I decided to join Big Brothers Big Sisters for the simple reason that I grew up as an only child who always wanted a sibling. As I started volunteering once a week for Big Brothers Big Sisters at a site called Girl’s Inc.*, Brianna (my Little Sister) and I studied fractions and nail painting, computer games and chapter books. At first, volunteering as a Big was exactly what I had anticipated: Brianna and I got along right away, and I believed that I was making some difference in her life. We shared a love of science, a similar sense of humor, and Brianna reminded me of myself at her age. Over time, I began to understand that I might have gotten as much out of the experience as Brianna, and visiting my Little each Thursday afternoon soon became a highlight of my week. Over the summer, Brianna and I exchanged emails and letters, and while I missed seeing her in person each week, receiving mail from Brianna made every day a bit brighter. Nevertheless, it was not until my first Field Day, during which all Littles spend an afternoon at my college, Holy Cross, with their older siblings, that I fully understood the impact of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. I will never forget Brianna’s wide-eyed look of awe as she asked where the science experiments happened and rushed into the main library. For the first time, I saw the beautiful architecture that I hurry past each morning and the seemingly limitless opportunities at Holy Cross through Brianna’s eyes. As her face lit up, and Brianna exclaimed, “This is where I want to go college” I understood my own potential in impacting Brianna’s life. While I had known that helping Brianna with homework was important, as her hearing-impaired single mother often was not able to help her, it was during Field Day that I realized how Brianna’s future success is intricately tied to her role models and education today.
After working with Brianna for a few years, I have come to appreciate why Big Brothers, Big Sisters is such a popular and successful program. Brianna just celebrated her tenth birthday, and it has been such a wonderful experience being her Big Sister for the past three years. From the beginning, it has been evident how vital Brianna’s education is for her success, and how my own role in encouraging her to work hard in school can have lasting impacts. However, Brianna has had a tremendous impact on my own education as well. As an aspiring physician, I came into college with the expectation that these four years would simply be a stepping-stone of science classes before medical school. Thankfully, my time with Brianna has allowed me to see college as four fleeting years of opportunity to have incredible experiences and meet wonderful people. Each hour that I spend helping Brianna with long division or exchanging friendship bracelets reminds me that I can no longer view social justice issues abstractly. Volunteering as a Big has made me not only want to come back each week, but also do more to address the causes of the inequality I see. I hope that in the future I am able to not only volunteer my time, but also become a part of feasible solutions to issues such as poverty. These lessons have fundamentally changed my education, and I feel so privileged to have learned them while swapping stories and jokes with my little sister Brianna. In this way, I have been a positive role model for Brianna, but she has also been an influential role model for me.
*Each week Holy Cross students such as Bethanne volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters at many different site-based programs including Girls Inc. This is set up through Holy Cross’ SPUD (Student Programs for Urban Development) Program which works to create a positive change in the community that the College calls home.