By John Bailey
Is the internet connection going to work?
Are students going to remember to unmute their microphones?
Are they going to get the link they need?
These were some of the challenges The Council on Adolescents (COA) faced with its Lunch Buddy Mentoring program when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and forced schools to move to remote learning last March.
With more than a year of COVID-19 behind us, the Catawba County United Way (CCUW) began checking back in with its funded partners to see how lasting the pandemic’s impact has been on them.
Every year, the CCUW focuses on finding and supporting local programs that help youth achieve their potential. In 2020, the CCUW helped fund two Council on Adolescents programs: Healthy Youth Education and Lunch Buddy Mentoring.
Now, with school districts transitioning to four days of in-school instruction this April, there is hope this will mean positive changes for the Lunch Buddy program.
The Lunch Buddy Program began in 2011 and focuses on helping at-risk middle school youth in Catawba County, Hickory Public and Newton-Conover City Schools. In recent years, it expanded into high schools and sixth grade.
The strength of the Lunch Buddy program is its ability to connect youth with mentors who can encourage them onto a healthy, positive path, a task difficult enough when you can sit down and talk face to face. The loss of being in person with students meant the COA had to find a new way for its mentors to still make that connection in a world becoming more and more remote after last spring.
“We’re seeing these students need these mentors more than ever,” COA Executive Director Jordan Ledford said. “The pandemic has affected us all, but the way it has affected the students and the things they have seen, a lot of them don’t have great home lives anyway, and the pandemic just multiplied that.”