Community programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters typically rely on schools to clue them in as to which children need particular assistance, what kind and when.

But COVID-19 sent those kids home and closed schools in the spring, so BBBS of Coastal & Northern New Jersey had to turn to county offices to find out where they could help.

The Monmouth ACTS coalition, short for Assisting Community Through Services, was one such agency BBBSCNNJ could turn to, and did. Monmouth ACTS operates a dedicated Positive Youth Development Hub, which helped mentors connect so effectively to area children that there are actually too many willing and able mentors versus children who need a match right now.

"The partnerships developed through Monmouth ACTS really position us to better respond to needs, and the connection really helps everybody stay informed and connected to families who may be struggling and need additional support," Monmouth County Division of Behavioral Health Director Desiree Whyte said. "We've been able to identify youth who may need some outreach, or some connection and socialization. We're able to help connect those kids."

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According to Whyte, Monmouth ACTS and BBBSCNNJ were actually working on new ways to increase socialization and decrease isolation among youth before COVID hit New Jersey, and the onset of the pandemic encouraged the groups to continue heading in a virtual direction.

Now instead of hands-on activities, the kids and their mentors participate in Zoom calls, movie watching nights, and gaming sessions.

And rather than school districts notifying organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of community needs, Whyte said now those groups, plus ones like hers at the county level, will do their part to keep schools informed so the proper avenues for connection and support are kept open when full in-person learning can resume.

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