University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee (UWM) junior TraVon Haase doesn’t have any brothers of his own, yet he is a Big Brother.
Haase, a junior majoring in business, is one of approximately 180 students participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee, just one of numerous volunteer projects UWM students are involved in.
Alina Colon, a first-year student at UWM majoring in social work, volunteers at Fratney School/La Escuela Fratney. “I chose this because I want to work with kids and am also minoring in Spanish, so Fratney seemed to be the perfect fit for me. (The school offers a Spanish-English dual language program.)
Both Haase and Colon found out about volunteer opportunities through UWM’s Center for Volunteerism and Student Leadership (CVSL), which coordinates volunteer programs for students, staff and faculty at the university.
“I became interested in the program even before I got to UWM,” says Haase, who received information about CVSL after he registered. He became a Big Brother to a student on Milwaukee’s South Side his freshman year, and is currently volunteering with a seventh-grader at Hartford University School near the UWM campus.
As an only child raised by a single mother, Haase recognized the importance of mentors as models to young boys. “I grew up with just my mom, and I know sometimes you can’t say things to your mom that you might say to another male. I was fortunate to have two uncles who were always there for me.”
UWM students are matched with local schoolchildren (a.k.a. “Littles”) through a Big Brothers Big Sisters program linked with Milwaukee Public Schools. The university students spend time with their Littles at school, talking, doing crafts, playing games and occasionally helping out with homework or projects.
Colon, who’s originally from St. Paul, MN, also heard about the opportunity at Fratney through the CVSL, and now volunteers as a classroom assistant at the school. (A number of other UWM students also work as tutors at Fratney, the United Community Center and other MPS schools through a work-study program).
”I don’t always work one-on-one with the kids, which makes it harder to notice their individual accomplishments, says Colon. “However, I have noticed and am impressed by how much better the kids are at writing their names and recognizing letters than they were at the beginning of the year.
Also, I have noticed that many of the native Englishspeaking students have become much more comfortable using Spanish.” Colon herself didn’t speak Spanish at home, but is of Puerto Rican heritage and that part of her background inspired her interest in the language.
“It makes me feel good when I see how happy the kids are to see me, and to, hopefully, be making a difference in their days,” says Colon. “I think I understand kids a little better because of it, and am better with working with them as well.” Her eventual goal is to build a career working with children in the social work field.
Although they don’t talk specifically about role models, the fact that Haase was raised by a single mother probably helped him bond with his Little Brother, Julian, he says. They also don’t talk about college directly, but Haase’s life as a college student apparently makes an impression on his Little Brother. “He’s interested in what I’m doing at school and what events are going on at the campus.”
Like many UWM students, Haase holds down a job while taking classes, but that doesn’t hold him back from volunteering his time. “It’s not a big commitment of time for me, but it is a priority. This is something I look forward to doing.”
For more information about volunteer opportunities at UWM, go to http://www4.uwm.edu/cvsl/