Michaela + Aracely

Just a few short years, but a lifelong impact. That’s the power of a BBBS match.

“It was a match made in heaven,” says Michaela Lindsay, a former Big Sister, “or, really, by you guys at BBBS. My Little Sister, Aracely, and I were matched for 3 years, and I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding experience.”

Michaela reached out to BBBS after a year of living and working in Austin,  “I’d always wanted to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but never had enough time when I was a college student.”

Once she got started, however, she was quickly matched with her Little, Aracely, a freshman in high school.

“We had a lot of fun together,” Michaela recalls, “But some of my favorite memories are of just relaxing with a cup of coffee and exploring a topic that Aracely really wanted to know more about, or discussing things that were weighing on her mind.”

Such conversations reinforced Michaela’s committment to the BBBS program. “The activities were fun, but having that close relationship with someone I might not otherwise have met was really rewarding,” she says.

The unexpected part of a BBBS match? “I didn’t anticipate becoming so close to Aracely’s whole family,” Michaela laughs.

“After about a year, I attended her parents’ wedding, which was beautiful. And over Christmas break, we all went to the Trail of Lights together” she says. “I’ve really built a relationship with the whole family that I’m confident will last.”

Three years later, Michaela’s relationship with Aracely continues even as Aracely plans for life after high school. “We’re going to stay close for a long time,” says Aracely, who graduated this year.

“Michaela has known that I’ve wanted to go into the military since I was nine years old. She’s put me in contact with people, helped me do research and helped me learn so much about the military. Now, it’s just up to me to make a final decision about where I want to go.”

Not only did this beautiful match create a lasting bond between a Big and a Little, it also led to a strong connection between Michaela and BBBS. Michaela is now on a mission to recruit other volunteers to the agency. “I want to encourage other young professionals to get involved,” she says. “I tell them that being a Big is so worth it, and that I can’t describe the payback I’ve received on the time I invested. My relationship with Aracely will last a long time and will shape me forever.”

Aracely also has something to say to people thinking about becoming a Big. “Having a mentor in my life has been so good for me, and there are more kids out there who need what I have with Michaela. It takes just a little bit of time to make a kid happy and brighten their day.”

“Being involved with with Big Brothers Big Sisters has really sparked Aracely’s confidence,” Michaela says, “and she’ll take that confidence with her wherever she goes and whatever she does. I think I will as well.”

Chris + Keontray

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas became a reality due to the work in the early 1960’s of several men who recognized the need for adult mentorship for boys without fathers and boys in the juvenile court system. The men realized that these boys lacked, and needed, positive male role models in their lives.

Fast forward 50 years and the need for male mentors is as great today as when the agency first began. For every male who signs up to be a mentor, two more are needed. Over 80% of the kids who are actively looking for Bigs are boys, and we are running out of men to match them with (currently only 15% of volunteer inquiries are from men). Male mentors are essential to helping boys achieve a positive sense of their own strengths and identities, whether it’s playing catch with a baseball or, as one match discovered, building a coffee table for the house.

“I’ve never gotten to build anything before. It was pretty fun. I thought I would just be attaching a few pieces (for the coffee table),” said Little Brother Keontray. “I didn’t know I was going to do everything.” And he does mean, everything. Keontray soon discovered he would be sawing, planing wood, attaching the pieces, and assembling the whole table. The result was a hand-made coffee table that is so sturdy it can bear the full weight of his Big Brother, Chris.

“When we were done I stood on the table to show him how solid it was,” Chris said. “Keontray couldn’t stop smiling. He kept saying ‘I can’t believe I made that, I can’t believe I made that.’  The table is in his living room where he sees it every day and it reminds him of this one solid thing that he has done. He tells me he’ll be sitting with his mom and she’ll smile and point at the table and say, ‘You built that!’”

Learning to build things is one of many life lessons Chris is sharing with his Little Brother – life lessons that come from his own experiences, but also from his dad. “My dad came from El Salvador and he is an electrical engineer,” Chris continued. “I used to watch him build stuff like alarm clocks or pieces for computers, and it was always fascinating to me. When I was 11 I started helping him around the house. We replaced a fence that was old and rotted. That experience taught me that hard work pays off. When you build something, you can put in hours and hours, plus a lot of sweat, and have something to show for it. I look at that fence now and say ‘My dad and I did that.’”

