This year marks the 50th anniversary for Big Partner Little Partner (BPLP), the largest student volunteer organization on campus. For half a century, the program has connected Gusties with local youth, fostering deeper connections between the college and its community, while mentoring future generations of leaders.
The organization was first established by Gustavus students in 1963 with the continued support of the college and United Way, a nonprofit organization dedicated to community development. The BPLP program is run almost exclusively under student efforts and leadership. 190 Gusties volunteered this year alone.
In partnering with schools and social workers of St. Peter, the program works to connect youth and their families with a Gustie volunteer. Through mentoring goals of the program, Big Partners help to foster interpersonal, intrapersonal, and academic development with their Little Partner, with programs as a large group and one on one activities.
Program Coordinator Dave Newell from the Center for Servant Leadership (CSL) stresses this structure of student leadership as being a major contribution to the organization’s success.
“From my perspective, the important thing for the campus community to know is that it’s a whole bunch of students that care, and they’re working hard to have a positive impact on the community,” Newell said.
Gustavus Alumna and CSL Mentoring Program Coordinator Amy Pehrson ‘91 volunteered as a Big Partner while she was a student. Pehrson has more recently experienced BPLP from the perspective of a parent, as three of her children have been enrolled in the program as Little Partners.
“I just think it’s such a great opportunity for kids to have another adult that can pay attention to them,” Pehrson said.
While each BPL relationship varies, most students meet once to twice a week with their partners and engage in purposeful activities.
“Gusties are getting very creative in finding ways to engage these Little Partners and creating time for them to have meaningful conversations,” Pehrson said.
Pehrson also praised the Spanish-speaking volunteers for the connections they provide to non-English speaking households.
Senior Kelsey Raasch currently serves as Lead Coordinator and expresses deep enthusiasm and passion for the program.
“Working with kids has always been really important to me, and I guess being involved with this program my first year was a really great way to be closer connected to the community of St. Peter. It made it seem like Gustavus was an actual place, like we weren’t just a bubble on the top of the hill,” Raasch said.
The program is evaluated each year to ensure that the organization continues to meet its goal of providing the best resources for the youth and families.
“Part of the intention of creating the mentoring goals was to ensure that we really have that positive impact on the community,” Newell said.
Those goals this year will include the added focus of celebrating the 50 year milestone. While a committee is being gathered to establish concrete plans, Newell reported that an effort will be made to gather photographs from the course of the program and to collect reflections from former members. Newell hopes to find ways to unite Saint Peter and the college in the celebration, continuing to strengthen the ties between the campus and the larger community.
Raasch reiterates the mission of BPLP in mentoring a child from the St. Peter area. She also discusses the stong and lasting effect that a mentorship relationship has with Gustavus students.
“We really believe that every child has a chance at a better life, and we give them that chance which is so powerful, and so meaningful,” Raasch said. “I think we’re all lucky to be a part of this program here on campus.