Brian Gross nurtures the intellectually curious minds of homeless children through Big Buddies — an award-winning organization founded at California State University, Northridge.
When Brian, an accounting major, isn’t filling out financial applications, inputting data or crunching numbers for Big Buddies, he is tutoring children living at the local homeless shelter, Genesis House.
Sponsored by the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, Genesis House is temporary housing for single mothers and their families transitioning out of homelessness. Big Buddies, a student-run organization, mentors the children of these families.
On Thursday evenings, Brian and other Big Buddies volunteers help 4 to 13-year-olds with homework at the Genesis House and encourage their intellectual curiosity through science projects, spelling bees and brainteasers.
“[Because of Big Buddies, I] get to be a kid every week,” Brian says. “It’s a nice stress relief from school and something I look forward to.”
Big Buddies also hosts festive events at the Genesis House; Brian’s favorite is Halloween. Since the neighborhood is unsafe for trick-or-treating, Big Buddies volunteers and the children build and decorate houses out of cardboard in the children’s recreation room at the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission. When the children knock on the doors, they are prompted to answer a math question before receiving candy.
“Giving the kids a chance to have fun at night, whereas they would most likely be inside not trick-or-treating, was special for me,” Brian says.
Although he values the quality time he spends with children the most, as the treasurer, he is also in charge of the important task of applying for funding and budgeting. Associated Students pays a small portion of the club’s expenses but Brian relies on volunteers to raise money for school supplies and collect clothes, shoes and food donations. Another fundraising source is the club’s low membership fees.
“Members pay $20 every semester to be part of Big Buddies,” says Brian. “It goes to the weekly [school] supplies that we use, so it’s going to a worthy cause.”
The accounting classes he takes for his major help Brian with his financial duties, but his passion for serving youth dates back to his early teens when his father, a former Boy Scout, encouraged Brian to join Scouting.
“I was involved in community service in high school through [the] Boys Scouts and I wanted to do that at CSUN,” Brian says.
Boy Scouts of America is a youth development organization that combines outdoor and educational activities to promote leadership and social responsibility. Brian’s experiences as a Scout helped him realize the importance of receiving mentorship at a young age.
The idea of bringing mentorship to the homeless youth who don’t have easy access to development programs led Brian and the organization’s president, Tania Benjamin, to found Big Buddies in 2012.
Since then, Big Buddies has accumulated more than 1,700 hours of community service and won the Outstanding New Club and Service to Community award during CSUN’s Clubs and Organizations Awards Ceremony.
Despite the high number of community service hours completed thus far, opportunities for volunteer work and leadership are still available. To join, visit the Big Buddies website or ask for a Big Buddies membership application via email.