This past weekend was my one year anniversary — with my “little sister.”
For a year now, I’ve been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, and I can hardly believe it’s been that long. I first looked into the program about six months after moving to Indy, trying to find a way to productively spend some of my free time with community service. I get sneezy around most animals, and Habitat for Humanity doesn’t build much in the snow; so BBBS sparked my interest.
If you aren’t familiar, Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring program that pairs at-risk youth with adults who can be positive role models. Studies have shown that children who participate in this type of intensive mentor program are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, skip class, and exhibit violent behavior; and they experience increased self-esteem and improved personal relationships.
After reading a bit about the mission of the program, I skimmed the requirements but focused most of my research on testimonials from “Bigs.” It seemed that this program was a good way to build a significant, lasting relationship and truly improve the life of a child who hasn’t been blessed with a healthy family life or has struggles of other sorts. I had supportive parents, grew up in a generally positive environment, went to good schools and had a fairly typical childhood. Some kids, however, are not nearly so lucky.
I took a leap and applied for the program. The screening and matching process is fairly extensive and takes a couple of months to complete. I filled out forms, gathered character references and went through interviews; and in early February of 2012, I was matched with my Little. (The rules of the program prohibit me from naming my Little online, posting pictures of her or even being her friend or “follower” on social media; so you’ll just have to trust that she really exists.)
The first year of any Big-Little relationship involves a lot of learning. Not only did I learn about my Little’s family, school life, character traits and feelings, but I also had to learn how to relate to her, communicate with her and earn her trust. This year has helped me come to better understand my Little and why our relationship has been and will continue to be so important for her. It can sometimes be hard to relate to someone who has had such different experiences than you have, so I still have a lot to learn!
While she has had been through things that most adults would struggle to cope with, she is also a 14-year-old girl who likes 14-year-old girl things. And let’s face it, I still have some 14-year-old-girl tendencies. We watch movies together (yes, we went to see the fourth Twilight), go to the mall, cook and talk about music and boys. Her favorite activities so far have been a summer trip to Holiday World and an enlightening laser tag session. (She really loves laser tag. Like a lot.) As our relationship continues to grow, I hope that I can have some positive effect on my Little and bring her a sense of confidence, stability, future and friendship.
I also hope that as I help her, she can help me. I’ve already learned from her and from our relationship, and I have begun to gain the sense of fulfillment that comes from creating a substantial human connection with someone who deeply needs it. She teaches me about compassion, understanding and trying hard to look past someone’s outward projection to who they really are and how they really feel.
While this has turned out to be a positive experience for me, this program is not for everyone. I have eased into the role I am playing, but at first, I struggled a bit with the idea that this little girl might actually need me, and I may not know how to provide what she needed. That’s a new feeling for someone who hasn’t been a parent or even owned a dog. I am happy that I took this opportunity and see the incredible value in it, but it’s also a great personal challenge. It requires time and patience that someone as independent and impatient as I am has had to learn to give.
If you’re at all interested in becoming a Big, I’d love to talk to you about it! While it is a commitment and a decision that should be made carefully, it provides a very special opportunity to make an impact on a young person and to learn about yourself in the process.
There are many children in your area (no matter where you live — trust me), especially little boys, who are waiting to be matched with a Big. You might just be the person to change their life.