Penn's branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters — a youth mentoring organization with branches across the country — pairs students with elementary and middle school students in the Philadelphia area.
The program provides one-on-one mentoring opportunities where Penn student "bigs" meet with their "littles" at their Philadelphia school for lunch once a week.
While BBBS was formed in 1915, Penn's branch has been active since 2007, with around 70 current big-little pairings. BBBS College Recruiter Robert Roy said that the most impactful part of the program is the long-term bonding opportunities that the one-on-one mentorship offers.
“That doesn't really sound like a lot, you know, an hour a week,” he said. “But if you really think about it, how many people in your life do you spend an hour at lunch with once a week? That's actually a pretty short list.”
Penn BBBS Vice President and College senior Noah Moyse has been working with his little since he was a first-year at Penn.
“Roughly every week for the past four years, I've gone on Friday for [my little’s] lunch and recess time, and we just hang out, you know, play sports during recess, play board games during lunch,” he said.
Students looking to get involved with BBBS can visit Penn Bigs on linktree to fill out an interest form or schedule an interview, Roy said. However, he said the interview is not meant to be daunting — instead, it is a chance for the organization to get to know the volunteer and form the right match with their little.
“We call it a non-competitive conversation, so you're not matched with a mentee that you don't have anything to talk about,” Roy said. “We also interview the mentees in the program to get to know what their hobbies are.”
Moyse said that the matching process is “scarily accurate," adding that his little reminds him of a younger version of himself.
“It's so amazing how they do it, like my little and I are so similar. We both like board games,” he said. “We're both super competitive. We both like sports. We both even like eating the same things.”
Moyse said that his long-term involvement with the program has allowed him to build a strong relationship with his mentee.
“Being able to see my little grow from third grade to sixth grade — and sort of grow as a person — has been pretty incredible for me,” he said. “We've definitely built a strong relationship over four years.”
Additionally, Moyse said feels that both he and his mentee equally benefit from being part of the program.
“I learned from my little as much as little as he learns from me,” he said. “It's definitely interesting to see the way in which the younger generation is growing up and adapting to things and because you know, it can be kind of isolating just being with your own age group.”
Roy said that COVID-19 posed difficulties for the program and caused some numbers to dwindle. However, Moyse added that he was able to maintain his involvement during the pandemic by having weekly meetings with his little over Zoom, and playing iPhone games.
Moyse added that he would recommend that Penn students get involved with BBBS, and that his time spent volunteering in West Philadelphia schools — with both BBBS and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships — has made him consider working with kids as part of his career.
“It's definitely transformed my Penn experience and it's such an easy way to get involved in the community and it's just really, really fun,” he said.