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Now in its fourth year, BC Bigs gives Boston College students a chance to put service learning into action while acting as a mentor—a big brother or big sister—to a youngster in the Boston area.

Organized and run by the University’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, the program pairs student volunteers (“bigs”) with 50 “littles” who live in the Franklin Field Housing Project and another 125 elementary school students in Allston-Brighton, the Boston neighborhood closest to the Boston College campus. Most of the youngsters are between ages 8 and 14.

“The big-little relationship has reciprocal benefits,” said Dan Ponsetto, the Welles R. Crowther director of the Volunteer and Service Learning Center. “It allows our students to discover and use their gifts in a relationship with a local young person. And the youth who participate gain an adult friend and role model who can encourage them to believe in themselves and imagine a very bright future.”

Nearly every other Saturday during the academic year, the littles from Franklin Field bus to the campus to spend time with their bigs. The first hour is usually filled with a group activity, such as scavenger hunts, shows by student performers, or a classroom-based activity. Later, the bigs and littles have one-on-one time to spend as they choose.

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Peter Sidney ’15, a finance and marketing major from Canton, Mass., said his little likes to go to the Plex to play basketball, tennis, and racquetball. “He likes to swim. We don’t get to do that as much as he likes,” said Sidney. “Sometimes we’ll go to Alumni Stadium and just run around on the field.”

Sidney said his time in BC Bigs has helped him break out of his shell. “You’re supposed to help this kid be comfortable in his own skin,” said Sidney. “You have to make sure you’re modeling that, so he can see what you’re doing and live by your actions, not just by your words.”

Cait Hegarty ’14, an economics major from Long Island, visits her little during her lunch period at the Jackson Mann School in Allston. “She’s really into arts and crafts,” said Hegarty, who said she developed a new sense of responsibility while volunteering in the BC Bigs program.

“It’s given me a sense of the role I play in other people’s lives,” she said. “My life is not just what I’m doing for myself but how other people are affected by my actions.”

As the Volunteer and Service Learning Center staff see it, BC Bigs helps students contextualize the Jesuit ideal of men and women for others.

“I have a chance to visit with parents of littles each semester, and they are effusive in describing how important our student volunteers are in encouraging their children emotionally, academically, and socially,” said Ponsetto. “The experience of mentoring one child over the course of a year or more does not carry much glamour. But I believe it is one of the most powerful ways our students can volunteer their time while at Boston College, and there is clear evidence that it is making a difference in many lives.”

by Tim Czerwienski