For over 12 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick and the McKeen Center for the Common Good have partnered to run “Bears and Cubs,” a one-on-one peer mentor program for local children that works to create lasting friendships through Bowdoin activities such as swimming at the LeRoy Greason Pool and trick-or-treating at the college houses.

Twenty-five kids from ages six to 15 are partnered with Bowdoin students, known as cubs and bears, respectively.

“Our job is just to be a friend. You bring good attitude ... you are not a babysitter, you are just there to listen and be a guiding figure,” said Jack Weiss ’17. 

The program, led by Weiss and Julie Randolph ’17, meets every other Sunday for two hours. The McKeen Center also runs other school and non-school based mentoring programs such as Falcon Friends and Bear Buddies.

“The goal of this program is to build a relationship with the child and get involved in the community and give back,” said Randolph. “It’s important for the kids to have a bigger mentor to look upward to.” 

Lindsey Reed, the program manager, said that Big Brothers Big Sisters has had a strong partnership with the McKeen Center.

“This program was originally created to provide children who were on waitlist for the community programs to get involved with our agency and have an experience of having a positive role model,” she said.

Recently, the program had to turn away kids because there were not enough volunteer mentors.

In response, the group is recruiting volunteers by introducing activities that appeal to both college students and the younger mentees.

“We are trying to come up with new games to make the local kids have more fun but also to make students more excited to sign up,” Weiss said. 

This year, the group plans to participate in new events such as bowling and an ice cream party.

Because the program takes place on campus, students make use of spaces like Smith Union and the College Houses.  

“We are so grateful for our connection with the college,” Reed said. “I think it’s a good experience for our littles to come on campus and get exposed to the culture and the experience of the students there—it’s very unique.”

The experience means as much to the mentors as it does to the mentees according to Weiss. Some students have been paired with the same mentee for four years and have developed true friendships.

“I think lot of bears will say that this program makes you remember what it was like to just run around in a gym in a game that has no rules,” Weiss said. “We have a ball; [the kids run] around and somehow it morphs into a game and you realize you are having as much fun because this is what you did as a kid. It’s really a stress relief for me as it is to them.”