The Multi-Generational Impact of Mentoring: A Very Special Reunion
It is historic. It’s a match that has spanned more than 50 years, two coasts, and three generations. But more than that, it’s a living example of the power of friendship and the significance of investing in someone else’s life.
For the first time in the agency’s 48-year history, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas recently had the honor of celebrating the reunion of a 3-generation match: Big Sister Lisa and her Little Sister Pat, who in turn became a Big Sister to her own Little Sister, Maryah. The three recently gathered at BBBS’ Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center to visit with the staff and to talk about their experiences.
It’s been almost 40 years since Big Sister Lisa has seen her Little Sister Pat, and Lisa had never met Pat’s Little Sister Maryah. The reunion came about as Pat was doing some ancestry work on her family. “Lisa is also family,” said Pat. “She used to keep in touch via Christmas cards. And I remembered she had a son, named Vito. While I was doing research, I thought, ‘I bet her son is on Facebook.’ I checked, and there he was. I asked, ‘Is your mother Lisa, and if so, is she from Boston? If so, she’s my Big Sister.”
It was a simple inquiry that started a chain reaction. One which ultimately brought Lisa, who now lives in California, to Austin to rekindle a relationship that began when she was an 18-year-old student in Boston in 1965. “At that time, the organization was just Big Sisters,” said Lisa. “I don’t remember how I first heard about Big Sisters, but I knew that being a Big was something I could do to help someone. A very special someone, it turns out.”
Pat was 14-years-old when she was finally matched with Lisa, after her two prior Big Sisters had left the match early. An only child, Pat was hesitant about having a Big Sister for a third time, but her mother insisted. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to be matched again,” said Pat, “because it hurt so much when my other Bigs, who were college students, graduated and left. But, my mother said, ‘Try one more time,’ and thank God I did.”
“Being matched with Lisa was such a pivotal part of my teenage years,” said Pat. “I have fond memories of just being with her and looking forward to that time each week. That’s why I became a Big Sister myself, because it meant so much to me, and I wanted to pay that forward and be that special someone for someone else.”
Matched in Boston, the pair had many adventures together traveling back and forth by train to each other’s neighborhoods. “On one outing we went to the movies,” laughed Pat. “I think it was a black and white movie, and it had subtitles. And I remember coming home and telling my mother, ‘We went to a movie, but I had to read it!’”
The match ended when Pat was 18. Pat then joined the Air Force and moved to San Antonio and Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. She served in the military for 20 years, and eventually worked as part of the National Airborne Command which provided communication service for Air Force One. She had the distinction of being the first woman to complete that 4-year assignment.
Pat’s last military assignment was at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, and it was in Austin that she rekindled her connection with BBBS when she became a Big Sister to Maryah.
“I had wanted to be a Little Sister for a long time, because my brother and I saw commercials about BBBS on TV,” said Maryah. “I was the oldest child in my family, and the only girl. I really wanted a Big Sister.”
Maryah and Pat had many memorable outings of their own, specifically one that took place at BBBS’ annual Hobie Day. “I love the water and I remember being on a huge catamaran on Lake Travis that day. A big gust of wind came and blew us right over. It was scary and exciting at the same time. I guess I like danger,” laughed Maryah. “That was my favorite outing.”
“Being a Big is so rewarding,” Pat continued. “And I know how important the time we spent talking was to Maryah. Having a safe place to express herself made a difference, because she was going through some difficult times – and I could relate, because I’d been there. Over the past 32 years I’ve seen Maryah grow up, have kids and now, grandkids.”
Pat was serious about her time with her Little Sister. “If I was going to see Maryah, anything else that came on my schedule had to take second place,” said Pat. “because I knew how it felt when someone cancelled on me. I made sure nothing stopped me on the day I promised Maryah I would see her… that I would be there and be on time.”
“And she always was,” said Maryah.
The depth of their commitment has allowed the three women to maintain a connection over all these years – even if it wasn’t always face to face. A connection that resulted in Lisa coming to Austin to reunite with Pat, resuming their friendship right where they left off years ago, and meeting Maryah for the first time.
“My life wouldn’t have been bad if I hadn’t been matched,” Pat recalled, “but it wouldn’t have been as fulfilling as it was having Lisa in my life. Lisa was a pivotal part of my growing up. Just knowing she was coming every week. I looked forward to that.”
“You’re going to make me cry, now,” said Lisa.
There were tears to go around as the three continued to share memories and revel in each other’s company. Pat and Lisa planned to spend several days together touring the Austin area and making plans for another reunion in the years to come – their husbands also becoming friends.
Pat and Maryah are also staying connected as they have throughout the years. Maryah always remembers to leave voice messages for Pat about where she is and how to get in touch when she changes jobs or moves. Maryah makes sure Pat know where she is for a very simple reason. “I see her as a big sister, the only one I’ve ever had,” said Maryah. “That’s something you don’t want to lose.”
They are women now, not young girls with questions, but their sisterhood continues. Their relationships bear witness to the power and impact mentoring can have, rippling out across time, place and generations. It’s a perfect reminder as BBBS celebrates National Mentoring month, and recognizes the amazing volunteers who give of themselves to help children succeed in life.
January is a month of recognition – for Bigs whose commitment, time and energy will positively impact other young lives for years, and generations, to come.