What’s big with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Southeastern Pennsylvania? Students from Widener Partnership Charter School (WPCS) graduated from BBBS’ Beyond School Walls program last week at the Renaissance Hotel in Tinicum.

Parents, guests and a total of 31 WPCS students (called “Littles”) attended the graduation. Of those 31, 21 were graduating from Beyond School Walls and WPCS’s eighth grade.

Guests from AmeriHealth Caritas, Keystone First, WPCS and BBBS mentors (called “Bigs”) also attended, said AmeriHealth Caritas program specialist Elizabeth G. Nathan.

AmeriHealth Caritas and Keystone First are partners with WPCS to make the program a reality, Nathan said.

Beyond School Walls is a youth mentoring program that AmeriHealth Caritas has been working with since January 2012. The program helps students stay focused and provides guidance to stay away from bad influences such as drugs and crime.

Results from a policy brief titled Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence, reveal there is a consistent association between education and health.

For instance, the study shows that better educated people tend to have lower morbidity rates from the most common acute diseases, independent of basic demographic and labor market factors.

Also, the way in which education influences health include greater resources associated with higher levels of education and a learned appreciation for the importance of good health behaviors.

According to a 2014 Youth Outcomes Survey by BBBS, 100 percent of “Littles” reported they will not only graduate from the eighth grade, but will finish high school. Also, 96 percent are certain they will attend college.

Nathan said she has seen the “Littles” change significantly over their time in the program.

“They have matured not that they’re in the eighth grade,” Nathan said. “They’ve blossomed into lovely ladies and gentlemen. They’re more confident and engaging with adults.”

AmeriHealth Caritas Regional President Russ Gianforcaro met some of the students months ago as well as the “Bigs.” He said they enjoy making a difference in the lives of younger children.

“Since the program started in 2012, the Bigs have volunteered more than 500 hours to mentor their Littles,” Gianforcaro said.

Bigs as mentors provide friendship, guidance and encouragement to help the Littles grow, he continued.

“The Beyond School Walls program is a perfect example of the AmeriHealth Caritas values in action,” Gianforcaro said. “Our associates put their hearts and souls into their work each day to make AmeriHealth Caritas and the communities we serve a better place.”

BBBS CEO Marcus Allen spoke at the event to emphasize the importance of mentoring.

Allen, the first African-American CEO of BBBS, joined the organization in 2013. He said BBBS is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, as well.

“I had a mentor at an early age who was my basketball coach,” Allen said. “My coach recognized my talents and helped me to build confidence so I could go to college to pursue my life-long passion of playing basketball.”

And Allen did pursue his dream of playing basketball in high school, college and as a professional. He advised the Littles to strive to become better, look for opportunities, acquire good skills, follow their passions, work for wealth and dare to dream big.

But what he loves do to most is leading an organization that mentors others.

“Through this program, your schooling, families and communities, you are becoming the next generation of leaders,” Allen said.

WPCS Principal and CEO April Thomas said she has witnessed that students appreciate being able to see adults out of the work place.

“I’m just really appreciative of (the) partnership, because out school is built on partnerships,” Thomas said.

Keystone First’s Market President Joanne McFall said BBBS is the largest one-on-one mentoring program in the Commonwealth and the third largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the country.

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