Northern Arizona University sends its graduates off into the world with a wealth of knowledge, new friends, and, for an increasing number of Lumberjacks, a “Little” sibling.

The sibling is thanks to the graduates’ participation with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff. Since the organization’s founding in 1967, NAU students have served as “Bigs” to countless youth in the community, forming bonds that continue well past graduation.

“Joshua has taught me to love life, to be there for someone and to strive for what I want,” said Lucy Garcia, one of 180 NAU students currently volunteering in the organization’s mentoring program. “I am privileged to be his Big.”

Garcia, a senior majoring in social work, meets with her 9-year-old “little brother,” Joshua, once a week at Kinsey Elementary and twice a month outside of school. Together they enjoy going to museums, watching movies, reading books at the library and in December taking a ride on the Polar Express.

Their outings have created a stronger friendship than Garcia expected. “Here is a young boy whom I had never met, and now he trusts me and is part of my life,” she explained. Since they met through Big Brothers Big Sisters two years ago, Garcia proudly shares that Joshua has improved in academics, particularly math, and he always looks forward to sharing with her what he has learned at school.

Garcia applauds the program for its impact on both her and Joshua.

Rommy Sekhon, an English doctoral student, shares a similar sentiment. Sekhon began volunteering with the organization four years ago through the Step Up Mentoring Program, in which he worked with incarcerated and at-risk youth. The experience was so rewarding that he joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters family and now runs the Step Up program.

Chris and his Big Rommy plan their next adventure. Image courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff

Chris and his Big Rommy plan their next adventure. Image courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff

Sekhon also plays the role of big brother to 12-year-old Chris, with whom he was matched a year ago. Sekhon recommends the community-based program to fellow students as it allows for greater flexibility with student schedules. “We can do any activity that we want and do them whenever we want,” he said. “It’s helpful we can hang out on a Thursday night or a Saturday morning.”

Sekhon also praises the program for the great effort put into matching Bigs and Littles. Sekhon’s match with Chris worked out so well that his Little proudly exclaimed to the Match Support Specialist, “We’re pretty much the same person!” Sekhon agreed with Chris’ assessment and noted, “We really have an organic friendship, Big Brothers just initiated it.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff served 465 youth last year, and there are currently 54 children on a waiting list. Thomas Shull, public relations coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the organization is eager to welcome additional Lumberjacks, noting the high level of commitment demonstrated by previous NAU students.

Collectively, NAU Bigs spend 18,720 hours mentoring a year. Shull encourages students to make new friends by being Bigs. “You have the power to make an a positive impact on a child’s life and above all, it is most important to just be there for a kid who needs a friend,” Shull said. “It only takes a few hours a couple of times a month to start something big. It will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.”

For information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff, call (928) 774-0649 or visit bbbsf.com.