In a lunch room filled with bustling kids, a fourth-grader quietly meets her Big for the first time. The shy girl that originally sat in front of her Big quickly disappears as a bubbly and smiling one emerges. This introductory meeting is simply the first step of a year-long relationship between a new little and big.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina recently funded Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia’s site-based program for immigrant children through the Foundation’s Immigrant Families Initiative program. As of today there are nine Hispanic children at Arden Elementary School who are matched with a Big from this program.

According to the South Carolina Department of Education, Arden Elementary, located in Richland County’s School District One, has the District’s third highest number of students enrolled in English as a Second Language program. Through BBBSGC’s program, volunteer Bigs meet with their Littles at their school during the school day for one hour every week throughout the school year.

Mentors spend time with schoolwork, but they also engage in other activities including sports, games, reading and meals. National research has shown that positive relationships between Littles and their Bigs have a direct and measurable impact on children’s lives. Landmark research conducted by Public/Private Ventures found that Littles, when compared to their non-mentored peers, are 52 percent less likely to skip school, 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs and 33 percent less likely to hit someone.

The impact of the Big/Little relationship isn’t beneficial for the Little just as a child. A survey completed by Harris Interactive on adults who participated in the BBBSGC’s program as children found that 81 percent say their Big caused them to change what they thought possible in life, 77 percent set higher goals than they would have on their own and 42 percent earned a degree from a four-year college.

“The Foundation was excited to fund the vision of BBBSGC to serve immigrant children through site-based programing because we know that children thrive when they build relationships that help them integrate into their schools and communities,” Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, Foundation Senior Research Director, said. “It’s important for children to feel welcomed and included in the place they consider home.”

With the help of educators and parents, this program continues to fill to capacity as BBBSGC nears their goal of matching 12 Littles to Bigs helping to create brighter futures for children of immigrants. The site at Arden Elementary School also serves as a potential model for replication in other schools and opens the door of opportunity for the organization to explore expansion to community-based services in the future.

“I am so excited about the success and fulfillment of the BBBSGC site-based program at Arden Elementary School, made possible by the generosity of the Sisters of Charity Foundation. This new demographic that we are serving has added a new dimension to the impact that our agency has on our community. And as a Big Sister in the program, I truly feel that I am making a difference with my Little Sister. It is so amazing to see her come out of her shell, share her unique cultural experience and just have fun together,” Cristy Marshall, BBBSGC President and CEO, said.