The skills of creating, of making something with your own hands, and of enjoying hard work are all things Chris wants to pass along.  “Keontray had a rough 2016. His grandfather passed away and that was tough. His dad got out of jail, but he’s never been in Keontray’s life, so to lose a male role model like his grandfather was hard,” Chris said.

Chris understands the importance of mentoring. “When I was Keontray’s age I had both parents and I still went through a lot – fighting at home with my mom, dealing with very bad relationships with friends,” Chris explained.  “I went through many of the same things he’s going through, but my family wasn’t really there for me when I needed to talk about problems or when I had general questions about the opposite sex or about relationships.”

Consequently, Chris’ favorite part of the match is being there for Keontray, listening to his questions, and discussing the answers. The two talk about things that have gone wrong and how those things can be made better the next time.

“I just look forward to seeing Keontray and hearing about all that has gone on during the week,” said Chris, who is a senior at Texas State University. “He’s as much my friend as he is my Little Brother.  Our relationship is not just about him coming to me for advice. Our relationship gives him the opportunity to form his own opinions and thoughts.”

Another skill Chris is teaching Keontray is that of cooking. The pair have made lasagna and enchiladas and Chris has even taught him how to season and prepare chicken. “That way, when he does go out into the world, he’ll be able to fend for himself,” Chris laughed.

In Chris’s mind, their relationship is all about providing Keontray with a blueprint and the tools for success. “In addition to passing on skills and values, male mentors give boys an idea of what they can become, what to aim for, and how to act in the world,” Chris said.

“It’s important for boys to have someone in their lives who can say, ‘It’s okay to not be fine. At one point things were not fine with me, but I got through it and here’s how I did it.’ Boys need men who can serve as examples, and who are willing to invest in, and listen to, them.”

Chris acknowledges that he and Keontray are from very different backgrounds. Chris is a white young man from the suburbs and Keontray is an African-American teenager who has lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. “Keontray has experienced racist slurs from white kids at school,” Chris added. “In our match, it’s really important for him to see that not everyone is like that and that people of different races can care about each other.”

Chris encourages other men to become Big Brothers as well. “If you have experienced anything,” Chris says, “it’s your duty to pass that experience along to someone who needs it.”

Chris believes this so strongly that he has decided to put his plans to enter medical school on hold in order to remain a mentor to Keontray until he graduates from high school. It’s no wonder the two say they will be brothers for life. “When I first met Chris it was awkward,” Keontray admitted, “but now I actually see him as family.”

Cameron + Elian

The numbers tell an impressive story at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. Ninety-eight percent of BBBS’ Littles maintain or improve their grades in school, and 82.6% plan to attend college – almost twice the national average. Beyond the numbers and more important however, are the personal stories that support these facts – stories about matches like the one between Big Brother Cameron and his Little Brother Elian.

The pair have only been matched for about 10 months but there is already a strong bond between them. “I really didn’t know what to expect coming into this program,” Cameron admitted. “I was pretty nervous, but what surprised me was how quickly I became immersed and attached to Elian. After only a couple of hangouts, I genuinely began thinking of him as my younger brother. Granted, that’s not hard when you have someone as likable as Elian as your Little, but the depth of our match is far greater than I ever anticipated.”

Though Cameron is quick to deny credit for it, the fact that Elian’s academic performance has improved two letter grades since the match began is indicative of the positive impact of their relationship. “I’m incredibly lucky to be matched with someone who, when he puts his mind to something, goes above and beyond to get it done,” Cameron explained.

“That said, the importance of his education is always top of mind when we hang out together. We always spend the first part of our outings discussing how school is going, what’s going well for him, what’s challenging him, and anything else he might want to share about his day-to-day,” Cameron continued. “He wants to go to college, and I know he’ll do very well there. I just like to remind him of the importance of keeping his nose in the books if he’s going to do what he wants to do.”

One outing that reinforced Elian’s interest in college was a trip to see the 2016 U.T. vs. Notre Dame football game – a “nail-biter” of a contest. “Oh, it was unbelievable!” Cameron exclaimed.  “Elian had never been to a college football game before, so I made sure we got there a couple of hours early to walk around. I’ll never forget how many times he simply said, ‘I can’t wait to go to college.’”

Though that experience was exciting and eye-opening, it’s not the only educational experience Elian has had since becoming a Little Brother. “One of my favorite activities was rock climbing,” Elian said, “because it showed how we needed to rely on each other to succeed.”

