We Are “Family”

How the Big Brothers Big Sisters program is connecting local children with the sibling they never knew they needed.

Illustrator: Olivia Novotny

When sophomore Roberta Svare joined Big Brothers Big Sisters this year, she was not expecting for such a small commitment to have a significant impact on her life. Svare is a “Big,” an adult volunteer that dedicates their time to mentor a child, often one facing some sort of adversity. After being interviewed, screened, and accepted into the program, “Bigs” are matched with a child (called a “Little”) based on mutual interests, and can begin their (often weekly) match meetups, which often involve doing homework, playing games, or just catching up with their Little.

While you may not think that enjoying a book together or playing a weekly game of Uno (like Svare did) will have a noticeable influence on a child, mentorship in the program has shown to produce lasting effects on the confidence and success of the Littles. A study conducted by BBBS revealed that Littles are “75% more likely to receive a college degree, 52% less likely to skip school, and 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs.”

As Littles are constantly presented with challenges while growing up; things like transitioning to a new grade, tackling tough classes, and exploring colleges and careers, Bigs can give their Littles a sense of consistency in their hectic schedules—as long as they’re willing to commit. According to BBBS, Bigs are expected to maintain a relationship with their little for a minimum of one year in order to develop a consistent and lasting relationship.

Matches like Svare’s are constantly monitored and analyzed by supervisors such as BBBS coordinator Brittany Mugg, who has been with the program since 2015.

On the topic of social and academic improvement, Mugg said, “I have seen Littles’ attitudes and behaviors change towards adults and to authority figures in general…I’ve seen Littles stepping out of their comfort zone and trying new and different things; things they never thought they would do and now enjoy.”

Svare personally witnessed this effect with her match: “In the beginning, my Little was very shy. I remember my supervisor informed me that she was having a hard time making friends in school. Throughout our match, I watched her develop amazing social skills and confidence in herself. Halfway through the year, I would pick her up from class and she would run up to me telling about all the friends she had made.”

Throughout our match, I watched her develop amazing social skills and confidence in herself.

Unfortunately, for some matches like Svare and her Little, they are faced with the harsh reality of the unexpected termination of a match after various situations arise. Near the end of the year, Svare was informed that her Little was moving. To her surprise, her Little was understanding and accepting of the closure of their match and drew Svare a chart of the activities she favored throughout their time together, later telling her, “I wanna be just like you when I grow up! I used to be shy but you taught me how to be confident and make friends.”

While some may not expect a match to be mutually beneficial, Bigs such as Svare have learned lessons alongside their Littles: “It’s funny, because coming into the program I thought I was going to be giving life lessons to my Little, but she actually taught them to me too.”

“The program really changed me,” Svare continued. “BBBS gave me the opportunity to not only be a positive role model in a child’s life, but to also reflect on my own… [it] helped me grow into my adult self, which I am very thankful for.”

Coordinator Brittany Mugg also commented, “… [being a Big] doesn’t feel like volunteering. I have heard Bigs tell me that going to see their Little is the highlight of their day. I mean, who doesn’t like playing board games and making projects!”

From my perspective, being a Big my freshman year taught me that there is more to life than midterms and minimum-wage jobs. By leaving the U of M campus for just a few hours each week, I was reminded that there is a world that exists beyond our three campuses. I am eternally grateful for how BBBS kept me grounded in a truly fun and rewarding way.

For those interested in becoming involved in the program, Svare says, “Sign up! The BBBS staff is absolutely wonderful and [the program] is so rewarding.”

To apply, visit https://www.bigstwincities.org/, or send an e-mail to thinkbig@bigstwincities.org to get started on your journey towards becoming a Big.