Community program pairs students, youth

By Mayo Sueta
suetama@grinnell.edu

For college students looking to get involved in the community in a positive way, the Grinnell Big Brothers Big Sisters Program is one great place to start. The program pairs a role model or “Big,” usually a college student or adult, with a “Little,” an elementary school child. The Big sees the Little once a week to have conversations and play together. The relationship between the Big and the Little often lasts for years, forging strong bonds.

There are three types of programs. All Bigs start with the School-Based Program, where they come and see their Little during lunch time at school. Then, as they get more familiar with each other over time, there is some transition to the Community-Based Program, where the Big sees the Little outside of school. For the last few years, a third program called the E-mentor Program has also been ongoing, wherein a sixth-grade or middle school student is paired with a junior in high school. They communicate mainly through email and the Big helps the Little as they transition into middle school.

In Grinnell, there are currently 55 matches, approximately 20 of which involve college students.

“We do utilize the college students quite a bit,” said Sandy Motta, one of the mentor coordinators of the program. “They have been a great addition and a great help to us.”

Become a Big involves an in-depth application process.

“There’s an interview process they go through, and an extensive background check, and references are required,” Motta said. “If they are accepted into the program, then we have a match meeting with their Little before they get started. So there’s a lot of contact that happens before the match starts.”

Many college students involved in the program go abroad to study for a semester, but even then, the Big and the Little continue to stay in contact.

“What I have found [is studying abroad] is really kind of a plus because they correspond through email, through us, with pictures and information,” Motta said. “When they come back, they share their experiences with their Little which, for a lot of these kids … is not anything that they would have even thought about before. So I think it kind of opens up a bigger world for them.”

Francesca Cunningham, another mentor coordinator, says that having a Big come and see them every week often boosts a child’s confidence.

“The idea that a college student or an adult wants to come and see you every week, week after week and year after year, really helps to boost their self-esteem and then their self-confidence. Because they know that person likes them, they start to like themselves.”

In addition, their relationship with their Big motivates the children to come to school, improving attendance.

“Sometimes kids can have a negative view of school and so this definitely puts a positive spin on it and helps give them something to look forward to in the school day,” said Ashley Grundler, another mentor coordinator.

Motta has also noticed that having a college student Big can help the Little think about the future.

“I have noticed … [the Bigs] help them to set goals and think about the future,” she said. “I’ve had kids say to me, … I never thought about going to college but my Big tells me that I should … go to college and be a teacher [and that] I’d really be good at it.”

Kyra Neylan ’18, who has been a Big for four years, says that she has enjoyed being part of the program.

“Spending time with my Little is a highlight of my week, and it has been a lot of fun to build a relationship with her and watch her grow,” Neyland wrote in an email to The S&B. “It is incredibly rewarding to be a stable, supportive and caring figure for a child in such an important phase of their life.”

Erin Kim ’21 is in her first year in the program and agrees.

“Being in this program has made me realize how fortunate I was to grow up with so many role models in my life,” Kim wrote in an email to The S&B. “Now, as a college student, being able to mentor a younger student is humbling. I love the idea of building a long-term relationship with my Little and seeing her develop into a confident young adult.”

The Big Brother Big Sister Program is looking for dependable mentors who understand the importance of their role in a Little’s life. To get involved, contact bbbsgrinnell@gmail.com.


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