Center for Community Engagement

Then and now: A lasting big brother relationship

Joe and Jack
September 2013—story by Lindsay Ewing ‘15, photos courtesy of Jack Angiolillo ’08

After four years at Amherst College, most students leave campus with an education, enduring friendships, and an inordinate amount of purple clothing. It’s decidedly less common for a recent graduate to leave with a new sibling—but that’s exactly what Jack Angiolillo ’08 did.

During his first year at Amherst, Angiolillo started to volunteer as a “big brother” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Hampshire County program. By the time he graduated from the college, however, it was clear his relationship with his “little” brother, Joe, was only beginning.

Today, after eight years, the two are still surprisingly close. “It’s become a very nurturing relationship for both of us,” explains Angiolillo. When they met in the fall of 2004, Angiolillo was a shy undergraduate and Joe a rambunctious nine year old. Now, Angiolillo is a medical student at Columbia University. Joe is 17, a junior in high school receiving honor-roll grades in advanced placement classes and taking a Japanese course at Amherst.

It took time, however, for this bond to form. “In the beginning it was just about being there when I said I would be,” said Angiolillo. “We built from there.” The two started slowly, spending a few scheduled hours together each week as per BBBS regulations. Over time, as they moved from BBBS-sponsored events and trips to Valentine Hall to private chemistry demonstrations in Merrill and tours of the Amherst fire station, their visits began to take on a more organic quality. The two still talk weekly and see each other three to four times each year.

The relationship has greatly improved both men’s lives. Deb, Joe's mother, saw a noticeable transformation in her son—socially and emotionally. “At the end of Jack’s graduation, Joe, then a struggling sixth grader, turned to me and announced he wanted to go to Amherst College," she shares. "As a single mom, having an active male role model in my son’s life has made an immeasurable difference.”

Joe also improved and transformed Angiolillo’s life. He showed his “big” a different, simpler lifestyle, and expanded Angiolillo’s mind. Joe challenged Angiolillo with endless questions, boundless energy, and a desire to bring others together. “My ability to make connections and pick up on people’s sensitivities came in large part from my experience with Joe and BBBS,” Angiolillo reflects.

Today, Angiolillo continues to apply this ability to his schooling and new community projects. He founded Young Docs, a program that puts Columbia University medical students in local classrooms to educate children about medical professions. He believes that anyone and everyone can benefit from community engagement. “People don’t have enough faith that they are going to help,” he said. “Just start small and build up incrementally. Everybody involved can always be bettered.”

While “bigs” often exceed the three semester minimum when volunteering with BBBS, it is rare that big-little relationships survive graduations, or, in the case of Angiolillo, years abroad and a move away. “I don’t think even Jack expected to get quite so attached,” remarked Ruth Harms, the Hampshire County BBBS Case Management Supervisor. “They are lifelong friends. I have no doubt about that.”

If you are interested in becoming involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters at Amherst, contact one of the BBBS partnership Community Engagement Leaders to find out more about info sessions: Gina Gringelberg ’13 (ggringelberg13@amherst.edu) or Lindsay Gruskay (lgruskay13@amherst.edu).

Lindsay Ewing ‘15 is one of four Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect student-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 Kate Beemer ‘15 at kbeemer15@amherst.edu, Caroline Broder ’15 at cbroder15@amherst.edu, or Nell Patterson ’15 at hpatterson15@amherst.edu.
 
If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Lindsay Ewing ‘15 at lewing15@amherst.edu so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.  For more information, visit the Athletics Liaisons' webpage.