In addition, since Elian is taking culinary arts classes in school, Cameron took him to a “How to Cook” workshop at Whole Foods. “It was great!” Elian said. “They showed me how to cut stuff and how to use the blender right. I learned how to make hummus. I love hummus now.”

Because of that experience, should Elian not get a basketball or football scholarship to college, he may turn his attention to culinary school and become a chef. He has an interest in owning a restaurant like his uncle does.

Elian and his siblings live in a single-parent household. Though there were male figures in his life, his mom, Bridget, felt that he needed a Big Brother. “He was at that teenage stage where he was not listening. He’d get angry. Since being matched, he’s become more positive and focused.”

“I was doing some stuff I shouldn’t have been doing,” Elian agreed. “I’d probably still be doing those things if it wasn’t for Cameron. He’s just such a cool guy. No matter what I’m going through, he’s so easy to talk to.”

“I think the world of Cameron,” Bridget said, “and so does everyone in our family.”

Meeting the rest of Elian’s family was a memorable experience for Cameron. “Elian and his mom were kind enough to invite me to their family reunion last year, and I had a blast!” Cameron said. “Family reunions are a foreign concept for me as I only have my siblings and parents, so I had no idea what I was getting into. After getting there and meeting everyone, my anxiety was completely washed away. Elian’s family was incredibly welcoming and the food was unforgettable. It was such a fun day. After that, I wanted to make sure Elian had a chance to meet my parents when they came to visit me in Texas. We had dinner together at The Olive Garden. Now, whenever my mom sends me a care package, she includes extra goodies for Elian too.”

Cameron decided to become a Big Brother because he wanted to give back to the community instead of focusing only on himself. He remembered how he had looked up to his older siblings, and he wanted to have the opportunity to be a role model for someone else. “Elian is a teenager and, while our experiences have certainly differed, there are still a lot of common themes that I can offer insight into.”

There are also some differences that can sometimes present challenges. “As much as I like to think I’m in touch with trends these days, I can’t help but feel like an old guy when Elian talks about what he and his friends are up to,” Cameron laughed. “High school has definitely changed since I was there, especially with all the technology and social media that are part of our culture these days. At the same time, a lot of the major aspects of Elian’s experiences are similar to things I was exposed to in high school.  Finding a way to communicate that without sounding outdated has been a unique, but fun, challenge.”

The educational benefits of this match work both ways. “The past ten months have exposed me to so many new experiences, and I’m very lucky to have an appreciative, kind, and fun Little Brother to share them with,” Cameron said. “When Elian tells me about his struggles, I want to help him. And when he shares good news with me, I’m genuinely proud of him and love helping him celebrate.”

Lately, there has been a lot to celebrate. In addition to having improved two letter grades in school, Elian recently received an academic award as well.

“Elian is an incredibly thoughtful, funny, and confident young man. He has the ability to light up a room with his wonderful personality, but at the same time, he possesses the maturity to ensure that those around him are taken care of. No matter what he chooses to do, I know he’ll do well,” Cameron concluded.

Sean + Hickman 

Veterans are notably resourceful and often self-reliant. There are times, however, when even America’s finest can use some extra help. Natasha Taylor, a single mom and Army veteran, found that support through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas and a Big Brother for her son.

“They’ve been matched since my son was in 9th grade,” Natasha said. “Hickman needed a male role model in his life. A father figure. He’s always been a good kid, but once he was matched with Sean, I saw a tremendous change. He was more positive. It was like a big weight had been lifted off him.”

Hickman’s father has not been in his life at all. “His father didn’t contact him on his birthday last week,” Natasha added. “Sean did.”

“One of the things I appreciate most is the time Sean spends with Hickman,” Natasha continued. “He’s gone to football games, basketball games, and wrestling matches. He’s been such a blessing to my family.”

The match does impact the whole family. Natasha is a single mom raising Hickman and a young daughter while working. She is also trying to advance her career by going back to college.

“Our match helps Natasha by providing Hickman with a male friend who, while older, is still close enough in age to understand what he’s going through,” Sean explained. “High school isn’t easy. You need people you can count on to be there for you regularly, and who understand and sympathize. Natasha has a lot on her plate. I’m happy to support Hickman and, if nothing else, provide a fun escape from the normal routine of high school life.”

