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Big Brother's bond makes big difference

The Big Brothers/Sisters program at BC includes group activities as well as one-on-one time. One recent session featured scientific experiments, which Adrian worked on with his Big Brother Michael Nardi ’14 (far left photo); Souadatou (above right) was a little dubious about the results. (Photos by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 13, 2012

As a middle child with a younger sister, Stefan Canizares ’13 knows what it’s like to be a big brother.

But to be a Big Brother? That’s quite a different experience.

Canizares is among more than 50 Boston College students serving as Big Brothers and Big Sisters for children from Franklin Field, a low and moderate-income apartment complex in Dorchester. Twice a month, the children come out to the BC campus and spend an afternoon with their “Bigs,” doing group activities — from science experiments to dodge ball to dance routines — and enjoying some one-on-one time for recreation and conversation.

For the past two years, Canizares has been a Big Brother — friend, mentor and role model, all rolled into one — to eight-year-old Damien, one of the youngest participants in the Franklin Field program, which is organized through Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay. They’ve shot hoops at the Flynn Recreation Complex, played air hockey and pool in Walsh Hall, hung out in Corcoran Commons and, in between visits, chatted by phone.

If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, listen to Damien’s mother, Isha Louis, when she talks about the difference a Big Brother has made in his life.

“Damien’s broken out of his shyness,” says Louis, whose nine-year-old daughter Daija also is in the Franklin Field program. “He’s putting himself out there, helping kids younger than he is, and he’s even talking about going to college: ‘Mom, I want to go to BC like Stefan.’ They talk all the time — ‘Mommy, can I call Stefan now?’ — and I like the connection between them. Stefan even calls me to see how I’m doing.

“It can be tough for a single mom to raise a son, so seeing the changes in him makes me feel very proud. And Stefan is a big part of that.”

From his vantage point, Canizares, a senior communication/Hispanic Studies major from Old Tappan, NJ, has enjoyed seeing Damien’s maturity almost as much as Louis.

“It’s been a pleasure watching him grow. Being a Big Brother to Damien makes me feel confident about making a difference, and being involved in someone’s life.”

There are many stories like that of Damien and Canizares because of the BC-Franklin Field program, says Terrence McCarron, director of program services at Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay. The program, administered through the University’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center, was established in 2010 through a gift from William Dwyer ’80, managing director and president of National Sales and Marketing at LPL Financial, and his wife Chris ’82.

“Much of what drives these kinds of programs is logistically based on what the organization can do,” says McCarron. “Boston College was a great match, because it is rich in resources and facilities, so there is plenty for the ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ to do that is entertaining but also educational. Most of all, of course, BC has such caring students who give of their time.”

A transition looms for Canizares, and Damien, however, when Canizares graduates from BC in May. He isn’t sure if he’ll stay in the Boston area, and even if he does, he won’t be able to take part in the BC-Franklin Field program. But there’s no way he won’t keep in touch with Damien — after all, he did so when he spent part of his junior year in Argentina (“When I came back,” he says, “Damien and I picked up right where we left off”).

“Damien understands that this is my last year in the program, but that someone else will be there for him at BC.”

As for Damien’s stated desire to be a fellow Eagle, Canizares acknowledges that, obviously, a lot can change between now and when Damien reaches college age. But he is not about to dampen such enthusiasm.

“I just encourage him to do well. I tell him if he works hard and keeps up the effort, that’s the best thing he can do for himself, and his family.”