150 students build friendships at local schools

By Meghan Powers

Asst. Arts and Life Editor

While most Denisonians are concerned about their daily routine of classes, over 150 students of the school’s population are fitting a unique activity into their schedules. Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) serves as an hour-long commitment once a week for members of the organization. Denison students pair with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Licking & Perry Counties to mentor their ‘littles’ at ten different schools in the area. 

Denison’s BBBS ‘bigs’ are matched with mentees through an application, interview and background check process, ensuring that they are matched with compatible kids in need of their one-on-one attention. Though the process is described as relatively easy by mentees, it does take a couple of weeks to guarantee that the buddies are a suitable match.

BBBS co-chair, Celeste Erickson ’16, goes to Jackson County Intermediate in Hebron every Thursday during common hour to meet with her little sister. Her mentee, who is a fifth grader, always knows that Erickson will be there to spend time with her during her lunch break. “I know that she talks about me with her friends before I get there and knowing that she’s looking forward to me going every Thursday is what motivates me to be there,” Erickson said. 

A typical hour spent for BBBS includes driving with a carpool or Denison van to the mentee’s elementary or middle school. The mentor usually eats lunch with their little brother or sister before going outside, making crafts or playing games. Some schools require reading time between mentor and mentee as well. Macey Thornburg ’16, another co-chair of the organization, reads for 10-15 minutes with her fifth grade little sister at Cherry Valley Elementary in Newark. “It’s a good way to motivate her to read because she knows we can hang out after,” says Thornburg. ”It provides a lot of help on the academic side. You’re not teaching them how to read. It’s more just motivating them to do it.”

Along with involvement being personally rewarding to the bigs, mentoring also provides many benefits for the kids. Kate Benson ’16, the organization’s third co-chair, said, “The volunteers are a consistent, reliable presence in that child’s life. Through improving reading skills, interpersonal skills and giving them the attention they deserve, we keep them on the right track for a great future, which is an influence they may not find otherwise.”

As college students, the mentors also offer a unique perspective of possibilities for the kids. “I get to tell my little that I major in Biology, and that this morning I had a lab outside and she is always interested in that,” Thornburg said.

All three co-chairs have mentored their littles since their freshman year. These constant weekly visits have allowed them to really build a relationship with their mentees. Benson notices that her little brother is much more comfortable with her now than when he first met her. “His reading has improved,” says Benson, “and we enjoy our time together more than ever.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Licking/Perry County provides vital support for the Denison students involved at each school. Supervisors are available at each location when mentees are visiting, in case there are any problems or concerns with the child. “The supervisors are pretty involved in each child’s life that is part of their program,” says Erickson. This allows the mentees to become comfortable with the child’s situation and better work towards his or her best interest.

Because the program is quite individualized for each Denison student, Erickson, Thornburg and Benson have been working to create a greater presence on campus through annual events to bring together students involved in BBBS. The organization holds an Ice Cream Social in the fall to welcome mentees and set goals for the year. Thornburg said, “It is an individual thing, but we are a cohesive group at the same time.” Every spring, BBBS has a recognition dinner to award everyone on his or her hard work for the year.

Last week, BBBS participated in a fundraising event called Bowl for Kids, with all proceeds going to the Licking and Perry Counties chapter. With the help of Brian Allen ‘17, BBBS’s Community Service Intern, mentees carried bowling pins around, collecting spare change for their schools. Allen is the assistant to BBBS of Licking and Perry Counties’ Program Director, Kristina Nixon. He plays a pivotal role on the administrative side of Denison’s relationship with the national organization. Mentees were excited to take part in Bowl for Kids, as it was Denison’s first year participating. Allen thought, “it would be a good idea to make the connection between me and the community chairs for BBBS.”

To its mentees, BBBS serves as a means of getting off campus, while also making a huge impact in a child’s life. “Every week, I go thinking she’s going to get something out of it, but I end up getting so much out of it too,” Thornburg said.

Members acknowledge that their involvement has allowed them to realize how much is going on beyond Denison that students often miss out on while drowning in the business of schoolwork.

On March 11, City Barbeque in Newark will be donating a percentage of their earnings to the Licking & Perry Counties chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Denison students are encouraged to participate by visiting the restaurant anytime that day.    

Photo Courtesy of Jewell Porter