The usual stomping grounds for this group is the Montford Recreation Center—with it’s basketball and tennis courts, climbing wall and gymnastics matts. But for this particular group, Big Sister and group mentor lead Stephanie wanted to change things up. In particular, she wanted to invite all of the Littles (and the other kids in the rec program) out to UNCA for a field trip in hopes that such a visit would offer them a sense of what college life is like—and also give them the chance to envision themselves following a path toward higher education.
“I just figured they’d like the opportunity to see the college campus and a field trip is always fun—especially when we’re going to feed them!” says Stephanie, as she waits in front of High Smith Student Untion for her Little Brother Demaje to arrive on the second bus. In addition to volunteering as a Big and group mentor lead, Stephanie stays busy with her studies: double majoring in sociology and Africana Studies and double minoring as well.
The first group of kids has already arrived and the rowdy group of after-schoolers comes pouring out of High Smith’s doors, shouting and bouncing with energy as though the entire campus is an enormous and inviting playground.
“Oh my,” whispers Tia, watching the group approach and getting a clearer vision of just how monumental a task it’s going to be to keep these kids together, wrangled, and focused on life in college and academic pursuits for the next couple of hours.
“We’re going to allow the students to go on a campus tour and play some games with them and have some students from from different majors talk to them about what that major is all about,” she explains.
“And we’re going to let them go inside of a dorm room and see what that’s like. So, we’re just looking to give them a very holistic experience today. I think it’s very good to have these kids on campus and it’s going to be a great experience for them.”
After splitting the kids up into three groups based on age and taking attendance—we are off into the corridors and pathways of campus.
Under a clear spring sky, the campus grounds are exploding with blossoms: cherries, dogwoods, hawthorns and redbuds all in bloom as each of our cacophonous group hurries along for the tour. UNCA students and professors turn they’re heads to see what all the racket is—not used to this particular brand of unbridled youthful energy!
As we approach Lipinsky Hall which houses the music department, Kamal—a music minor and sax player—steps to the front of the group.
“Ok so who likes music” asks Kamal.
Everybody shouts: “I do!” and raises their hands. “Ok. Ok. So who are some of your favorite artists?”
The kids yell out all kinds of names from the latest top 100 list as Kamal proceeds to show them the building that houses the music department.
“What about animals?” he asks as they move toward another building.
All the hands go up.
“How bout bugs? You like bugs?”
Only one kid raises his hand.
“For real?” asks Kamal, incredulously, “Well, this is also the home of our biology department. So in here, what I have to do, is learn about the evolution of animals, and how birds transformed. Any one have any questions about this building?”
A hand goes up, “What’s evolution?”
“Well, it’s basically when things gradually change over a period of time…”
Amazingly, this technique works and the kids listen attentively as Kamal tells them more about the academic journeys he takes in the building before them for his major of health and wellness promotion.
Though Kamal isn’t an After-School Big this year, he’s heard a lot of positive stories from his peers and is hoping to find time to join BBBS as a Big Brother next fall when the group is renewed.
“I would love to find a Little who’s interested in music,” he says, “so that we can get involved in music together. I would also just like to get a young kid on track so that they could aspire to be a better young adult. Especially kids of color. I would like to show them how a good African American young male role model can be for them.”
When we approach the building that houses the psychology department, Big Sister Tia steps in.
“How about your brain? Is anyone here interested in how your brain works? And how you think?”
The kids scream “Yeah! Yes!”
“Well that’s what psychology is and we take those classes in this building.”
The kids take a brief look at the building before scurrying on along the sidewalk, jumping up on the stone walls and through freshly mulched perennial gardens as we pass.
The afternoon goes on like this as we visit the Belk theatre, the art department, sociology and anthropology and the humanities.
With each new visit, a mentor whose majoring in one of the building’s pertinent subjects steps up to quiz the kids about what they know about it and also to share about their own experience studying within the discipline. Religious studies, sociology, health and wellness promotion, Africana studies—these are just a few of the majors that the UNCA mentors represent.
After a brief break to run around a stone meditation labyrinth and to marvel at an undulating metal sculpture comprised of blue wispy tentacles shaped into what appeared to the children as most apparently a wacky jungle gym—Tia invites the group to check out her living quarters in the dorm.
This stop is the most popular so far: She has a couch! She has a mini refrigerator! The kids pile onto the couch, open the fridge, all of a sudden they’re full of questions.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” says Big Sister Shelby, as she watches the kids running about. “I get to go see them every week at the Rec and having them here is a different experience: they get to see my world and where I hang out at.”
Having mentored most of these kids since September, Shelby says she’s going to miss them. And unlike some of the other students, she won’t be able to return to mentor again next year: because she’ll be graduating in just three weeks with a degree in atmospheric science. Her goal is to get an internship with NASA.
“I’ve talked to them about going to UNCA, but actually having them see UNCA is cool. It’s like giving them another window into where they can go,” she says.
Are you interested in becoming a mentor in our After-School Program? There is always a need for new mentors to join our program—especially Big Brothers! As this year’s After-School groups wind down and say good by in the coming weeks, we’ll have our sights set on creating another great set of groups next fall.
Learn more about becoming a Big at: bbbswnc.org/becoming-a-big/
or contact us at: 828-253-1470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.