CORONAVIRUS

Collaboration creates Camp-in-a-Bag kits for mentoring program

Thinking big for Littles

Assembling Camp-in-a-Bag kits are (from left) Ken Fate of Coralville, Kate Yoder and McKenzie Musser, both of Iowa City.
Assembling Camp-in-a-Bag kits are (from left) Ken Fate of Coralville, Kate Yoder and McKenzie Musser, both of Iowa City. They were working on the joint project between Johnson County’s Big Brothers Big Sisters and 4-H programs at the Johnson County Extension and Outreach Office in Iowa City on April 24. (Dina Bishara/BBBS)
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“I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” — 4-H pledge

The Johnson County 4-H program is living up to these words, teaming up with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County to assemble Camp-in-a-Bag kits for the youngest “Littles” enrolled in the BBBS mentoring program.

Big Brothers Big Sisters creates one-on-one opportunities between adult volunteer mentors and at-risk youths ages 6 to 18. Known as “Bigs” and “Littles,” they meet for at least six hours a month for 18 months. But those in-person outings to movies, museums, restaurants, recreational activities and new adventures, as well as monthly events and school-based programs organized by the agency, are on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So the kits became an outreach outlet.

“I was thinking about ways that we would be able to connect with our Littles, to let them know that we’re thinking about them,” said Dina Bishara, program specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County. “And also in a very small way, to try to fill that gap that so many kids are experiencing right now. They’re used to the structure and activity of school and extracurricular activities and playing with friends.”

The bags contain more than six hours of STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — activities, from the pieces needed for building gliders and balloon flyers, to conducting scientific experiments, planting seeds, choosing healthy snacks and writing down their thoughts.

Those activities also reflect the other contributing partners: Johnson County Master Gardeners, Johnson County Extension and Outreach’s Pick a Better Snack program, O’Brien Family McDonalds and Forever Green Garden Center.

“(We wanted to) just give them something really fun and also educational and engaging, to help them spend time with their siblings, if they have them, and get their parents involved, if possible — and just really keep them connected to that learning and the fun, but also to Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Bishara said. “Camp-in-a-Bag helps us structure things in an intentional and thoughtful way.”

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Partnering with 4-H, known for its summer camps, fairs and educational programs, “was a really great way to make sure that the activities we were including were really robust, so it was not going to be a hodgepodge, throw-some-things-in-a-bag,” Bishara added. “We really needed to be deliberate about it, to have the directions nicely laid out.”

The first wave is being distributed to 20 elementary-age children, and officials are hoping to expand the project.

“Funding is always a question,” Bishara said. “We would love to expand to 20 or 40 for more. ... We’d sure like to be able to target the kits to a little older kids, who have different interests.”

Bishara and Kate Yoder, who works with 4-H out of the Iowa State University Extension office in Johnson County, are eager to continue their collaborative efforts.

“It really great,” Yoder said. “When you work together, things comes together and amazing things happen. I’m excited to see what the future holds — what partnerships we can build on and grow.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

To help

• What: Big Brothers Big Sisters Camp-in-a-Bag kit contributions

• Contact: Email Dina Bishara at dina@bbbsjc.org

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