The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Penn students Kelli Liu, Alex McClelland, and Laura Ruiz-Colón helped promote Penn's Big Brothers Big Sisters program at an event last week. | Courtesy of Camila Zager

Classes, clubs, football and friends — the sheer amount of commitments that College junior Tyrone Quarterman juggles in a week is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Yet his busy schedule isn’t far from typical for a Penn student.

But one of his responsibilities actually takes away from his stress: his role as a mentor in Big Brothers Big Sisters at Penn. For Quarterman, meeting with his little brother — a fifth grader named Samir with whom he was matched last fall — for one hour a week, is a time of escape, even of refuge, from the pressures on Penn’s Ivy League campus.

“If you go here, day in and day out, you’ve got this on your plate, you’ve got that on your plate — sometimes you get stressed out, or focus on what other people have,” he said. “But you go there and see someone who’s just so happy to see you for one hour a week — they may or may not come from the best background, but that little thing is enough to make them happy.”

According to national statistics, the positive effects of having a big brother or big sister on an at-risk child’s life are astounding — compared to children not in the program, participants are 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to start using illegal drugs and are overall more confident in their academic performance. For Penn students who volunteer as big siblings, these relationships have had powerful effects on their lives as well.

Quarterman and other students in the program say that the hour each week that they spend with their “littles” provides them with more than just fun and games — it brings some much-needed perspective to their lives as college students, where juggling studying and sleep with pre-games and parties can start to feel like an impossible balancing act.

In addition to playing basketball and Jenga, Quarterman spends some of his time with Samir practicing reading and doing homework. But the learning that takes place in their relationship is far from one-sided.

“I come back [to campus] and think, ‘Wow maybe I could be more like that.’ Maybe I could look at the positives instead of the negatives,” Quarterman said.

Since the pair was matched up last September, they’ve gotten more and more in-sync, he said, getting comfortable with each other and even assimilating to each other’s sense of humor. Quarterman said that one of the defining moments of his experience was when their match coordinator, the person who creates and supervises relationships between bigs and their littles, told him that Samir really looked forward to seeing him every week. That’s when he knew that he was having just as positive of an impact on Samir as Samir was having on him.

“It’s one hour a week where I’m not going to class, I’m not in practice, I’m not studying — it’s such a relief to just hang out and see someone else just smile and enjoy life,” he said.

For College senior Addie Maguire, who also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, most of her relationships with friends have changed from her freshman to her senior year, but one has stayed the same: her relationship with her little sister, Makayla, with whom she was matched only a month into her first semester at Penn.

Three years later, Makayla is now a fifth-grader, and though their pastimes have evolved from Candy Land to shooting hoops, the one hour a week they spend together has remained constant. The pair has stayed close through periods of separation, including Maguire’s semester abroad junior year, as well as over the summers, during which they exchanged frequent, often emoji-filled, text messages.

“It’s been amazing to watch her grow and watch our relationship grow and just have that time in my week — it’s really easy and simple, and she actually feels like my little sister,” Maguire said.

Like Quarterman, Maguire said that her relationship with her little has had an unexpected impact on her own life as a student, reminding her to take a step back and reflect in a fast-paced campus environment that doesn’t often lend itself to introspection.

“It puts everything in perspective,” Maguire said. “I feel like it’s really easy to be [on campus] and be wrapped up in the Penn bubble and only think about yourself ... It’s nice to get out of that at least once a week and remember that Penn isn’t all there is.”

Additionally, giving Makayla advice on how to deal with friend or sibling drama, as well as supporting her in transitioning to a new school, have helped Maguire take a critical look at her own life and reflect on how she has handled similar situations in the past.

“It’s a really valuable tool for self-reflection,” she said of being a mentor.

College senior Eric Shiuey joined the program for a different reason — after his family moved from New Jersey, where he could see his little sister every other weekend, to California, where he could only visit once or twice a semester, he wanted to step into the role of being a big brother that he was missing out on.

He said that his relationship with his little, Jayvon, who is the same age has his sister, has given him a new perspective on how to be an older brother, and it helped to fill the gap of time he used to spend with his sister at home.

“It really became just seeing a friend once a week — he’s a little brother to me,” Shiuey said.

College senior and President of Penn Big Brothers Big Sisters at Penn Laura Ruiz-Colon has been matched with her little, Destiny, for three years, a relationship that ultimately inspired her to help foster more big-little pairs.

Painting their nails in glittered hues, swooning over Justin Bieber and trying to imitate Beyonce’s dance moves with her little became more than just an hour of volunteering — for Ruiz-Colon, their time together soon became a comforting refuge from the tumultuous and sometimes overwhelming experience of freshman year. In the midst of a fast-paced life on campus, she found herself looking forward all week to the hour that she could spend laughing and having fun with Destiny.

“I knew that there were bigger problems than not doing so well on an assignment or feeling a little bit tired — there were things beyond what the priorities are here. It just put things in perspective for me while I was here and made me more appreciative.”

Ruiz-Colon agreed with her fellow mentors that the program provides an opportunity for Penn students to learn from their littles.

“[Destiny] became a role model to me at the same time,” she said.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.