“It’s pure heart.”
That’s what Julien Suaudeau and Inés Arribas have to say about the Big Sisters volunteer program they’ve started between Bryn Mawr College and Willard Elementary School in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.
The two lecture in the college’s French and Spanish departments respectively and are working with Bryn Mawr students Andrea Moreno, Jocelyne Oliveros, Zoila Regalado, and Maria Vivanco to provide mentorship and guidance to a group of Willard Elementary students.
The Bryn Mawr students, all of whom are the first in their family to attend college, visit Willard Elementary roughly every other Friday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., and spend time reading, studying, and playing games with their assigned Sisters.
“It’s a big commitment,” said Zoila Regalado ‘20, who has been working with a fourth-grader named Gabby. “But it’s exciting for Gabby to see what I’m going through right now, going through college and trying to get a degree.”
“We want these students to realize that a college campus can maybe be a much more diverse place than they’ve imagined,” Suaudeau said. “We want them to see that it’s a community, that it’s diverse, and that they can find a sense of belonging here just as their 'big sisters' have.”
Teresa Bronte is the school counselor at Willard Elementary and sees the impact of the program every day.
“I think for our girls it means a lot to have someone that takes a personal interest in them, in their lives and their schooling,” she said. “I also think that it is wonderful for our girls to be exposed to such positive role models. Most of our girls come from families where there are no college graduates. Meeting young women who come from backgrounds similar to theirs (all the 'big sisters' are Latino as are most of our students) is truly inspiring for our girls. I hope they will follow in their 'big sisters' footsteps one day.”
That day may come sooner than expected—Suaudeau and Arribas have already organized a visit to Bryn Mawr College with the big and little sisters in late April. “They’re going to visit campus and attend classes,” Arribas said. “It’s going to be very significant for them to finally see their 'big sisters' in an academic environment.”