Recently, I was introduced to the founders of BigandMini.org, created by students and faculty at UT Austin (pictured above.) Big & Mini is a virtual volunteering organization that allows younger people to be paired with older adults in the community in an effort to provide mutual friendship during these isolating times.
Through video calls in which younger volunteers chat with seniors, they hope to support intergenerational understanding and combat increased senior isolation caused by COVID-19. There is no in-person contact involved; rather, all interactions are facilitated through either phone or video calls a few times a week.
The platform is free, easy to use, and automatically facilitates matching, so joining the program would be as simple as filling out a form on the Big & Mini website. It is our hope that this platform will be able to create long-lasting friendships and mentorship avenues while combating some of the loneliness felt during these crazy times.
I wanted to learn more, so I set up an interview with the creators of BigandMini.org.
What is Big and Mini, and Why did You Create It?
Following the onset of COVID-19, we felt a bit helpless. We believed that there was so much going wrong in the world but seemingly so little we could do to fix it. Everything had changed. Taking college classes online and dreaming of the days where we could see each other in person was saddening, to say the least, yet we had no idea what we could do to quell the sense of loneliness that we, and many others were experiencing.
Then, three weeks ago, we came up with an idea. Initially, we wanted to create a platform to help combat social isolation in the older adults as a way to help out a community that had helped us both grow immeasurably. However, as we began working, we realized we could do so much more than that.
Loneliness and longing for connection was something that was universal. Thus, Big & Mini was born.
Everyone can benefit from getting to know someone with completely different experiences and perspectives. Having gained so much from helping out at senior centers ourselves, we figured one of the best ways to go about creating togetherness was through forming connections that spanned the generational gap. Big & Mini is a platform that does exactly this; we create beautiful, mutually beneficial, generation-spanning friendships by connecting Bigs (the older half of a match) & Minis (the younger half of a match) with similar interests through phone and video calls. Through our platform, we believe we can help people feel just a little bit more together, even when we’re apart.
Please introduce yourself, where you're from, where you're going to school and your major? (Do you have an older relative that has inspired you? Maybe a grandparent, uncle, or aunt?
Allen: Hey, my name is Allen Zhou. I’m currently living at home in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. I’m 19 years old and a student at The University of Texas at Austin majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering. My grandparents and most of my relatives live across an ocean in China, so virtual communications are the only way I can talk with them. That’s the context that inspired me to co-found this virtual communication and volunteering platform.
Aditi: Hi! My name is Aditi and I'm an 18-year old college student from Austin, Texas. I’m a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Biomedical Engineering who has a passion for creating things that help others. I love hearing stories and learning more about my culture from my grandparents, even though most of the time they’re across the globe in India. They’re some of my biggest cheerleaders, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the connection I have with them. Seeing how much my relationship with them has impacted me was a major part of the reason I co-founded Big & Mini—I want everyone to have the same opportunity to connect with the older generation I was fortunate enough to have.
What do you hope to accomplish with your studies? What are your dreams, hopes?
Allen: My hopes are pretty broad. I hope to have a significant positive contribution to society in any way possible. This could be through research, entrepreneurship, or anything else. I hope to live a beautiful story.
Aditi: To put in the broadest possible terms, I want to spend my life innovating to help improve the lives of as many people as possible. After graduating from UT, I hope to get my PhD and found a company of my own focusing on curing geriatric diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. I also hope to give back to the community through other avenues, such as through the development of open-access medical technologies and service work.
What happened to motivate you to create BigandMini?
Allen: Seeing on the news how social distancing was having a detrimental effect on people’s general well-being and mental health was incredibly motivational. It helped me remember the joys I felt when I was younger, visiting nursing homes and being with my grandparents, and desire to help others feel this same joy.
Aditi: Throughout high school, I volunteered and played flute in senior centers and nursing homes regularly. Going into college, this unfortunately became harder to continue, but I still had the opportunity to visit from time-to-time. As the prevalence of coronavirus increased, the older adults I had come to know so well were the first people on my mind. I missed my conversations with them dearly, and knew that although the lockdown measures were necessary, they had likely led to an uptick in the loneliness some of the residents may have been feeling. Big & Mini was created out of a desire to do something; to create a change that could have a positive impact when there was so much negative in the world. It seemed like the perfect way to create a positive impact in the lives of people I cared deeply about while giving younger students like myself a way to find mentorship and learn from someone with more experience and stories.
Who does the platform serve and what do you hope BigandMini will do for both participants?
Big & Mini is a platform that is mutually beneficial; both Minis (defined as the younger counterpart of a match) and Bigs (the older counterpart of a match) gain something from the interactions they have on our platform. Essentially, the goal of Big & Mini is to create connections that reduce the intergenerational gap while combating social isolation and loneliness through new connections.
We hope that Big & Mini will give older adults someone new to talk to with a different perspective during an isolating time while providing younger Minis the opportunity to find a mentor and hear incredible stories.
How long did it take you to create BandM?
Big and Mini is now just over 3 weeks old. The website took us less than a week to create initially (although it is constantly being updated and improved) and the Big & Mini you see today is the result of many, many late nights and coffee-fueled planning sessions. Designing and bringing Big & Mini to life has been one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve had, and we can’t wait to grow its impact over the next few weeks.
Is this a school project? Do you see it growing into a business down the road?
Big & Mini is something we created out of a desire to help and thus is independent from our student lives. However, we do work closely with a few colleges and have found invaluable mentors within our college community. We are incorporated as a nonprofit by the state of Texas and have filed for the 501(c)(3) status. We believe that the value that we provide is incredibly relevant and important now, but will still continue to remain invaluable even after this hectic period in time.