Bedridden with an undiagnosed illness in late March, Nicola pulled out her computer to send her Little, Khiya, an email.
It was the first few weeks of the province-wide state of emergency orders that were beginning to shape the next few months of lockdown, quarantine, and COVID regulations in the city of Toronto, and Nicola was extremely ill.
Still – she was thinking of Khiya whom she had only met three times as an in-school mentor before the state of emergency began and schools were shut down.
That one email began a chain of communications that have defined their relationship and connection during a time of physical distancing.
“I definitely think this is going to be a defining moment in our relationship,” Nicola said. “If we can keep it going and we can share and have fun together when we’re not physically in a space I think that’s going to really accelerate the trust in the relationship we’ve got and the bond.”
After spending the first 8-days of her illness in bed (and on the advice of her doctor not going into a hospital for a diagnosis unless she had severe trouble breathing), despite what Nicola described as “chronic exhaustion,” she sent Khiya a video message.
“As I was managing to get out of bed that week I sent Khiya video clip just to sort of say hi. I think it’s important for them [kids] to have some visual as well. I think it’s that little additional touch that helps them feel a lot more connected.”
And Nicola received a video message back. The two began communicating through these videos, discussing activities that they wanted to do together once schools re-open and they can be in the same space together again. It also served as more than that.
“I think a lot of people’s mental health is really being stretched at the moment,” Nicola said. “It’s so important for the kids in the BBBST program to have somebody that they can rely on. Even though I couldn’t see my Little, with everything that’s going on it was important for me to still be present and to show her that I hadn’t forgotten about her because we’re not seeing each other every week and that she could rely on me.”
Khiya’s mother Trisha couldn’t be more appreciative.
“It’s a really good pick-me-up for Khiya. She looks forward to making those videos and receiving them. Her BIG has done a good job of trying to make her as comfortable as she can with the video. It’s also helping her learn how to talk on video,” Trisha said with a chuckle.
“It shows Khiya that it’s a nice positive relationship with an adult and that they’re not just going to leave her when a crisis happens – I think that was really important to. She [Nicola] could have. She had her own issues with the pandemic. She’s going above and beyond.
For the time being, Nicola and Khiya are having fun with the video chats. They’re discussing what they do during the day, what they bake, and have even made plans to make a dance routine on the social media app TikTok together to one of Khiya’s favourite artists.
As restrictions open up, a meeting between the two might not be too far away. As for their first meeting, they’ve already made plans.
Nicola remembers those plans well, “We said that When we’re together the first session we’ll do a dance class where we’ll celebrate by dancing to Khiya’s favourite artist.”