Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, 2020 was a year in which unprecedented challenge spurred incredible adaptability for Casa Chirilagua, a faith-based Christian non-profit in Alexandria, VA. Casa Chirilagua works with a small staff and over 100 volunteers to serve alongside more than 100 Latinx families and their children (1st–12th grades) each week through community programs, including youth mentoring.

The mentoring program’s goal is to build long-term relationships focused on consistent growth. When the pandemic started, some mentors and mentees were discouraged about meeting virtually due to the barriers it might pose to relationship development. 

One challenge was that not all youth had access to needed technology and data. “After a tech assessment with each student, there was a baseline to understand where the digital divide stood and how those needs could be met through partnerships,” said José Martinez, Mentoring Director. An ongoing challenge has been the frustration that mentees have been feeling with the virtual format of school and program activities, making engagement more difficult.

Even through barriers to connectivity, Casa Chirilagua has seen the strength and power of communities coming together. “Despite a challenging year, our program remained strong with close to 90% of mentors continuing to stay on board and mentor a student throughout the pandemic,” said José. Many mentors expanded their roles, becoming communicators and accountability partners for families who had been hit hard. Some mentors even mobilized to secure donations and food resources for families.

José has been inspired that Casa Chirilagua was able to onboard seven new mentors during the pandemic, and is now watching those mentoring relationships grow. “I’m struck by the kind-heartedness and willingness to step-in, even if it’s not the most ideal situation,” José said.

Through his work with Casa Chirilagua, José has been able to serve as a bridge-builder between Latino youth and adults who want to make a difference in their community. He is motivated by being able to “empower mentors and watch them grow confident in their mentorships.” 

Casa Chiriagua is a member organization of the Alexandria Mentoring Partnership and part of MENTOR Virginia’s network of programs, both of which have provided avenues of support for the program during the pandemic. José has engaged in MENTOR Virginia’s AmeriCorps VISTA Program as well as various peer-to-peer learning opportunities and training sessions. “The workshops have been practical and have given me easy tools to implement across the board with our mentors and mentees,” José said.

Learn more about Casa Chirilagua on their website: https://casachirilagua.org/.