guide them back on how to relate to others, especially kids within their own age groups.

One such child simply wants someone to teach him “to do guy things.”

“You hear it all the time, but simply just showing up, being there for a child, means so much,” she said.

Even with significant stressors, if a child has a relationship with a nurturing adult, the long-term negative effects of adverse childhood experiences can be reduced. Research shows that the single most important factor in children building skills of resilience is the reliable presence of an adult, Cassio said.

Other important stats are that after just one year with a mentor, a “big,” if you will, the “littles” attend school more regularly, decrease risky behaviors, increase their social competencies, and see a bump in academic grades and improved parental trust.

Today, there are 144 children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, but many more waiting in the wings.

Fundraising for the program dropped 30% during 2020 thanks to COVID-19. It is likewise the same for many other youth programs.

So even if one cannot volunteer their time, they can become a donor to such programs or a sponsor. We hope if you have the wherewithal that you’ll participate in at least one program the benefits children. They are waiting.

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