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Club pairs student mentors with local kids

Lesley Stevenson | Tuesday, March 5, 2013

For many Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, serving the South Bend community is as easy as taking in a movie, shooting baskets or playing video games.

“You don’t feel like you’re doing community service at all,” junior Peter Cummings, president of Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Big Brothers Big Sisters, said. “But at the same time you see the transformation before your eyes.”

Mentors are paired with children ages 6 to 14 after an application and interview process. After that, a big brother or sister and his or her “little” meet at least once every two weeks to spend time together and catch up, Cummings said.

“It’s having somebody to look up to, somebody that they can count on for support who’s there for them,” Cummings said. “You’re meeting with them on a regular basis and they can count on you as someone to share their stories with.”

Junior Yana Jones said her little sister talks with her about issues with school and her home life.

“She tells me different issues that she’s having that she can’t talk about with her family, and I think that’s something that I went into Big Brothers Big Sisters hoping I could do,” Jones said. “She feels comfortable talking with me.”

Cummings noted that the dynamic between bigs and littles can be quite different from that of other mentor-mentee relationships.

“It’s a relationship that goes beyond one thing like school or homework – it’s one thing to meet with a tutor for an hour because you have to,” Cummings said. “It goes beyond that; you spend several hours with this kid just doing what you like to do… it’s a relationship that goes beyond trust.”

Jones said the friendships often live up to the program’s name.

“When they tell you that you’re like a real big sister and they wish you were their real big sister, it’s the best feeling in the world,” she said.

The effects of this care have been measured by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Joseph County, with which ND/SMC Big Brothers Big Sisters work very closely. Its website notes that mentored children are less likely to skip school, use drugs and drink illegally than children without mentors.

Cummings said he witnessed a change in his little brother after they were paired together Cummings’ freshman year.

“He was just showing more respect to adults, please and thank you and stuff like that,” he said. “You really build special relationships with these kids and you can tell it’s having an impact on them.”

Jones noticed a similar change in her little sister.

“She just became a lot friendlier, a lot more open… I think she’s gained confidence in herself.”

Cummings said most of the littles live in single parent households or in families in which one or both parents are unable to spend significant amounts of time with his or her family.

“Most of these kids are facing adversity in their lives and they need a role model… they need someone they can rely on to provide them with support,” he said.

Cummings noted that the network is growing and that an upcoming Five Guys fundraiser on April 4 will attract potential big brothers and sisters as well as raise awareness of the program.

Interested students can visit the St. Joseph chapter’s website or email Peter Cummings for more information.

Contact Lesley Stevenson at lsteven1@nd.edu