Big Brothers and Big Sisters on campus make a difference

Every Friday morning around 10 a.m., senior Kara Eusebio got on the Green Line for a tiring, hour-long commute to the Columbia Heights Metro stop. Once there, Eusebio walked into the Bruce Monroe Elementary school to pay an important visit to a little sister of hers. Eusebio was greeted by a beaming 11-year old, Elsa, and showered with the latest success story of Elsa’s aced test or of her participation on the student council. The two girls would share and laugh over stories from the week, maybe crack down on some homework and just have some good, sisterly fun.

They aren’t actually related as sisters, though – they are both participants in D.C.’s Big Brother Big Sister program, something Eusebio said she is extremely happy to be involved in.

“No matter how tired I was when I went, she would always make me smile,” Eusebio said. “She always had something to tell me about her day that would make me laugh and forget about the long Metro ride.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a nationwide program with a chapter in the D.C. area that matches elementary school-aged children with mentors who spend up to a few hours per week meeting with their child. College students do quite a bit of mentoring in D.C.

Denise Williams, vice president of programs at the D.C. chapter, said there are two different programs. One is community-based, in which volunteers take kids out to different places to do activities, and the other is school-based, in which mentors come into a school about one hour a week to spend time with their child. Most college students become involved in the latter.

Jonathan Hakakian, a 2006 GW graduate who participated in the school-based program since his sophomore year, said the program is a two-way street. Both he and his “little brother,” Ariel, 10, benefited from the program.

“It is rewarding because, as clich? as it sounds and as improbable as it may be, we, the ‘Bigs,’ really do make a difference. And it’s not something I can describe, it’s just a feeling I get when I visit him in D.C. and talk to him over the phone,” Hakakian said. Even though Hakakian is no longer a student at GW, he said he still talks to and visits Ariel.

The Bigs commit to their Littles for an entire year. On average, including talking to their kids on the phone and through e-mail, they commit two hours a week. The time spent allows the brothers and sisters to get to know each other.

Eusebio still keeps in touch through e-mail with Elsa and has made plans to meet up with her.

Participation with Big Brothers Big Sisters also provides a refreshing, mature learning opportunity for GW students.

“I think it’s really easy to get into the GW bubble and not ever venture farther than Georgetown, but I really benefited and think my little sister benefited from the program,” Eusebio said. “I stepped outside of the area I was comfortable with and got to know an amazing little girl I never otherwise would have met.”

After graduation Hakakian continued to speak to Ariel on the phone, who asked him why he was leaving GW and the city. When Hakakian told Ariel that it was because he needed a job, the next day Ariel called him and excitedly said he could work with his father in construction.

Williams stressed the need for young men to volunteer, saying that there are boys in the program who are waiting for mentors. About six GW students participated in the program last year.

Williams said it is valuable for littles to have college students as mentors because “it gives (them) exposure to college life,” and encourages them to seek out higher education in the future.

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