Sisters in Support

Participants in the Connecticut College S.I.S.T.E.R. program learn about community gardening and healthy foods at FRESH in New London.
Participants in the Connecticut College S.I.S.T.E.R. program learn about community gardening and healthy foods at FRESH in New London.

For Prisilla Valentin, going to Connecticut College campus two days a week during the school year wasn't about learning problem-solving skills, becoming a leader, or even avoiding teenage pregnancy.

For Valentin, a sixth-grader at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, the trips to the college campus were just a part of her life.

"She is my best friend," Valentine said of Elizabeth Kaplan, her mentor for the past year.

Kaplan, a Conn student, said she and Valentin could talk about anything.

"She's like a real sister to me,'' Kaplan said.

Their remarks, which came during the last gathering of the year earlier this month for the 15 college students and 15 "little sisters" in the S.I.S.T.E.R program at Conn, generated sighs from the entire room.

S.I.S.T.E.R, or Students Implementing Service through Education and Recreation, has been offered for the past three years through the college's Office of Volunteers for Community Service. The program pairs younger students with college girls for the year.

This year, the two groups carved pumpkins, weeded a community garden in New London, picked apples, read to children at the Covenant Shelter, and created a documentary about their year titled "Our Voices, Our Actions."

The film, which chronicles the girls' activities, was shown May 5 during the final gathering at the college.

The younger girls were given certificates of achievement and presented their older "sisters" with single stem flowers, hugs, and high-fives.

"Every year we see amazing women and girls,'' said Tracee Reiser, associate dean for community learning at Conn and the associate director of the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy.

Through the program, the younger girls develop skills such as group and team development, cross cultural communications, problem-solving, and leadership. The college students increase their understanding of the world, their rights and responsibilities as members of a community, and their commitment to working for equity and justice.

"I believe we are transforming lives and transforming the community," Reiser said.

The Bennie Dover Jackson students also created "Dreamboards," which were collages of what they want in their lives. There were pictures of fresh fruit and vegetables representing the girls' commitment to eating right and images of babies, representing the desire to someday become mothers. There were computers representing a desire to learn and a Nike sneaker, for one student's wish to design her own shoes.

One young girl had a picture of a baby and said one day she wanted to take care of a foster child who had no family.

Again, the entire room sighed.


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