FOR OVER 50 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been a positive force in the community, creating safe environments for our youth and providing them with guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modeling as we hold firm to our motto: “Together, We Are Defenders of Potential.”

Throughout our history, we’ve been here supporting youth and their families through some of the most challenging times, most recently the coronavirus pandemic and the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.

COVID-19 magnified the digital inequities plaguing many low-income individuals and families. George Floyd’s death magnified the systemic racism and social injustice plaguing people of color.

The magnitude of these issues has shown that no one entity can solve these problems alone. We must come together—all people and all sectors, including business, government and nonprofit entities—to bring about real change.

Following the coronavirus outbreak when many people were forced to learn and work from home, Big Brothers Big Sisters Greater Fredericksburg went to work ensuring that our mentees could get internet service at home to complete their schoolwork. This was important, as we learned that some had to venture outside their homes to access hotspots.

Thankfully, our staff was able to point mentees to our partner, Comcast, who is offering two months of free internet through the Internet Essentials program. We are delighted to learn of success stories, including one from a struggling mother who took advantage of the offer, along with a laptop from the school, enabling her seventh-grader to complete the school year safely from home.

This positive outcome and our ability to quickly pivot to address needs was due to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ longstanding relationship with Comcast and our commitment to bring all stakeholders together to improve digital access and help children achieve educational success.

When school closures hampered our ability to expend grant funding, Comcast enabled us to use the funds to purchase wired earbuds with microphones for mentees to use at home.

Together, we are bridging the digital divide to keep kids connected.

Another partner, The Community Foundation, worked with the George Washington Regional Planning Commission and generous individual and business donors to the Community Relief Fund to provide solutions and grants to nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters Greater Fredericksburg to serve people with critical needs during the pandemic.

Together, we are sustaining nonprofits that provide essential services to vulnerable citizens.

The death of George Floyd is the tipping point for racial injustice. This intolerable act by people in authority, like so many similar acts, is borne from conscious and unconscious historical racial bias.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ vision is for all youth to achieve their full potential. That is why we partnered with the National Football League’s Inspire Change initiative, which emphasizes the importance of education, economic development, community and police relations and criminal justice reform.

Together, we are listening and learning.

Big Brothers Big Sisters believes thought process precedes behavioral change. Together, we are intentionally examining issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Together, we are building bridges to understand racial injustice.

Again, the societal challenges that recent events have revealed do not belong to any one business, local government or nonprofit to solve alone. It is through our interconnectedness that we as individuals, and collectively as sectors, will bring systemic change to our future.

Together, we are defending the potential of our children and our community.

Big Brothers Big Sisters strongly supports those relationships that ignite the power and promise of our youth as we strive to help them achieve their full potential. Through our important partnerships, we will continue to help every child achieve educational success, avoid risky behavior and have higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships.

Michelle Hedrich is the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Greater Fredericksburg.

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