After four years at Amherst, 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 became a Big Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County Program. By the time he left the College, however, it was clear his relationship with his “little brother,” Joe, was only beginning.
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) facilitates one-to-one mentoring relationships between responsible adults and local children. Collegiate volunteers spend between three and five hours each week with a child for at least three semesters of their time at Amherst. From tours of the Amherst fire station to trips to Valentine Hall and BBBS-sponsored events to private chemistry demonstrations in Merrill, Angiolillo and Joe formed a mutually enriching connection.
When the two met, Angiolillo was a shy, modest undergraduate and Joe a rambunctious nine-year-old. Eight years later, Angiolillo is a medical student at Columbia Univ. Joe is 17, a junior in high school receiving honor grades in Advanced Placement classes and taking a Japanese course at Amherst College. The two still talk weekly and see each other three to four times each year.
While “bigs” often exceed the three semester minimum when volunteering with BBBS, it is rare that big-little relationships survive graduations, or, in Angiolillo’s case, years studying in Germany and a move to a different state. Despite these obstacles, through Skype, bus tickets and phone calls, the two have stayed close.
“I don’t think 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.”
In regard to the duration of their bond Jack said simply, “If there is not a huge problem…in any partnership in my life…it is hard for me to contemplate any reason for a relationship to come to an end.”
The bond between Angiolillo and Joe had life-changing implications for both parties. 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 shared. “Through the next couple of years he worked his way out of Special Education services and remedial reading and writing support, always with Jack’s constant support and encouragement. When he entered Amherst Regional High School he was able to sign up for Honor courses. As a single mom, having an active male role model in my son’s life has made an immeasurable difference.”
“[Jack] is a very kind person who really cares about my future and pushes me to be the best I can be,” Joe said. “He is very giving of his time and money for this reason. He himself is a very hard working student of medicine who is very devoted to his studies, yet still has time for me.”
Joe also contributed much to Angiolillo’s life, challenging him 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 Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Angiolillo reflected.
Today, Angiolillo continues to apply these skills to his schooling and new community projects. He started a program called Young Docs that operates three to four times each semester, where Columbia Univ. medical students travel to local schools and educate children about the medical professions. He feels strongly 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.”
After all, to leave college with new little brother and an improved self is far more lasting than a purple hoodie or a dusty collection of posters and dorm room furniture.
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 ([email protected]) or Lindsay Gruskay ’13 ([email protected]).
If your team has recently completed a community engagement event, contact Lindsay Ewing ’15 at [email protected] to share your story and lead others to get involved.