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Big Brothers/Sisters Program at BC Gaining Popularity

02/16/12
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The number of student-child pairings in "BC BIGS" has tripled in just one year.

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 16, 2012

Michael Wangen ’12 was excited to get involved in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program at Boston College for all the usual reasons — to be a positive influence and role model in the life of a child. When he was paired up with 10-year-old Josh from the Franklin Field Housing Complex in Boston, he was thrilled.
  
Then his phone started ringing. Three, four, five times a day.
  
“It turned out Josh really, really wanted a Big Brother, too. He had called the organizers repeatedly trying to find out if he had been paired up with anyone. When they paired us up, he decided to start getting to know me right away with phone calls and texts,” laughs Wangen. “So from the very beginning we very much had a big brother-little brother relationship.”
  
Over the past two years, the friendship has evolved and strengthened.
  
“He’s goofy, like me. We enjoy the same things – math and science, movies, we’ve been ice skating and rock climbing. And I think I have had a positive impact on him – when we first met he had been suspended from school a few times. Now, his grades have improved and he doesn’t get suspended anymore,” said Wangen. “And I’ve learned a lot from him and about myself.”
  
Organizers at the Volunteer and Service Learning Center have led the flourishing partnership between Boston College and the Big Brother/Big Sister Program of Massachusetts Bay and the Big Sisters of Greater Boston. The program – called BC BIGS - has grown from just 12 pairs last year to 42 this year. Another 120 students participate in after-school programs at local schools and community centers across Boston each day.
  
Every other week this semester, a school bus arrives at McElroy Commons to deliver the children, all from the Franklin Field Housing Complex. BC BIGS organize a group event for all of them – science experiments in the Physics labs, step dancing or swimming in the Flynn Recreation Complex. The trips to Boston College are many children’s first, and only, exposure to college.
  
VSLC Director Dan Ponsetto said the unprecedented growth of BC BIGS is a testament to the young men and women who are drawn to helping Boston youth. “When that bus pulls up and those kids come running off into the arms of their Bigs, it really is moving. These kids love being here on campus and they love spending time with their Bigs,” said Ponsetto. “Many of their parents don’t let the kids outside to play because it is too dangerous, so despite the fact that these kids come from the same neighborhood – sometimes just a couple doors down from one another – they don’t know one another.”
  
“The most fun over this year has been watching the BC students grow into the role of mentors,” said Courtney Nichols, a 2014 graduate student in the School of Theology and Ministry, who manages the program. I think, for many of them, the first interaction with the Littles can be overwhelming and they were hesitant to set boundaries, but they have quickly acquired the ability to do that, to teach and become a support for the students.”
  
Nichols is working to centralize the individual efforts of BC students who participate in Big Brother/Big Sisters. Because no formalized group on campus has existed until now, students have largely taken it upon themselves to become mentors. Students like Will Bracker ’12 have been the drivers behind programs like “Enlaces,” a mentoring program for Spanish speaking children at the West End House in Allston.
  
Nichols said it is the VSLC’s goal to become a resource for all BC Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentors.
  
“In the Jesuit tradition, we not only want to encourage service in the community, but reflection on that service,” said Nichols.
  
For more information on BC BIGS contact Nichols, at courtney.nichols@bc.edu.