Ever feel like you needed someone a bit older and wiser to lean on? At Littlebrook, children can do just that through the thriving Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program that pairs elementary-age children with Princeton University students.
“It's all about relationships,” explained Jenny Walters, who has overseen BBBS at Littlebrook since she began working there in 2007 as a school counselor.
Walters has been instrumental in making a shift to a school-based mentoring program. Formerly, matches between “Bigs” and “Littles” had happened outside of school. “It was very loosely organized,” said Walters. “There weren't a lot of matches.”
Now, with the help of the BBBS Mercer County case manager, Prema Ramroop, Walters is able to closely monitor the process. “The BBBS program has flourished at Littlebrook due to Jenny's very cooperative nature in working with me to ensure safe and quality-based matches,” said Ramroop.
Shirley Lee, Big Sister to third grader Tania Donis, feels that good matches are paramount because common experiences have a powerful bonding effect. “They really tried to match us with kids who have similar backgrounds,” said Lee. “When they have an issue they're concerned about, I can say, 'That's a road I've been down before.'”
Kate O'Dea, a senior at Princeton University who makes the trip to Littlebrook with Lee every Friday to visit her “Little,” a fifth grader, agreed. “We play such a unique role -- we're not a parent, not a teacher, not a peer.”
"We just try to be a friend. It's about modeling behavior rather than offering advice," O'Dea added.
Walters has witnessed first hand the benefits of such one-on-one mentoring programs. She sees the magic in the relationship that has developed between O'Dea and her little sister. “It's a match made in heaven,” said Walters. “She gets strength from her. She can talk to her about anything.”
Research has shown that children who participate in Big Brothers and Sisters programs are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, are able to get along better with their families, and become more confident learners.
Third grader Tania might not know about the research, but she knows she likes hanging out with her “Big.” “She's nice,” said Tania with a smile as she reached for a holiday ornament they were making together.