While school activities came to an abrupt halt because of COVID-19, one special and long-awaited annual field trip for some young students in Lewiston came right to their front door, according to a news release from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine.

Little Brother Abdikafi Abdikadir reads a hand-delivered letter written by his Big Sister and Bates College mentor Higera Sevigny. With the cancellation of the program’s annual field trip to visit Bates College, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine instead visited Littles’ homes to help keep matches connected during the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition to pen pal letters, Littles also received from their Bigs a Bates Bobcat T-shirt, activities and games, and frozen pizzas courtesy of Sam’s Italian Foods.   Photo courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine

“A letter for me!” an excited Abdikafi Abdikadir says while opening a hand-delivered letter that was written by his “Big Sister” and Bates College mentor Higera, whom he hasn’t seen since the pandemic began in March. The door-to-door visits by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine to 34 Little Brothers and Little Sisters in the Lewiston area was part of a reinvented field trip to check in on program Littles, offer support, share messages of hope from their mentors, and even deliver pizza.

Every spring, Little Brothers and Little Sisters from Connors Elementary School, along with the program’s volunteer coordinators, board a bus for an “experience college day” field trip at Bates College in Lewiston. They are greeted by their Bates Bigs mentors who show them around campus, tour the library and share pizza together in the college cafeteria.

“Sharing this real-life experience with Littles opens their eyes to all that is possible. We want to ignite their greatest potential,” said Jennifer Cartmell, Androscoggin manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine. “Every year after the field trip, the conversations with Littles begin with “when” I go to college. It’s very empowering for both Littles and their Bigs.”

Cartmell, when checking in with matches by telephone regularly, says she heard the same two questions from Littles: “When can I see my Big?” and “Can we still go on the field trip to Bates?” On a mission to keep kids connected during social distancing, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine, deemed an “essential service” early in the pandemic, decided to take the Bates field trip to the Littles, many who have been quarantined in their homes in Lewiston since mid-March.

Donned in face masks and physical distancing, the agency delivered packages from the  Bigs filled with pencils, pencil sharpeners, activity packets, games, potted flowers, Bates Bobcat T-shirts (sponsored by TD Bank) and, to remind them of their Bates field trip lunch together, donations of frozen pizzas from Sam’s Italian Foods in Lewiston. The personal visits outside the Littles’ homes also provided program staff opportunity to personally meet with Littles, as well as with their families and caregivers, to help address any needs they might have.

Executive Director Gwendolyn Hudson said the agency is committed to serving local youth and supporting their families. “This field trip is one of many examples of our agency’s work to keep matches connected throughout our seven-county service area in Maine,” Hudson said.

Cartmell said the reinvented field trip “doesn’t take the place of the real thing, but was the next best thing right now during this pandemic.”

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is a critical part of these kids’ lives and staying united with their Bigs is critical to their well-being,” Cartmell said, adding that the Bigs have been staying in touch for over three months through pen pal exchanges. “Our visit supplemented their amazing efforts, and seeing the smiles on our Littles’ faces reminded us who our most vulnerable population really is during this pandemic — our community’s children.”

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine’s Androscoggin program, or to find out how to help keep kids connected in Lewiston/Auburn,contact Cartmell at 207-653-3857 or [email protected]. To enroll a child, become a Big, donate, or learn more about volunteering, visit bbbsmidmaine.org or call 207-236-BBBS (2227).

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine creates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth in Androscoggin, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Somerset, and Waldo counties. By partnering with parents, volunteers and organizations, children in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs have higher aspirations, greater confidence, better relationships, avoid risky behaviors and achieve educational success.