Whether they credit a relative, a teacher, or someone they admired, many successful people acknowledge that mentors set them on their track of achievement. Mentoring isn't always easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding -- and fun.
"Big Sister" and IC staff member Laurie Ward with "little sister" Mary enjoy a Saturday outing at Ithaca Falls
IC community members are finding this out through One-to-One Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ithaca and Tompkins County (BBBS) -- the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA). Students, faculty, and staff who can commit at least a year volunteer as "bigs," befriending and mentoring young people aged 5 to 18. The demand for mentors is great; some 40 Ithaca-area kids are waiting to be matched up with big siblings.
Those who can't commit a year, such as seniors and students who spend semesters studying off campus, now have a way of interacting with Ithaca's youth as well. The IC Bigs club was begun last winter as a collaboration among four staff members and Frank Patti '04, who recruited other students. Once a month club members visit the unmatched kids, playing games, chatting, and enjoying one another's company.
J. R. Clairborne, web writer/editor in the Office of Marketing Communications, is one of the club's originators and its current adviser. "Besides hosting the visits, the club also offers support for current big siblings," he points out, "and is a testing ground for those who might like to consider becoming full-time bigs."
One-on-one mentoring can make an everlasting difference in the lives of young people. Youth who form bonds with caring adults are less likely to start using illegal drugs and alcohol, more likely to develop better relationships with their families, and more likely to stay in school.
IC students Kate DuBois and Lindsay Knox at Ithaca Youth Bureau with young friends
Photo: Shai Photography
When she heard first heard about IC Bigs, Lindsey Knox '07 raced to join. For her, the club was not only a way to continue her commitment to community service, but also a way to pass down the mentorship she had received from her fifth-grade teacher. "She was such an influence on my life," Knox recalls. "She helped open my eyes."
Maddie Snow '07 says her seventh-grade social studies teacher, who later became her high school's principal, taught her the joy of learning and, as a big brother, inspired Snow to become involved in mentoring younger people. Snow is both the publicity coordinator for IC Bigs and a big sister. "Working with kids has been a reward," she says. Once a week she meets with nine-year-old Deja, whom she calls "one of my closest friends."
IC Bigs members also raise broader awareness about BBBS. "I've found the club super-enthusiastic," says Katie Foley '01, acting director of the organization. "They've done a great job of promoting our work."
Michael McGreevey, M.S. '03, executive assistant to President Williams and chair of BBBS's advisory board, agrees. "IC Bigs are truly making a difference in the lives of our local youth at risk," he says.
Laurie Ward, a marketing communications manager at IC, became a "big" last August. Her "little" is a fourth-grader named Mary. One day every other week they explore the city of Ithaca together. "She's been so much fun to hike with and to go to the movies with," Ward says. "She really is like my little sister. It was so sweet when she first hugged me good-bye -- that's when I knew that what I'm doing matters."