Here is our fourth short interview with volunteers to gain their perspectives on volunteering in the time of COVID-19. We thank all of those who took the time to chat with us about their experience with volunteering in 2020.

This time we meet Allyson Power who has been a Big Sister volunteer with the Foróige Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) programme since 2016.  Allyson is one of 20 BBBS matches in Sligo.

Allyson Power

What has been the biggest change in your role since COVID-19 hit our shores?

The biggest change initially was that our face to face meetings had ceased. The friendship/mentoring became Zoom/FaceTime meetings until we were allowed to meet outside again. As restrictions have lifted we have met 3 times which is infrequent as we used to meet almost every week. Most of these meetings have taken place outside. The role now means having to check where we go and how long we can stay for, even swimming which now has to be booked in advance. If we had the weather that we had in the early stages of the lockdown there would be more options open to us. Also, new guidelines on transport mean that I cannot bring my Little in the car with me. We are still very happy to meet and keep up contact but choosing activities has become more challenging. We negotiate where we can go and must be constantly aware of social distance and protection (washing hands/sanitising/masks).

In what ways has Foróige’s Big Brother/Big Sister programme adjusted? What measures have been taken to facilitate these changes?

The Big Brother Big Sister programme gave us brilliant information throughout the lockdown.  Nicola Tuffy, the Co-ordinator, always on top of her game, never tired of sending us information, games, quizzes, access to the national quiz, links for Zumba and virtual zoos and also some sunflower seeds to both Bigs and Littles for planting to surface this month. The backup was really great as Nicola checked in to see how we both were doing. Foróige’s C.R.I.B. (Youth Project & Health Café), a safe, alcohol and drug-free place for people aged 12-18 years, is a great facility for group activities, pool, cooking, artwork but this is not available at the moment. The situation is as it is for everyone, including us volunteers. The BBBS Programme has given us as much guidance as they possibly can in the circumstances.

Do you have any advice for young people who are part of the programme right now?

It has been really hard for the Littles because the face to face contact that so many enjoyed has changed and the places to visit at the moment are less including the C.R.I.B. Things are improving slowly and the return to school will help. Like everything else, things pass. We may not be able to meet as much as before but we will again in time. For the time being, in addition to certain outings, we can still use the phone or FaceTime each other.  The “yellow stickers” are here but we can still cheer. Nihil Desperandum (Never despair) and never give up hope on anything.

Describe the training you undertook when you started to volunteer.

I completed the Big Brother Big Sister Induction training and Child Protection training. BBBS in the past has offered additional training

What do you find most rewarding about this role?

I find it rewarding that my Little looks forward to activities like swimming and going for a treat. I find it rewarding that she is willing to try new activities (indoor rock climbing back on February 20th was one such example). I find it rewarding that she thanks me each time we have been out. I find it rewarding that it seems like I have made a little difference to her when I receive a letter of thanks from her. I find it rewarding that her interests have grown since we first met and also her confidence.

Can you offer some simple advice for anyone interested in a volunteer role like this one?

In life when we give we receive back. The BBBS programme is just that. The volunteer also grows as a person and meets other like-minded volunteers in the process. We (Bigs and Littles) enjoyed many group activities over the years. COVID-19 did put a dent in it but like the Phoenix, we will all rise from the ashes from this.

Programme overview: Big Brother Big Sister, a Foróige ( programme, matches a young person (10-18 years), in need of friendship and support, to a caring adult volunteer mentor. They meet once a week, for an hour or two, and the initial commitment is for one year. Weekly meetings include activities that they both enjoy like sports, computers, music, art and craft etc. Through these weekly meetings, a friendship is formed. Matches are of the same gender and are supported by professional staff.

There are current volunteer opportunities with the Sligo Big Brother Big Sister programme. See here for more information.