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11/23/2020 Mia A. Garchitorena

New Ways of Connecting as MSK Big Brothers Big Sisters

In June 2020, MSK's Workplace Mentorship Program with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of New York City completed its 16th year and, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent group of "Littles" successfully graduated from high school. Thanks in part to the support they received from 15 MSK "Bigs," who met with their Littles virtually this summer, all of the Littles are now college freshmen.

"Now that they're in college, our Littles are considering a variety of majors, ranging from the arts and sciences to business and finance," says Luba Trost, Work/Life Program Manager in Human Resources. "And we were able to give them some real-world exposure to many of these areas at MSK since our Bigs represent all different departments, skills, specialties and backgrounds."

To further support their Littles in college, many MSK Bigs volunteered to continue their relationships with them through BBBS' College & Career Success Program, which helps support Littles during their first year of college. The program builds leadership skills and enhances students' academic performance and career readiness through individualized guidance, virtual workshops, career development and social engagement.

MSK's 2020 Workplace Mentorship Program, sponsored by Work/Life, launches in November when 15 new "Littles" entering their sophomore year of high school will be welcomed and supported with virtual programing for the duration of the pandemic.

Strengthening Relationships during COVID-19

In 2004, MSK became the first hospital to partner with BBBS through New York City's Workplace Mentoring Program. The goal of the partnership was to give employees an opportunity to give back to the community, expose local high school students to healthcare careers, and make an investment in the next generation of leaders. To date, MSK Bigs have been matched with about 80 Littles.

A main feature of the program is the in-person meetups, in which Bigs and Littles from a neighboring high school meet at MSK's Main Campus approximately 15 times over the course of a year. Together, the pairs participate in skill-building activities, including college prep, career path discovery, résumé writing, personal branding, professional communication, networking, and social activities, such as holiday celebrations. 

Because of COVID-19, the meetups were transitioned entirely to a virtual platform from March through June 2020. Although everyone's preference is to meet in person, members of MSK's BBBS program say there were some upsides to this change.

"Not being able to see my Little was challenging because I very much enjoy the face-to-face time," says Cymra McBean, Project Coordinator in Digital Informatics and Technology Solutions (DigITs), who was inducted into the BBBS Hall of Fame in February 2020 in recognition of her nine years of service.

"However, some aspects of our relationship deepened during this time. I wanted to make sure that in this time of uncertainty she knew that my presence, digital or otherwise, wasn't going to waver. We were more in contact during COVID-19 than we had been before and I was happy to provide solid emotional support."

"Everything happened so quickly but our group adjusted rather well," says Mark Ramirez, Training Lead in Patient Revenue Support and a member of MSK's BBBS since 2004. Mr. Ramirez and his Little were highlighted in a 2019 BBBS story. "As a team, we started using Zoom and we were able to adapt the same program deliverables we were giving in person virtually using a digital platform."

"It was great practice for the Littles in preparation for remote learning and remote working environments," says Ms. Trost. "They reported that this experience improved their skills in using online meeting platforms, so we're thrilled that what initially felt like a setback turned out to be timely and relevant new skill development."

 

Onwards & Upwards

Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC reports that, thanks to the Workplace Mentorship Program, 98 percent of the Littles who participate, many of whom are from underserved communities or don't have access to financial resources, move up to the next grade in high school and are accepted to college. Littles also report experiencing higher self-esteem because of the program and express gratitude for the one-on-one attention they receive from MSK Bigs.

"Our Bigs have shared that this program represents MSK's positive workplace culture," says Ms. Trost. "They tell us that, not only does the program provide them with an opportunity to give back to the community, it also supports their own professional development, visibility, and networking since fellow Bigs represent a wide range of MSK departments and career stages," says Ms. Trost.  

Many Littles are inspired by their time at MSK and have pursued careers they've learned about at MSK. Kameil Grant-Knight, Manager of Patient Recreation and Communication Assistance and a member of MSK's BBBS program for 14 years, says her Little Sister from 12 years ago went on to work in Information Systems. Ms. Grant-Knight also reiterates the importance of being a Big now more than ever.

"We're in the midst of two pandemics: COVID-19 and social injustice, which disproportionately impact underrepresented communities," she says. "It's important that we are there for our Littles who are largely Black and Latinx to offer support, understanding, guidance, and a listening ear."

"Being a Big during this time shows the Little that they have someone in their life who they can talk to and who is committed to seeing them twice a month," says Amanda Silberstein, GME Coordinator II in the Department of Surgery. "The stability can really help a Little who might just need an extra push. The pandemic has made their lives even harder and more confusing, so being that constant presence, and talking about the current situation and its changes, is good for our Littles."

 

Thank you to all our Bigs for their volunteer service to the BBBS Workplace Mentorship program and for making such a big difference in the lives of young people: Endian BookerStephanie CastanoCatherine CurranKayla ErsbollMaria FernandezRenee GennarelliKameil Grant-knightApril MaasMolly MaloyCymra McBeanMark RamirezAmanda Silberstein and Christine Watts.

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