Jewish Family Service Bigs & Littles Brings Positivity to Local Student Lives

By: Chandler Bonn, Scripps Howard Foundation marketing intern


The Littles sat with their Bigs, laughing and smiling excitedly, as they watched a slideshow, reminiscing on all the events and activities they did together. They were celebrating their last Bigs & Littles program meeting of the school year on Tuesday, May 10, when mentors (Bigs) met with students (their mentees or Littles) at the Academy of World Languages for arts, crafts and warm goodbyes.

Prior to the slideshow, Bigs sat with their Littles at classroom desks to personalize their own picture frames with paint, glitter and markers. When finished, they traded frames with a parting wish written inside the boarder.


Jewish Family Service Bigs & Littles promotes the development of youth in the community through quality mentoring relationships. The Bigs & Littles program has been serving the children and families of Cincinnati since 1910.  This after school Bigs & Littles program pairs at risk students age 7-17 with caring, adult mentors to be positive influences in their lives on a weekly basis. It is currently offered at the Academy of World Languages and Pleasant Ridge Montessori, with plans to include Rockwern Academy next school year. 


“The benefit of this program is showing a child that an adult cares about them in their lives, that they can have an opinion, they’re valued and to learn about healthy relationship skills,” said Karen Chinchilla, Match Support Specialist for Bigs & Littles.


Chinchilla described instances of growth in Littles throughout the program. One mentor helped her mentee overcome insecurity throughout the semester due to her small stature. “She really helped her understand that you may be a tiny person physically, but you’re not a tiny person inside,” said Chinchilla. “At first she was hesitant to speak with her mentor and then by the last day she was in tears and hugging her mentor because she really made an impact on her life.”


Although made to improve the lives of the Littles, Bigs have found the program to be an awarding experience as well. Some former principals, and some dance instructors, every Big comes from a different background but has the same opportunity to encourage the healthy development of a child.


“To me, working with kids, you get so much back from them and it’s been a real pleasure to watch all of the girls, not just the young lady I work with, mature throughout the process,” said Meryl Gruber, an East Walnut Hills resident and mentor to a sixth grader. “It’s a nice mixture of different nationalities and home lives. It’s been a nice group in terms of they’ve all been very respectful of one another.”

Connie Bergstein Dow, a Hyde Park resident and Bigs & Littles mentor, was initially skeptical of the program’s impact because the experience was new for her, but is now glad she volunteered.


“I really look forward to seeing my mentee every week and my heart goes out to her because I know she’s having issues at home but she comes here and she’s happy and she’s engaged,” said Bergstein Dow. “It makes me really happy that she has that safe hour to have fun.”


Bigs & Littles emphasizes social-emotional learning by teaching life skills to students, they might not otherwise learn, such as conflict resolution, anger management and self-confidence. While focus is put on the student’s experience, mentors have found benefit from participating as well. 


“Knowing how to connect with a child, interact, share their, time, talent, care, concern with that mentee is great for the mentor. It’s a win-win situation for the match,” said Chinchilla. “You don’t have to change yourself to change a life of a child. Sometimes extraordinary people are those who just go the extra step. Just offering your life experiences, care, concern and friendship to a child could be the greatest gift.”


For information about becoming Bigs & Littles mentor, contact Erin Phillips at 513-766-3319 or ephillips@jfscinti.org.