Natasha is a 10-year army veteran who was medically and honorably discharged from the service. Following in his mom’s military footsteps, Hickman is enrolled in his high school’s ROTC program. He plans to join the Air Force upon graduation.

Veterans’ needs are unique. Recognizing this, BBBS offers mentoring services to the children of veterans. The agency also actively recruits veterans to serve as Big Brothers and Sisters.

“Members of military families are not always home due to trainings, deployments, duty assignments, field exercises and more,” said Saul Espinoza, a veteran himself and a BBBS enrollment specialist. “This can be particularly stressful. A mentor can provide friendship, as well as a sense of stability, security and trust. A Big Brother or Sister can serve as an additional resource and role model when a member of the family is away.”

Having a Big Brother in his life proved critical for Hickman when he experienced a racist incident at his high school – a comment from a follow ROTC member. “Hickman kept it to himself for about 3 months,” Natasha said. “When I found out about it, I got right on the phone with Sean.”

“Hickman and I discussed what had happened,” Sean said. “We talked about how unfair and unfortunate it is that racism exists. More than anything, I affirmed that he had done the right thing by not retaliating, and I told him I was proud of him, which I very much am. It would have been easy and understandable for Hickman to have lashed out, but he kept his composure and brought the incident to the attention of the proper authorities.”

According to Natasha, each outing Sean and Hickman have together just “steps it up” for Hickman. She laughs about the days Sean picks Hickman up from school. “Kids look at them and ask Hickman ‘Who is that?’ and he just says ‘My brother,’ and leaves it at that.”

“Because Hickman is African-American and Sean is Caucasian, the kids look at him and wonder what’s going on. But I’m glad Sean is not African-American because many people are all about their race and my children are not raised that way. We’re military, and in the service you see all races. I want my son to continue to like everybody.”

Sean sees himself gaining as much from the match as his Little Brother. “Hickman is a great guy. I enjoy hanging out and joking around with him, whether we’re just grabbing a quick bite to eat or going to a mall or arcade. He has an awesome sense of humor and we laugh constantly. He’s one of the most respectful people I’ve ever met. He thanks me and tells me he had a good time every time we hang out, and I can tell it’s sincere. I enjoy our time together.”

One event Natasha particularly remembers occurred after a trip she, Hickman, and her daughter had taken to Galveston. “On the trip Hickman saw a two-door BMW that is his dream car,” Natasha recalled. “He posed by the car and we took pictures. Then Hickman told Sean about it. Three weeks later Sean picked Hickman up in the exact same car. Hickman was shocked. It turns out Sean’s dad owned the same kind of BMW and Sean had borrowed it just to take Hickman for a ride.”

“Hickman came back from that ride beaming,” Natasha added. “When I say there’s been nothing but good from this match, I try not to tear up. I couldn’t ask for a better Big Brother for my son.”

Rebecca + Alyssa

Children are resilient, but they can reach a breaking point. Alyssa is a 16-year-old who is the youngest of 4 children. After experiencing a series of tragic events, Alyssa was losing her way – until she was matched with a Big Sister.

“She was on the wrong path. She had lost hope. You could just see it in her,” said her mother, Stephanie, who pointedly admitted that she feared her daughter would end up in jail or dead.

The difficulties began when the family’s home was flooded and they had to move. Six months later their house burned down and they had to move again. Not long after that, the family suffered through yet another flood, all within a two-year period. Alyssa was in the house during the most recent flood and it terrified her. These events began to take a toll on the teenager.

“Her attitude changed and she acted like she didn’t care about anything,” her mother continued. “She was getting into fights and had to be transferred to different schools. She was climbing out of windows to run away from school. It was really bad.”

Things started to change about 6 months ago, when Alyssa was matched with Rebecca. The two had an instant connection. Alyssa had found a friend who could help her get back onto a positive path. “They were both very comfortable with each other,” Stephanie said. “They found it easy to talk to one another.”

Rebecca became a Big because she remembered her own mentors and how they’d contributed to her life. “I wanted to be that person for someone else,” she recalled.

As a Big, Rebecca had two goals. She wanted to be someone Alyssa could open up to and talk to in a way that she couldn’t with her mom and siblings. Becca, as the family calls her, also wanted to support Alyssa in a practical sense by encouraging her to graduate, to find a career and to succeed. According to the family, both goals are being met.

