This post is in honor of The Big Give S.A., a 24-hour day of giving that will take place from midnight to midnight on May 5, 2015. Learn more about The Big Give here.
***The Big Give 2015 has ended. Stay tuned for next year!***
My own daughter can’t distinguish me from my sister in old photos. The genes from my dad’s side of the family are strong and the similarities between my siblings and me are striking.
I have another sister with long, dark hair and tanned skin who has no connection to my family’s genes. We used to laugh when people thought we were really sisters, but we never set anyone straight because it was fun to pretend. Now that 30 has set in with plenty of wrinkles on my face, I could easily be mistaken as her mother even though we’re not actually related at all.
I’m a “Big Sister” to my “Little Sister” Natalie through Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring network that makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers and children in communities across the country.
My experience with BBBS began about 25 years ago when my own mom realized that as a single parent, my older brother could benefit from a mentor and male role model in his life. We were poor, on food stamps, rarely had contact with our father just like many of the disadvantaged youth the organization serves today.
All these years later, I still vaguely remember Jim, my brother’s “Big Brother,” even though we moved across the country and the match didn’t last long. I know my brother remembers hims and appreciates the impact in his life.
I didn’t think much about Big Brothers Big Sisters until my final semester of college where the capstone project in my last public relations class needed to graduate was to design a PR campaign for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lubbock. After spending a semester digging in to how the organization works and why it works so well, I knew I wanted to be a Big Sister.
I signed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters about six months after graduation once I was settled with my new husband and new job. Mentoring is all of the great things about parenting without the dirty work. In a few hours a month, I can acknowledge, inspire, encourage and be a role model to a child.
Just by giving the gift of time, my life has been forever changed for the better. My little sister has been in my life longer than most of my friends, and she’s seen me through several job changes, two moves, pregnancy loss, and motherhood without ever once wavering in her unconditional commitment to our friendship.
She is a rare find in today’s sea of superficial, Facebook only friends where the click of a “like” button is the most interaction we’ll have all year. She’s taught me to be a better person, to keep calling even when times are tough, to aim high because someone is always watching, and to to listen thoughtfully especially when I want to talk. Mentoring a child has taught me one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life: I am who I am, and I am enough.
I’m enough to sit and talk to about anything and everything. I’m enough to inspire her to aim for college even though nobody in her family has ever graduated from high school. I’m enough to show her that she doesn’t have to settle for anything in life. I’m enough to help her realize how much her mom loves her. I’m enough to nurture her self esteem so that she knows she will always be enough without drugs, alcohol, sex or sacrificing her values.
I met my 7-year-old Little Sister at her house one afternoon in May 2007. We chatted about painting our nails and how we both preferred not to get sweaty doing “boy” things outside. In the midst of life and all the little things that come with it including having two children of my own, I blinked and that little girl grew up.
Natalie’s childhood has been anything but carefree with an absent father, family members in and out of jail, financial stress and challenges some people can never imagine. Perhaps that’s why we get along so well. I don’t have to image the life she is living because I lived it too. I made it to the other side because my family believed in me and never set limits on my potential. I desperately want that for Natalie and with each passing year, we’re getting closer.
Natalie will celebrate her birthday with a Sweet 16 party in a few weeks, and she let me take some pre-party photos of her. As she smiled for my camera and posed in her perfectly pink tulle gown, I couldn’t help but get a bit nostalgic about the little girl I used to know. But I’m so proud of who she has become and excited to see what the future holds for such a bright and wonderful young lady.