It is amazing how our spirits and moods can be lifted by those around us in times of extreme difficulty.

For me, as the executive director of Friends of Children of Walla Walla, a mentoring program for children in this Valley, this has been especially true when working with the students at our local university and colleges, along with our school district partners. This includes Walla Walla Public Schools, College Place Public Schools, Walla Walla University, Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College.

Our biggest mentoring program, ABC, is in all elementary schools in which mentors get matched with a child for lunch and recess or after school.

These children have been deemed at risk and needing a friend represented by mostly college and university students and local community folks who provide connection and caring to give hope to kiddos who have had Adverse Childhood Experiences or, as well call them, ACEs.

Up to now, all the mentors see their mentees on a one-to-one basis at local schools for around 40 minutes. The key to these breakthrough and healing relationships has been the face-to-face connection.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a hold on these vital relationships.

Whitman College and Walla Walla University have gone to online learning with many of their students going home, mostly to other states, making the chance of that vital connection heartbreakingly remote. But that hasn’t stopped them from thinking about how they can continue to mentor and help children in the Friends of Children program.

Last week, I received word from David Lopez, from the Center of Humanitarian Engagement on the Walla Walla University campus, that students had expressed interest in finding a way to communicate virtually with kiddos in the Friends Program at Davis Elementary in College Place. This included folks in clubs that work with our WWU Mentoring Club. The idea is, if schools can educate virtually then mentors should be able to mentor virtually.

We realized that this could be done throughout our entire mentoring program.

As a result of the vision of the students, Friends, along with our community partners, will be working on a telementoring program. They will be able to provide a safe, secure and password-protected online vehicle to re-connect these caring adults with their kiddos, no matter their location, as quickly as possible. It could even be used after this crisis ends when WWU and Whitman students are on break, on summer vacation or even on missions/sabbaticals out of the country.

Many times, college semester and holiday breaks do not match up well with public school breaks which diminishes the consistency (but not the caring) that children with ACEs need.

Local resilience expert Teri Barila says that “Community is the solution.”

At Friends of Children, our greatest goal is that our newest generation will learn from the example of community and connection given freely by our student and community mentors to show the next generation the true meaning of hope and caring through that connection, to see us through whatever adversity comes our way.

Jim Byrnes is executive director of Friends of Children of Walla Walla.He can be reached at jimb@wallawallafriends.org