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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Big Siblings pioneers on-campus program

Published: October 23, 2014
Section: News

The Brandeis Waltham Group Big Siblings program has been serving youth ages six to 17 in the Waltham area since its founding in the early 1980s. Recently the program has added a new on-campus program, in partnership with the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister organization (JBBBS).

The new program is the first time the Big Siblings program has had an on-campus-based option. Brandeis volunteers meet with the child they mentor, known as their “little,” every other week on campus for two hours at a time. These pairs, or “matches,” spend time together one-on-one, forming a bond and relationship. They spend time together doing activities, including playing sports and board games, doing craft projects, going to the game room in Lower Usdan and attending on-campus events.

“We are particularly excited about the campus-based program because it is the pioneer campus-based mentoring program for our community partner, JBBBS,” said coordinator Sophie Brickman ’16. “They hope that our campus program will be the pilot for a future series of college partnerships.”

JBBBS is a local nonprofit organization based in Newton. The new program with Brandeis is designed to allow and encourage even more volunteer participation, as it allows the program to accept volunteers who do not have cars or another mode of transportation to the elementary schools. The new program allows greater interaction between the Waltham and Brandeis communities and also provides an opportunity for younger kids. In this way, these children can gain exposure to a college environment, which may prompt them to begin thinking about attending a higher education institution earlier than usual.

“The program’s infancy has allowed us to explore important risk-management issues that arise when hosting on-campus programs, which we have been able to discuss with other Waltham Group programs and Department of Community Service staff, ” Brickman explained.

The two original options, which Big Siblings will continue to run, are lunchtime programs at Stanley and Plympton elementary schools in Waltham where Brandeis volunteers visit the schools for an hour each week to spend lunchtime with their little. The matches eat together, talk, play games or do art projects, similar to the campus-based program.

Additional ongoing programs and opportunities for volunteering at Brandeis, include group training sessions and meetings where volunteers discuss their experiences with the children and reflect on the impact they are making. These students are, above all, continuing to learn new skills to become the best mentor they can be.

Overall the goal of the Big Siblings program “is to provide youth in the Waltham area with one-to-one mentoring relationships that focus on trust, stability, working together and having fun.”

Brickman hopes this new program will expand the opportunity for “the bigs to serve as positive and stable role models for their littles,” and she hopes it will create an environment where all participants can feel safe and have fun.