“Now, oh my gosh, how Alyssa’s changed,” her mother continued. “She volunteers at the animal shelter. She is in FFA, a leadership program, at school. Becca got her out hiking. She just has a better outlook on life.”

Alyssa’s grades have also improved under Becca’s tutelage. “Last year she failed several classes, but this year she’s passing all of her classes and has gotten A’s in some,” Becca explained. “I’m so proud of her.”

Becca and Alyssa both enjoy the outdoors and going on hikes together. “We also really enjoy food,” Becca laughed. “So, we will often go to dinner for our outing.” One new place that Alyssa seems to like is the Hit the Spot Café.

“She also really loves animals and once a month we volunteer at the animal shelter,” Becca added. “I helped her apply to volunteer and signed up with her, but she’s kind of run with it. She now goes to help out after school. It’s something that’s become a part of her life and that she’s doing of her own accord. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of her for. I could see her working with animals as a career.”

Having a career wasn’t something Alyssa had even thought about until the pair took a tour of Texas State University. “Now she’s started talking about going to college and life after high school,” Becca said, “and I don’t even bring it up. I get excited when I see her making such progress, becoming more confident and starting to make goals for herself.”

Before being matched with Rebecca, Alyssa had never wanted to go to college. Now however she says, “I am going to go to college.”

“Becca has opened my eyes and helped me to see that no matter where you come from you can always aim higher,” Alyssa explained. Alyssa would be the first in her family to attend college.

Her mom, Stephanie, agrees that Alyssa has a new attitude about her future. “Alyssa really looks up to Becca,” she said. “Now Alyssa tells me, ‘I know what I’m going to do with my life and I’m going to get there. I’m going to make good money, and buy a house. I’m going to be somebody.’ I have never heard her talk like that before.”

As Alyssa makes her way to the life she envisions, she plans on having her Big Sister Becca by her side. “Yes, we’ll be friends for life,” Alyssa said.

Becca agrees. “Alyssa is wonderful and I look forward to hanging out with her. I really want to see her through high school and support her next steps.”

Such support is not lost on Alyssa. She knows what her Big Sister is doing for her. “Becca is a wonderful person who has really changed me,” Alyssa added, “and I really do love her for that.”

Joel + Dajuan

He may have been the smallest player on the football field, but he made a big impact at the Colt McCoy Football Camp. Seven-year-old BBBS Little Brother Dajuan impressed everyone as he competed with 16-year-olds and came away with the #1 Draft Pick award at the camp this past July.

“On the first day of the camp I was sitting up in the stands when they announced they were going to select someone as the #1 Draft Pick,” said Joel, Dajuan’s Big Brother. “I thought, ‘I wonder who’s gonna win that.’ And only two hours into the camp, out of approximately 200 students, they chose Dajuan.”

Dajuan was very “chill” about winning the award and the games during the camp, Joel explained. But his grandmother, Christi, who he lives with, said Dajuan couldn’t stop talking about the event and winning the award after it was all over. When Dajuan was asked how he won the event he simply shrugged, glanced at his grandmother and said, “I eat my carrots.”

“In one game I just went up the middle and they were trying to get me but I stiff-armed them and slapped their hands away,” Dajuan continued, reliving the moment. When his grandmother asked if the other players could catch him, he replied simply, “No.”

People who know Dajuan are not completely surprised. “Dajuan may be small in stature, but he is very fast,” said his Match Support Specialist. “He’s also very smart with a very high reading level and he’s been playing in the city league since he was five.”

Plus, he just loves football, which also makes him a perfect match with Joel. “When I interviewed to be a Big I asked to be matched with a younger kid who was active, liked sports, and had a sense of humor,” Joel said. The two have hit it off perfectly, spending time going to UT baseball games, UT football scrimmages, and even going bowling.

“They put the bumpers up when we went bowling,” Joel added. “Dajuan had never bowled before and he was really pleased that he was beating me.”

Joel says that he can see that competitive spirit in Dajuan when he participates in anything and that it’s part of what helps the youngster succeed. “He takes (football) very seriously,” Joel explained. “Dajuan was one of the smallest kids at the camp, but he was the one who caught a bunch of passes in a row.”

During the camp the players were placed on teams and in divisions by age. There were five teams in Dajuan’s division and his team won all their games and received a gold medal. “I asked him if he was the reason they won,” Joel said “and he confidently said, ‘Yes.’”

