The Call Came
In January of 2012, I sat at a desk most of the day and my radio was always on in the background. I started noticing an ad for our local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization requesting mentors or ‘Bigs’. The request really caught my attention. Like stopped me in my tracks. I’d never thought about being a mentor, but why not?
Still new in my relationship with the Lord, I didn’t think to pray about this idea to get some guidance. So, I sat on it for a couple of weeks. Every time that commercial played, I felt my heart skip a beat and assumed it was my next right action. So, I made my way to their website and applied.
Journey to My Match
Later that week, I heard from Heartland Big Brothers Big Sisters (HBBBS) and I scheduled my interview. The next week, I met with the staff for the interview. In th
e meeting, I was asked if I could see anything changing for me in the next 5 years… Little did I know HOW much would change — but that’s all be covered in other blog posts. In my mind, I thought, “Nah, I’ll probably be single forever, might as well donate some time to someone!” I replied, “Not that I can think of.”
Next I waited to be approved. It happened faster than I expected and about a week later, I was back at the office, for orientation. And then it was time to wait for my match. Sometimes this can take a while, so I tried not to be too anxious.
To my surprise, I received a call from HBBBS another week later — they’d found my match! I was overjoyed. We set a meet date and I counted the days until I met my Little Sister.
The Early Days
We met on February 20, 2012. Hailey was shy and agreeable. Or at least I thought she was agreeable because we had so much in common. Turns out, we were just that well matched! We shared a little of our stories that day, but made plans to get together the following week.
The next week was the first of many weekly meet-ups that would happen over the course of the next few years. We made a list of things we liked and didn’t like — more similarities! We brainstormed things we’d like to do together over the next few months.
Although the first couple meet-ups were a tad awkward, it didn’t last long. Soon it became very clear why the two of us were matched. There was rarely silence when we were together. Banter came easy and we always found things to do. Best of all, if the activity wasn’t as fun as we’d hoped, Hailey felt comfortable to let me know. In my opinion, having a teenager who feels comfortable with an adult to share her real thoughts is a win!
Doing All the Things!
At first, I felt pressure to come up with new experiences for Hailey each week. And we did LOTS of things! However, I soon realized just being together is what made the experience. We spent our time together crafty and baking, and doing other fun pinterest-inspired activities. There were days we made gifts and others we spent checking out new places in our hometown. Many afternoons were spent sharing popcorn or ‘fro yo’ and talking about life. Sometimes we’d get some exercise, while other times we relaxed and watch a movie. And of course there were some study sessions. My two favorite experiences were: 1. Hailey helping with wedding details and 2. Hailey thinking moving sounds fun, and then her learning the truth! 🙂
Added to that list were all the great opportunities HBBBS provided. There were countless parties and game nights with other matches. We attended college basketball and minor league baseball games. My favorite HBBBS sponsored outing was definitely sharing in Hailey’s first Husker football game day. Since I attended every game while I was in the college marching band, the stadium was like my happy place. I was thrilled to introduce her to the state’s 3rd largest city on a game day 🙂
Not All Play
Early on, Hailey learned how she was doing in school was important to me. One of the first questions I would ask when she climbed in the car was “How are classes going?” Eventually, I didn’t have to ask. She knew the drill. And when she did have a low grade, we problem solved. What’s going on? Was there a missing assignment? Is there an area we can work on together?
Early in our match, we spent good chunk of time on math. Neither of us enjoyed that, but that hard work paid off! Next it was Spanish. That was a lot more fun and we both benefited. When there were papers or projects, we spent time brainstorming and I even got to help edit! I was learning to enjoy school again, and I watched Hailey’s attitude towards her classes change.
