Once a year, our Match Activities Committee mails packages of congratulatory letters and books to Littles graduating from elementary school, middle school and high school. Little Sister Keisha recently graduated from high school and departed from our program after five years of mentoring. She emailed the agency this note of thanks after receiving her package in the mail. We are thrilled to report that Keisha was accepted to Neumann University and began the fall following her graduation. An excerpt from her letter is below.
Dear Big Brothers Big Sisters,
Thank you so much for making this experience with the program and [my Big Sister] Kelly so much fun. My story with Kelly, from the 7th grade to graduating high school, was a miracle. I had so much fun with her and she made me realize there is more than just being in the house and being on the computer. I found my true self in the world and that I was able to know myself better each day of the week. I was able to talk to Kelly about things I wasn’t sure of, I was worried or scared about, etc., and she would give me great advice. She would take me to amazing places that had a lesson with it, and I was always ready to learn something new. Kelly was the best Big Sister and I wouldn’t change that.
Graduating high school was one of the greatest milestones in my life and my next one is completing college. Thank you so much for the book, Letters to a Young Sister, by Hill Harper. I will keep it and read it forever. I am glad you guys are proud of me for my accomplishments, and I am proud of them, too.
For Big Sister Melissa, volunteering has always been a part of life. When she started working full-time after college and researched different options and opportunities, she found that becoming a Big Sister worked best with her schedule and was the type of volunteer experience she was looking for. “I wanted to be able to interact with and help a young person, one-on-one, and this allowed me to do that,” Melissa explained.
In August 2008, she was introduced to her Little Sister, Amber, who was only nine-years-old at the time. Amber came from a large family and so having individual attention was something that was very exciting. Over the years, Melissa and Amber have done lots of fun activities together, including agency favorites like the Annual Picnics, holiday parties and ice skating. Their favorite activities involve making something, like pizza or cookies. “It’s great to see her take the lead on those projects and take ownership of things,” Melissa told us. “As she is getting older, we are also discovering new things to do together as her interests change.”
According to her Big Sister, Amber is now more active at school and at home, and the biggest change is in her maturity. “She’s gone from a kid to a teen. She understands and appreciates people more than before. Her personality has developed over the years and I’ve noticed she’s more self-aware and has better relationships with her sisters.”
Melissa has benefitted from being involved as well. “I enjoy having a friend who is younger than me and from a different walk of life… she brings out the fun-loving and silly sides of me. We love to laugh and have fun.” The Big Sister would recommend the program to anyone considering it. “It’s definitely a commitment and something to take seriously, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things I could have done as a young adult.
Big Brother Mike and Little Brother Christian were matched in our program back in 1998, just before Christian’s 13th birthday. Now, almost two decades later, the pair remains close and gets together as often as their schedules allow throughout the year.
Recently, the now grown-up former Little sent his Big Brother an email to express his gratitude and tell him about the difference he made in his life. Big Brother Mike was so moved, he contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters to share their story, in hopes of inspiring others to volunteer.
Here are some highlights from Christian’s recent email to his former Big Brother:
“Mike, I mentioned to you before how much I appreciate you, but that was really an understatement. I don’t think you fully understood the circumstances about my joining Big Brothers Big Sisters. At the time, my dad was suffering from alcoholism and had a pretty bad falling out with my grandmother. She decided to not have me see him for some time after that. That’s where you came in. My grandmother thought it would be a good idea to have a positive male figure in my life. She found out about the organization and signed me up.
I remember the day I met you, Mike. I remember when you walked in, and I remember one of the first outings we did together. You took me to a Phantoms game. It was the first time I had been to hockey game. I was so excited just to be there. Heck, I can even remember what you bought me. That little gesture has stuck with me all this time. That was the first time anyone had done anything like that with me, and I appreciate you so much for that.
I’m bringing this all up because I just wanted to formally say thank you, Mike. You broke me out of that shell I had been living in. You helped me experience things I probably never would have, had I not met you. The museums, galleries, sporting events, and more importantly, the time you spent with me. That was what I needed at that time in my life. Through the time my dad was in the process of fixing himself, and reintroducing him back into my life, you were always there. You helped me escape the troubles of my life that were plaguing me at the time.
I would like to, again, say thank you for always being the person you have been to me – a guide, a teacher and now a friend. I have now made it to a point in my life I never thought would have been possible.
Big Brother Jeff and Little Brother Joe are a Philadelphia match who met in October 2011. They have grown close over the years and are now very good friends.
Thanks to the support of his Big Brother and hard work, Little Brother Joe was ecstatic to one day receive the news that he had been accepted into Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia. Breakthrough is a tuition-free academic enrichment program focused on developing students’ skills in order for them to be successful in the best of high schools and prepare for entry into college. Held at Drexel University, the program starts in the summer after sixth grade and continues until the end of high school, with a full week in the summer and one day a week after school during the school year.
Big Brother Jeff explained, “Joe was selected by his teachers and guidance counselors at his school. He was the first student to be selected in a few years. Joe had to complete an application consisting of about 20 essay questions. Based on the application, he was chosen for an interview, and he was accepted! The class sizes are only five to 10 people, so it’s very competitive, and this is huge news for him. It will really allow Joe to find a path to his potential.”
Big Brother Jeff helped Joe prepare for every step of the process, and even went as far as to lend Joe his dress shoes to wear to the interview! We are grateful for all of our Bigs, like Jeff, who make it a priority to be a champion for their Littles and help set them on the road to success.
Big Sister Kathleen and Little Sister Safiyyah are matched through our College Bigs mentoring program with St. Joseph’s University and Gompers Elementary School. Through this program, Bigs visit their Littles at their school once a week during the school year. Kathleen and Safiyyah were introduced in October of 2013 and, since then, have developed a strong friendship. “She has become more and more comfortable with me since we first met, and visiting her is one of the highlights of my week,” Big Sister Kathleen has explained.
When the pair is together, they often talk about school and what’s going on at home, or work on an arts and crafts project. “One of the things that Safiyyah told me about is the time she made sloppy joe’s for her entire family. She prepared the meat, toasted the rolls in the oven and served her family all by herself. This is very impressive for someone who is only in 6th grade!” Kathleen is confident her Little’s future will be bright. “Safiyyah is very smart and determined and tells me she wants to be an engineer… she is a very sweet and intelligent girl and I know she has big things ahead of her!”
Thanks to all of our great College Bigs who see their Little’s full potential and encourage them to follow their dreams.
Big Brother Michael and Little Brother Tylik are an alumni match that met through our College Bigs program at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2013, the pair was interviewed about their match, and they explained just how much the program meant to them.
At the time, Tylik was a sixth grader at a school in West Philadelphia and, according to his Big, “[had] always been a good kid, trying to make it in an environment that is not always conducive to learning or to progress.” Michael was a Penn senior with a full course load but always was sure to make time for his Little Brother. The pair even stayed close despite a semester spent in different countries. Michael studied abroad for months but still made it a priority to stay in touch during his travels, mailing Tylik postcards regularly. Once Michael returned, the match continued meeting each other at least twice a month. Gabrielle Bailey, their Match Support Specialist, stated, “Michael has been very dedicated to his Little, despite a very busy schedule as a college student, and has helped his Little develop and make good decisions.”
Before Michael and Tylik met, it wasn’t uncommon for Tylik to get into arguments on the playground or with his siblings but now, Tylik walks away from fights and encourages others not to get involved. Tylik says he would be “very lonely if Michael weren’t his Big Brother” and that Michael has helped him with homework and soccer tricks.