Every child has an idol, someone to look up to and aspire to become. For some it’s a parent, for others a superhero or a character in a movie. For some lucky kids, it’s an older friend who’s always there to have fun or talk.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program at Williams College gives many local children the opportunity to be paired with a student of the College as a role model and companion. This student then becomes a mentor of sorts, who agrees to meet with the child at least once a week and serve as a friend and guide through the sometimes difficult trials of childhood.
At the national level, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America serves over 100,000 children through over 500 agencies in the United States. The program is based on encouraging the formation of a meaningful one-on-one relationship between the volunteer and their little sib.
The idea for the program originated in 1903, when Irvin Westheimer decided that every child should have someone to look up to, to emulate, and to learn from. He went on to found the Big Brothers Association of Cincinnati in 1910. Then, in 1905, Mrs. John O’Keefe founded the Catholic Big Sisters program. The two groups formed a federation in 1921, but it was dissolved during the Great Depression. The concept reemerged decades later in 1977 as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
For the participants at Williams College, this program has been quite a success. Big Brothers Big Sisters offers a fulfilling connection between the college student and the little sib. Students’ meetings with their little sibs are self-scheduled, but this has not been a problem, since everyone involved looks forward to upcoming visits. Siblings meet at least once a week, and share a wide range of activities, from going to school plays to hanging out in the dorm and working on homework together.
Glenn Prichett ’00 originally got involved in the program when he was encouraged to do so by his wrestling captains. He now says of his little brother, “I look forward to seeing him, just as much as he looks forward to seeing me.”
Prichett feels that the program provides him with a good escape from the pressures of school. “You get caught up in a little bubble here at Williams, and it’s a great break from that,” he said. His little brother Jesse also feels that he benefits from the program because he can go to his big brother not only for fun, but also for help with school work.
Even with her often hectic school schedule, Lauren Siegel ’00 loves her time spent with her little sister Sarah. She says that the program allows her to do something good for other people while helping to balance her life at school.
Aside from being mutually beneficial to both college students and local children, the program has also allowed a bond to be formed between the College and the Williamstown community. Whereas most Williams students only know about things happening on-campus, those with little siblings become more aware of the town.
Elizabeth Roller ’01 has been a big sister since last September. “I definitely know more about life outside the college now,” she said. “I went to my little sib’s open house and toured her school, and I went to a play she was in last year with the fourth grade class. Without her, I would never know that stuff was happening.”
The most important part of the program for many participants is the bond formed not only with the little sib, but also with the little sib’s family. Both Prichett and Roller agree that it’s wonderful to escape from the college and be in a friendly family setting. Roller feels that, in many ways, her little sister’s family has adopted her.
The bonds formed between big sibs and little sibs go far beyond anything that could be classified merely as community service. They have made lifelong friends. “My little sister will always be part of my life now,” said Roller.
The once-a-week time investment is small in comparison to the benefits received through this program. The Williams students who are generous enough to offer their time to community youths are pleasantly surprised to find that they get just as much, if not more, from the program as their little sibs do.