Center for Community Engagement

Amherst Athletics supports Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County

Earlier this month, Amherst College students, student-athletes, and coaches rallied around the seventeenth annual “Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl for Kids’ Sake Bowl-a-Thon,” the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser.

Two athletic teams–women’s soccer and men’s track–were represented at the bowl-a-thon, which raised over $65,000 this year (exceeding its fundraising goal).

Big Brothers Big Sisters and Amherst

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) is one of the CCE’s major partnerships in the community.  At Amherst, the organization works to pair college students, or “bigs” with middle school and elementary school students, or “littles,” in the area to forge lasting, impactful friendships.

Ruth Harms, the Case Management Supervisor for BBBS of Hampshire County, spoke to the merits of such a friendship: “Our program gives a child a positive, adult role model outside of their family who can have fun with and teach him or her. For a lot of the kids, the friendship opens up a world within Amherst that they didn’t even know existed.  Also, spending time on campus helps instill a sense of the importance of collegiate education.”

At Amherst College, four Community Engagement Leaders–Jess Wall ’12, Dave Bradshaw ’12, Gina Ringelberg ’13, and Tania Dias ’13–serve as liaisons between BBBS and the Amherst student body to help facilitate either site-based pairings that exist solely on campus or community-based pairings that have a more flexible schedule and location.

“We’re a support system for these kids; the theory behind it is to go beyond one-time tutoring sessions or activities and create real friendships between bigs and littles,” Jess Wall–who has worked with BBBS all four years that she’s been a student at Amherst–reflected. “Data has revealed that these sustainable, consistent relationships foster better familial relationships, stronger schoolwork performance, and a better chance that these kids aren’t going to choose to get involved with drugs or alcohol.”

“The best part about BBBS is that I get to see how this person changes over time,” Gina Ringelberg said. “My little has grown so much in the three years I’ve known her. You can see the difference that you’re making in a person’s life.”

The Bowl-a-Thon

With the powerful impact of this organization in mind, it is important to know that each big/little pair costs about $1,000 a year to maintain.  Ruth outlined their three big fundraising events, two seasonal craft fairs and this bowl-a-thon, that, with the help of many enthusiastic supporters, raise the majority of the organization’s funds each year.

Dave Bradshaw explained how Amherst’s branch prioritizes this necessity of fundraising through a number of annual events like this bowl-a-thon, the popular campus-wide strategy game “Assassins,” and trivia nights. “For the bowl-a-thon, we have the most participation out of all the schools in the area,” Bradshaw said. “We made fundraising a priority for our branch about two years ago, and it is becoming a staple of the program.”

Athletes Bowl for a Cause

While each of Amherst’s 30 bigs participated in the event, Amherst Athletics also contributed to the cause. Two varsity teams–women’s soccer and men’s track–pitched in to raise money for the organization and bowl this weekend.  A number of other bigs are also student-athletes (who bowled without their team this weekend), some of whom drew financial support from their teammates and coaches.

Two players on the women’s soccer team–Jess Wall and Allie Horwitz ’12–have their own littles and encouraged their team to contribute to the cause.  “Jess definitely drove our initial connection, and now we’ve been doing this bowl-a-thon for four years,” head coach Jen Hughes explained. “Every spring we sit down as a team and talk about some offseason community engagement we’d like to do, and this is one of our continued relationships.”

“The team originally got involved to support the couple of us who have Littles, but they’ve stayed involved because they’ve become passionate about the cause,” Allie Horwitz reflected. She and her little, Kyle, have a mutual interest in sports, which explains his presence on the sidelines of the team’s soccer games among other sporting events that the two have frequented over the past two years.

The team raised over $1,000 dollars for the organization in the couple of weeks leading up to the bowl-a-thon.  Younger team members who have become inspired by their seniors’ involvement have applied to become Bigs to keep the team’s partnership an ongoing one.

Just a few lanes down, a group of men’s track runners and coaches got together to rally for the BBBS cause.  Head coach Erik “Ned” Nedeau, who quickly admitted that he was “a better coach than bowler,” explained that one of his runners and BBBS big, Kash Aleshinloye ’14, worked with one of the team’s captains, Chris Erickson ’12, to put together their spring community engagement project.

Kash pitched the idea of the bowl-a-thon at a team meeting, and encouraged his teammates to raise money even if they couldn’t make it to bowl.  With that backing, Kash and his little, Omar, spent the afternoon bowling with some teammates and coaches, knowing they had raised money and awareness for an impactful organization.

Track is always in season, which means the team works to keep community engagement a priority despite lacking the freedom an offseason would provide.  “We always make sure to do an engagement project each season, especially over interterm” Nedeau elaborated.  “I tell my players that giving back to the community is a way to better yourself, and another part of being a member of this team.”

“It’s awesome to have athletic teams be at our events, to mobilize that many people who are dedicated to our cause” Jess Wall commented.  “And it’s one place we can grow–team participation,” Ruth added. “When CELs or current student-athlete bigs make a push for their team to participate, we raise funds more successfully and, ultimately, recruit even more bigs.”

How to get involved

Being a Big Brother or a Big Sister is not only a fulfilling community engagement effort to make a difference in a child’s life, but it is also a flexible one for a student-athlete with a busy schedule.  If you or a teammate is interested in becoming involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters at Amherst, contact one of the four BBBS partnership Community Engagement Leaders:  Jess Wall at jwall12@amherst.edu, David Bradshaw at dbradshaw12@amherst.edu, Tania Dias at tdesousadias13@amherst.edu), or Gina Ringelberg at gringelberg13@amherst.edu to find out more about info sessions.

Reilly Horan ’13 is one of three Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect athletes and coaches to the resources of the Center for Community Engagement and work to create a sustainable culture of service within the Athletics Department.  If your team is looking for community engagement projects, contact Roshard Bryant ’13 at rbryant13@amherst.edu or Irene Hickey ’13 at ihickey13@amherst.edu for advice and resources or visit their office hours in the Center for Community Engagement (in Keefe Campus Center) every Friday from 10am-12pm. If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Reilly Horan ’13 at rhoran13@amherst.edu so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.

Visit us at https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/cce/lead/cel/liaisons.