I’ll never forget the day she told me about a class she loved. She said love and it was about school! The class was chemistry. Apparently her teacher was making the learning fun. And, “It’s easy!” I told her she was crazy — chemistry is not easy! 🙂 She was excelling and beaming about it! (And also, I’m super glad I didn’t have to help with homework for that class!) I witnessed Hailey transform from a girl whose favorite part of school was seeing her friends, to one who enjoyed her different classes and was excited to be learning. It was an incredible thing to watch!
My Budding Social Butterfly
I knew it would happen eventually, but it still caught me off guard. As Hailey got older, her plate became more full each year, and our time together went from weekly to bi-weekly and sometimes monthly. It’s bittersweet. I celebrated it and mourned it all at the same time. Our time changed from being something we could count on, to something we both cherished.
I watched her get a job. Then she joined an organization with a cause she felt very passionate about. And she made the softball team. Oh and instead of quitting music, she ended up being a part of TWO choirs! All this on top of her multiple groups of friends. Let me tell you, this girl got busy!
I’ll never forget those first few outings we had together. Trying to get to know her, I would ask her about the things she liked and she wasn’t really sure how to answer. Try asking her that question now — she has so many interests and has tried many things! It’s hard to stop smiling when I think about how much she’s changed and grown.
She Teaches Me
I’m sure Hailey learned a thing or two from me, but what is more important is that I learned from her. The girl who didn’t like to read is now always in the middle of a book. Maybe she just got tired of me asking what she was reading? Whatever the cause, her peaked interest encouraged me to get in the middle of a book too!
She also showed me how to enjoy middle and high school not being consumed by the opposite sex. I was a bit, what you might call, “boy-crazy” when I was young (I can hear all of my childhood friends laughing right now). And Hailey wasn’t. I found that quite impressive. It was a joy to watch her enjoy her friends, both male and female, and not get wrapped up in all the drama that I seemed to always have at her age. To me, she was wise beyond her years on this topic.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of watching my Little walk across the stage and receive her high school diploma. That 11-year-old who sat in my back seat is now almost 18 and a graduate, ready for college. She is taller than me now, she never lets me forget that. We have adult conversations about college, classes, scholarships, faith, depression and anxiety, along with life decisions. We try new things together and, guess what, tomatoes aren’t so bad! *gasp*
Getting to witness this young lady stand up with all of her girlfriends and gracefully walk across the stage, head held high, and shake her principal’s hand was the greatest gift. She made that happen, but I felt so proud. Looking at her that day, I saw a grown woman. She continually impresses me and I’m so anxious to see what God has in store for her on her journey.
Because I don’t have a sister of my own, I really didn’t know what to expect from being a ‘Big Sister’. Aside from a few what-do-I-do-with-my-hands moments in the beginning, I saw that the HBBBS staff knew what they were doing when they put us together. God equipped me to be the mentor Hailey needed during these past 6 years. Even when I felt like I wasn’t doing enough or wasn’t there for her like I should be, her excitement and kind words reassured me that our time was just what she needed.
Mentorship gave me so much more than I ever expected. It was a commitment. At times, I felt stressed to “fit it in”. But when I had that attitude, I knew I needed to check myself. Hailey was not something to fit in, like a task on my to-do list. She was my friend, my sister. We had, and still have, the best time together. I learned a valuable lesson from our relationship that I can carry with me to others — people are not things to be checked off a list. People are an investment.
Called to be a Mentor
I’m so grateful God put the call to be a ‘Big Sister’ on my heart. The memories and relationship I’ve gained is one I can’t imagine my life without. Hailey is a part of our family. We talk about how she will come visit and eat all our food while doing her laundry when she’s in college. Because I invested in her life, I’ve gained a little sister. I may be her ‘Big Sister’ in a mentorship sense, but she’s gained another real big sister for life!
If you’ve ever felt the urge to be a mentor, not limited to Big Brothers Big Sisters, I’d encourage you to pursue it. These young people are our future. They need us as badly as we need them. There’s a reason you are feeling the urge, don’t ignore it! Not only will you change a child’s life, but you’ll change your own while you’re at it.