NAU Students join Big Brothers Big Sisters program
By Justin Regan
Whether it is participating in a food drive or joining a service club on campus, for Northern Arizona University (NAU) students there are many ways to get involved with the local community. For those who are looking for a more personal approach to serving the community, students have the opportunity to be a positive influence for a child who needs it. These students are a part of a nation-wide organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).
BBBS takes responsible men and women, who they call “Bigs,” and pairs them up with kids, called “Littles.” Some of the Littles come from broken homes, are at risk of dropping out of school or are making a habit of getting into trouble with the law and need a good influence. The Bigs act as mentors and role models to the Littles.
While being a mentor to a child might sound like a steep undertaking, students find it to be quite easy.
“The way I went into it, I thought I’d have to be a teacher,” says Jason Larosa, an NAU alumnus who is applying to the NAU Graduate College in exercise science and psychology. “But for the most part a lot of the Littles, they just want a friend, someone they can talk to. They don’t want a teacher, they have teachers already. It’s not that hard being a friend.”
Larosa heard about the organization from one of his fraternity brothers and has been with his Little for almost two and a half years now. Larosa, like all other Bigs, helps his Little by just spending time with him and doing various activities. For Larosa, these activities include going to the movies or the park, playing catch, going on hikes, going sightseeing, working out, painting and so on.
Considering how the weekly commitment to the program is only a couple of hours, NAU Bigs find it manageable to balance being a mentor and a full time student.
“[It] is not that hard for me,” says Rico Medina, a junior photography major. “Most of my classes are in the morning and afternoon and I don’t meet with my Little until 6:30 p.m., most likely on Wednesday or Tuesday or whatever works best for me.”
Medina was matched with his Little last November. Since then, Medina and his Little have gone to the movies, played video games, played board games, gone window shopping at the mall and walked around downtown.
Medina has siblings but does not get to see them much, so for him it is great to have someone to be a brother for.
“It’s good to make a kid smile and knowing that you are making him feel better about himself,” says Medina. “You’re changing someone’s life but at the same time they are changing your life too.”
Nick Velde, a grad student in teaching English as a second language, has been with his Little for what will be five years in October. It has been a unique opportunity for Velde to see his Little grow from a small kid into a teenager who is almost taller than he is. Like Medina, Velde feels that being a Big has helped him grow as a person.
“I think there is an aspect of responsibility that comes out of volunteering,” says Velde. “It’s not the type of thing where you can show up whenever you want, you need to be there when you say you are going to be there. Also, being involved in somebody’s life through good things and bad really brings a lot out of you as a person.”
Although Velde is there to help his Little, he feels like his Little has been a great source of support to him as well.
“Being in grad school now, it’s really easy to take things too seriously,” says Velde. “Hanging out with my Little reminds me that none of that stuff really matters that much. He reminds me of the stuff that really does matter.”
Being a Big does require long-term involvement, but the Flagstaff branch of BBBS understands the unique situation students have and will work with it.
“We ask for a minimum of a year commitment,” says Dinah Gillette at Big Brothers Big Sisters Flagstaff. “I always tell the NAU students if you have to go away for summer break, that’s fine we can put you on hold until you get back. And when you get back we’ll restart your match again.”
According to Gillette, BBBS Flagstaff, along with the organization across the country, has a constant need for more people to step up to be Bigs to accommodate all the kids applying to be in the program.
Larosa, knowing first-hand the importance of a positive role model, urges more people to volunteer their time to the organization.
“When I was really young, my parents split. It was just me and my mom,” Larosa says. “She was working two jobs, we didn’t live in the best neighborhood. Gangs were in my neighborhood, that’s who I started hanging out with. Then somebody else stepped in and gave me a chance, just listened to me and got me out of that and that was only because they took the ten minutes to talk to me and form a small bond and built it over time. You never know how you can help somebody else in their life if you just give it a chance.”
Larosa is also the first in his family to graduate college.
If you are interested in becoming a big, or want to learn more about BBBS, visit their website at www.bbbsf.com or call 928-774-0649.