By Staff Writer Michaella Lesieur.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has collaborated with the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement to bring this mentoring program to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
The organization pairs bigs (campus students) with littles (children ages 7-12) together to create friendships and mentoring to children in the New Bedford Community.
Jenny Bautista the Community Engagement and Recruitment Coordinator of Big Brothers Big Sisters holds the organization close to her heart. “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay (BBBSMB) is an innovative, energetic organization that is making a real difference in the lives of more than 3,200 youth annually by providing them with an invested, caring adult mentor,” stated Bautista proudly.
The program works to help provide support. “With research and proven outcomes at its core, it is working to ensure every child has the support from caring adults that they need for healthy development and success in life,” said Bautista. “The organization’s vision is to inspire, engage and transform communities in the Massachusetts Bay by helping youth achieve their full potential, contributing to healthier families, better schools, brighter futures and stronger communities.”
BBBSMB started at UMass in October and is a huge success. “The program has gotten off to a great start. We launched in October with 18 matches! These are 18 kids who now have someone to look up to and have a fun way to spend their Saturdays,” said Bautista. “Littles were greeted by their Bigs on their first day with homemade welcome signs, welcoming the kids on campus. It was priceless to see the smiles and the excitement on the Littles’ faces. On the first day, they did a scavenger hunt that allowed them to explore the campus. For Halloween, they had a mummy activity where the Littles wrapped up their Bigs with toilet paper.”
Director of Community Service and Partnerships for the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement Dierdre Healy is honored to have the program at the university. “We are delighted to have the Big Brother/ Big Sister program on campus this year,” she says.
“We know that mentoring is one of the best things college students can do to help our youth,” said Healy. “The impact of mentoring is significant and research tells us that:Youth who have mentors are 52% less likely to skip school, making them more likely to graduate. 64% of students with mentors develop a more positive attitude toward school, leading to better learning.”
She continued, “youth with mentors are 63% more likely to reduce high-risk behaviors like violent tendencies, and drug, alcohol and tobacco use.”
Healy further stated, “UMass Dartmouth students also benefit not only does this experience enhance a resume but taking a couple of hours every other Saturday to meet with a young person is fun, reduces stress and increases friendships!”
Saturday’s are filled with endless fun and work to create that bond between the Big and the Little. “Littles arrive on campus at noon and their first stop is food. Pizza is provided to the matches by a local and popular vendor, Palace Pizza. After eating, they partake in a group activity that is usually planned by two student leaders on campus,” said Bautista. This year they are working with Markaveus and Emily, both seniors at UMassD. After the group activity, matches have some one-on-one time to explore the campus and do an activity of their own. Some matches will visit the art room, play sports outside, or do arts & crafts.
Big Sister Alyssa Fennyery loves the program and is so happy she joined as it is enriching her college experience.
“What makes Big Brothers and Big Sisters so rewarding is seeing the children smile and be so excited to spend some quality time with someone on campus,” said Fennyery proudly. “Just knowing that you’re helping make a difference in these children’s lives makes a big impact.”
The organization is looking to add to the program in the spring and is in urgent need of one more Big Brother right now. If you are interested please stop by the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement. “This is a great opportunity for students to connect with their local community in a really special and impactful way. You have the opportunity to make a long lasting change on the youth that you work with,” said Bautista.
“Right now, we are hoping to add more matches in the spring semester, and are in need of more male volunteers (Big Brothers).”
The overarching goal is that the program will continue to grow as it inspires more and more people to get involved. “Our hope is that this program shows local youth of New Bedford that college is fun, accessible, and can be a part of all of their futures. Bigs can help shape their vision of the college experience and give them something to strive for,’ said Bautista.
“We envision the campus based mentoring program growing year over year and becoming a big part of the culture at UMassD,” Bautista proudy states.