I love being a Big Sister

This is my “Little Sister” Maricruz and me, dropping off baby blankets for a baby shower at a clinic in Los Angeles. This is the type of place that takes people whether or not they have insurance, and whether or not they are “legal.” They do an amazing service for the women who seek their help, from pre-natal care to these showers they plan, where every woman is sent home with the minimum items necessary to take care of their new baby.

Mari and I have been hanging out almost every weekend for the past three months, and it has been so much fun. I actually heard about her situation through a friend, so I didn’t go through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization directly. I’d been wanting to become a Big Sister for more than 10 years, but was always afraid to make the commitment because of my erratic work schedule. But this time it was falling into my lap, and I said “yes” immediately. Once I met Mari, I knew it was a good decision.

Almost the first time I met her, she told me she wanted to go to college to become a therapist or a teacher. She also told me she wanted to volunteer at a hospital, maybe holding little babies who were sick. When we learned she was too young to work at a hospital for liability reasons, I found an organization that knits blankets for babies with AIDS and other terminal illnesses, as well as babies at shelters or any baby that needs one. Since Mari and I had just learned to knit, this was a perfect opportunity and she was so excited to be a part of it. This photo was taken when we delivered baby blankets to that clinic.

Mari wanted to learn how to knit, and I hadn’t knitted since I was a girl but had been wanting to start again. We’ve both been knitting scarves like crazy, and she’s on her way to knitting a scarf for each member of her family, which includes her mom, her grandma, and five siblings.

Since she’s the oldest of six kids, and they live in a very small apartment, it’s a real treat for her to have some time to herself and a little privacy. So about half the time we just hang out at our house, knitting, reading, listening to music, and cooking. I’ve taught her how to make granola, and my husband has been loading up an old iPod with music for her. She soaks all of this up and wants to learn everything. It was so much fun to take her to the library, get her a library card of her own, and check out YA books and lots of CDs. She even checked out some CDs on learning to speak Italian.

We have also gone to movies, and I enrolled her in a weekend art class for teenagers at our local museum. They learned printmaking, it was free, and she had so much fun since they don’t have much art in school these days. I am also planning on taking her to her first ever musical, which I know she will just love.

One of the big things we’ve been working on is getting her into a good charter high school next year. That is the most important thing I can do to set her on the path to college. It breaks my heart to hear about the public school she’s in now, where the teachers come and go and don’t have an active investment in the kids.

It’s been such a marvelous experience being a Big Sister so far, and I know Mari and I will be friends for years. She has already invited me to her “Quinceanera” party when she turns 15 next year, and I hope I’ll be able to see the day when she starts college. I am lucky to have met a girl who has such a hunger for knowledge and for life, and who soaks up everything that comes her way. Her mom has told me that she is so much happier and she “feels important” because my husband and I care about her and ask her about her opinion on things. Since she doesn’t have a father she can count on, I’m glad my husband has been so open to having her around. She’s pretty easy to love. I know a little bit about her background, and it’s remarkable how sweet and open she is in spite of all she’s been through. I attribute that to her mother, who is determined that her children have a better life than she has, and does everything in her power to make that happen.

Readers, please share your experience if you’ve been a Big Sister or a mentor to a child or teenager. And if you’ve been thinking about volunteering, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You really can make a difference, and there are thousands of girls waiting to be matched up with a Big Sister. Also, if you know any men who are interested, there are even more little boys who need Big Brothers since not as many men volunteer as women. Click here to find out more about Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    Being a Big Sister is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and I LOVE to hear about your own experiences. At 9, my little sister is the oldest of 5. Her life hasn’t been easy, either. It makes you incredibly grateful for what you do have. My girlfriend has a LS who is 16 and about to graduate out of the program. She has a difficult time finding free things to do with her little, who sees her more as an opportunity to do something that costs money rather than a mentor to spend time with. I’m glad to hear that you are not having those difficulties. Some free or low-cost things I’ve done with both of the LS’s that I’ve had were go to sporting events at local colleges, do craft classes at my local Michaels, attend events at the local libraries, and go to free outdoor concerts during the summer. I’m also planning on taking my LS to several of the local high school drama performances. These tend to be musicals and will give us a chance to dress up a little without costing me a ton of money. In fact, I’ve heard that if I mention I’m taking my LS to do something a lot of places will give you a discount or let you use their services for free.

    • Angela says

      Hi Jennifer, Thanks for your excellent suggestions. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that we’re doing free or low-cost things, I guess because those are the things we do in our own life. I know of other instances where the Big Sister feels a little used, and I feel so lucky that Mari is open to everything we do and seems excited about things like going on a hike or going to the library and doesn’t expect me to take her expensive places or buy things for her. The things I have given her are free, like the second scarf I made, a hat I never wear that looked cute on her, some clothes we had left from our clothing swap, and the shoes my friend donated to her that I pictured in a previous post.

      Thanks so much for commenting. Being a Big Sister is already one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I am looking forward to knowing Mari as she grows up and into a young woman.

  2. Marie-Josée says

    Oh, Angela, another moving and inspiring post. I’m so glad this commitment is enriching to both of you and that your sweet husband is onboard as well. Rock on.

    • Angela says

      Thanks Casie! I really hope I do inspire someone else to be a Big Sister. I can’t believe I waited so long (although, to be realistic, it just wouldn’t have worked with my previous 60+ hour weeks). It has been so much fun, and I love the way you phrase it as an investment. I do think Mari will bestow rewards on everyone she meets, whatever she decides to do.

  3. Jenn says

    Great post! I work with the children in foster care and “at-risk” youth, and it’s amazing how important big brothers and big sisters can be in their lives. One of my clients has had a traumatic start to her life, but now lives with her mother and aunt who love her more than anything. However, her big sister has been instrumental in getting her out of her shell and advocating for her in school as well as helping her with her homework. (Mom is an immigrant and while she’s fairly educated, she doesn’t speak the language and struggles to navigate the system and these odd things like “science fair projects” her elementary school aged kids have to complete.)

    • Angela says

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, Jenn.
      Mari’s mom is incredible, but she worries that she can’t spend the one-on-one time with each of her children that they need. So that’s where I come in. I’m so happy that I could help with getting her into a good charter school. Mari is thrilled about it, and they really wouldn’t have known where to start.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. says

    Angela, this is such a lovely post. I am so happy that you and Mari have bonded and that so many of the activities you’ve done together are simple: going to the library, listening to music, cooking, etc. And knitting blankets for babies? That is wonderful.

    • Angela says

      Thanks, Cate. I didn’t even think about the activities as being simple, since they’re just things I normally do and things she wanted to do, so it’s perfect! I am glad and lucky that she’s not demanding pricey entertainment! :)

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