Dajuan also applies his competitive spirit to his academics: on his most recent report card he scored all A’s.

He participated in the Colt McCoy Football Camp with tickets donated to BBBS. “When BBBS offered the camp openings to any match that wanted to participate, I jumped at the chance,” Joel said.

Joel got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters over 20 years ago in Houston when he took over a match for a friend who was being transferred out of the country. He eventually had to move and end the match himself. A couple of years ago, however, when he retired in Austin, he began to think about what he wanted to do with his time. He knew he wanted to volunteer and, being familiar with BBBS, he signed up to become a Big.

“I took Dajuan to a UT scrimmage. He had never been in DKR Texas Memorial Stadium and he was just entranced by it,” Joel said. “This is what I enjoy most about being a Big Brother…. seeing these things, the stadium and the football players, through the eyes of a kid. Seeing that excitement.”

Dajuan’s sense of humor is something else Joel enjoys. The two were on one of their first outings riding around in the car when Dajuan told Joel that his grandfather had passed away and that he was an angel in heaven. He then asked about Joel’s parents. “I told him my father was in heaven too but that my mother was still alive and that she was 96 years old. And there was this pause in the conversation and Dajuan said, ‘That’s just not right,’” Joel laughed. “I told my mother and she got a chuckle out of it too.”

The Texas Longhorns are Dajuan’s favorite team right now and he hopes to grow up to play for them. “I want to be a football player when I get bigger,” Dajuan said. “And I’m gonna play in the NFL. But when I play in the NFL I’m gonna get hit.”

He may get hit if they can catch him, but Dajuan is already showing he’s got the skills to pursue his dreams and come out ahead.

CJ + Sam

When Big Brothers Big Sisters asked me to guest write a blog about the challenges that my Little Sister Sammy and I have faced, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. Sammy and I have been through every kind of argument, from minor tiffs about proper manners to knock-down, drag-out text fights about suspect boyfriends. However, there is one dragon we faced and slew that I think is universally challenging for any match: Pushing past the fantasy of being a Big in order to embrace the reality of what your match is and the possibilities of what your relationship could become.

As Bigs, I think we all go into our match with rose-colored glasses on – I know I did. Despite the reality check our Match Support Specialist tried to provide, I had visions of an instant connection followed by sister dates filled with giggles, nail polish, junk food, talks about cute boys and after school study sessions. What I got was a mistrustful young girl who “didn’t do hugs,” constantly blew me off and rarely showed any enthusiasm or gratitude for our relationship. I frequently felt defeated and hurt, and at times wanted to abandon my dream of us becoming soul sisters. But that’s not what Sammy needed. She didn’t need my bruised ego and hurt feelings. She needed my patience and understanding.

Having had numerous conversations with other Bigs, I’ve discovered we often project our own utopian intentions onto our Littles, only to find ourselves wrought with disappointment when those intentions aren’t mirrored. When all you want to do it help, it’s easy to forget that there is a reason children are looking for guidance. So many kids have been hurt and disappointed by the people who were supposed to protect and care for them. We forget that if we want their trust, respect and love – we’re going to have to earn it, sometimes the hard way. So that’s what I did.

For a year I swallowed my pride, and impulse to “wash my hands of this nonsense,” as Sammy tested me over and over. Make no mistake, I didn’t let her behavior slide, but every lecture about respect and communication was followed with, “I’ll see you next week.” Then one night it happened. I had just dropped her off and she was making her way up the driveway when she suddenly stopped, turned around and opened her arms up wide as if to say, “OK. I’m going to trust that you’re worthy of a hug. Don’t blow it.” “Really!?” I asked. She smiled, nodded and threw herself into the first of many hugs.

The truth is that I don’t remember those early struggles in great detail. But I could absolutely give you a play-by-play of the first time she told me she loved me and the first time she texted me without me having to text her first. I can recount with complete accuracy the first time we stayed up all night talking about life and how loud we screamed when she passed her driving test. I’ll never forget how nervous she was on her first day at work and how proud she was the first time she told me that Starbucks was “on her.”

Mostly, I remember the moment I realized that I had become a person who was willing to set aside her own pettiness, in order to do right by a child who desperately needed someone to say, “I’m not giving up on you.” I became a Big Sister hoping that I could make life better for a kid who needed a friend. I couldn’t have imagined that Sammy would make life so much better for a grown-up girl who needed a little sister.

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