Big Brothers Big Sisters: It starts with a ‘little’ and then…
Big Brothers Big Sisters starts with a ‘little’ and changes lives in incredible ways. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a non-profit whose goal is to help all children reach their potential through one-to-one relationships, or matches, with volunteer mentors. While their tag line is ‘It starts with a Little’ – the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) experience touches the lives of many.
Part I featured a loving mother’s perspective and my interview with MaryAnn. Part II will focus on my ‘little’, Jennifer, and our experience over the course of 21 years in our ‘match’ and friendship. I am beyond proud of the beautiful person Jennifer has become – inside and out. Knowing her, her mother and family has been a true blessing in many ways. We had the opportunity to reunite in Kauai a few weeks ago and it was a wonderful week exploring her island home. The precious days together were filled with reflection, gratitude, adventure and fun! I hope our story illuminates the opportunity, and responsibility, we all have to ‘pay it forward’.
Joy: So, sweet Jennifer, thinking back to when you were seven and waiting for news of getting matched what were you hoping for in a relationship with a Big Sister?
Jenny: Someone I could look up to. Someone I could admire. Somebody I could follow in their footsteps. I just wanted the example of what a professional and successful person was and I wanted to be molded into that. I didn’t have anybody like that in my life at the time. That’s what my mom wanted for me. That’s what I wanted. My sister already had a big sister, so I was like “ugh, I want my own already!” …but I think I was five years old at the time, so I was too young. I wanted that experience. And I wanted my own role model.
Joy: So now 21 years later looking back on our relationship, how has the experience compared to what you were hoping for?
Jenny: Completely exceeded what I was expecting. I thought it was like an “only until I was 18” sort of thing, or only until I was in high school. It ended up being my entire life – and I didn’t think anybody would care that much to stay in my life, especially the situation I was raised in. So, I didn’t think it was possible.
Joy: I have goose bumps.
Joy: And what do you think you got out of our time together? Are there specific things that you remember that you learned…or carry with you now?
Jenny: Yes! I think I am the way I am because of you. I don’t settle. Like I’m always trying to look at ways to perfect things. Even at work, I’m always looking at ways to perfect my position or even create new opportunities that need to be explored. It’s like the horseback ridding deal we made when I was a kid. You challenged me in the 5th grade. You said if I make all A’s, that you would take you horse back riding. And all I needed was the push and I knew I could do it. I just never really had anybody to push me before.
Joy: And you did it!
Jenny: And I did it!
Jenny: And from then on, I never settled for less than A’s. For my second degree in college, I even made Summa Cum Laude. That was something that really pushed me. I never really wanted to settle, because I knew I could always do better. You instilled that in me for sure. You also instilled in me my self worth. You always showed me how to be a lady from the setting up of the table, to your mannerisms, to the firm handshake and looking people in the eye. You taught me… it was more about my character. That was definitely something that could only come from a mentor. It could only come from you. I mean parents are wonderful, but they’re with you all the time they’re not a mentor. So that was something I needed.
Joy: Along those lines, has your BBBS experience influenced your relationship with your family – or things that you and your family do?
Jenny: Yeah, I think it impacted my little brothers and sister the most and my family too, but mainly my brothers and sister. I don’t mean to, but I kind of put high expectations on them and so I make deals with them to challenge them to reach their full potential. For example, I made a deal with my brother for this next semester. The deal is If he makes straight A’s, I’m buying him a ticket here to visit my husband and I in Kaua’i for winter break and that’s all he wants! And so, I’m challenging him just like you challenged me. And my little brothers and sister are all college focused. It’s their next chapter right after high school. They’re all college bound and they’re all going to graduate. And it’s something they know in their gut…and I think it is because of you. I was pushed and now I’m pushing them. It’s in a loving way and it’s positive reinforcement. So, they’re just digging inside themselves to see how strong they really are….and I’m just giving them a little tug.
“I would encourage any mom who wants the best for their child to enroll ASAP. Immediately.”
Joy: What words of wisdom would you share with someone considering getting involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters?
Jenny: Dive in headfirst. Don’t look back. Just do it to your utmost. Like don’t hold back, don’t think it’s not the right time… it’s the right time. I really needed a mentor and I know you poured yourself into me – that was a blessing … and we both needed each other. It couldn’t have been more of a blessing to my family because I already had that in me, I just needed it to be revealed. I needed someone to challenge me and I would encourage any mom who wants the best for their child to enroll ASAP. Immediately. Anyone who’s even considering being a mentor, it’s the biggest blessing you could be to a family. You have no idea. And it’s a lifetime thing…. I mean, for us it was. Don’t cry, Joy!
Joy: No, it’s happy! I grew up and learned a lot during that time as well. It was a gift and a blessing – and it still is to me and my family. Everyone feels that you’re a part of our family. You taught me a lot about gratitude, respect and understanding of different family dynamics.
Joy: The other thing was learning how, because I can be a perfectionist, to push you and to show you how much you are worth and what you’re capable of – but doing it in a way that was encouraging and not too hard. I think I had some speed bumps along the way… but I learned and you trusted that all along it was because I knew what your potential was. I didn’t want you to sell yourself short or allow anyone to tell you that you weren’t capable of whatever you set your mind on.
Jenny: You gave me a lot of that confidence too. Like I wasn’t like all the other girls, I was different. I had value and worth, so that really gave me this idea that I was up here….and “you better treat me like that” kind of mentality. I was a lady…and I don’t think I was a lady before – well, I was a tomboy.
“Anyone who’s even considering being a mentor – it’s the biggest blessing you could be to a family.”
Joy: An athlete and strong woman.
Jenny: Yeah! Still an athlete.
Joy: …with character and grace.
Joy: That’s a very special thing, and not every woman has that. I’m so proud of you.
Jenny: Giggles* Joy now you’re going to make me cry!
Joy: You ARE. You’re beautiful inside and out. A very strong, grown woman.
Jenny: Grown woman… I still feel like I’m nine.
As told to Joy Steinberg, May 31, 2017 – Princeville, Kauai
To learn more: Visit the BBBS website to learn how you can support and get involved in your community