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Little Sister Hannah

Little Sister Hannah

Little Sister Hannah has been practicing singing “God Bless America” for a month. Last night, she sang the song in front of 36,000 fans at Boston’s Fenway Park.

One of her dreams is to be a professional performer, and after hearing her own song played on the radio and singing at Fenway, she is well on her way. But her bigger dream is to use her career to fund a foundation to help children like her – children who have cancer.

“Kids who have cancer, it’s really tough for them and their families,” Hannah says. “I want to help them, financially and emotionally, and make the experience better, and fund research.”

Little Sister Hannah was first diagnosed with a form of leukemia when she was 2 years old. She’s been in remission and relapsed, and a year ago, she was diagnosed with another form of leukemia, which she contracted from her bone marrow donor. She has spent most of her childhood in the hospital, but even now at 14, she is still positive, giggly, and warm.

“It’s not easy for her, it hasn’t been an easy road,” Hannah’s mom says. “And she does get really down, but then she bounces up, and she is just amazing, her strength, and her will are just amazing.”

“That’s my drive. I’m doing it for other kids. An I feel like I’m their voice, so I feel like I need to be extra confident.”

– Little Sister Hannah

Three years ago, Hannah’s mom enrolled her as a Little Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State. Hannah had been getting bullied and was struggling with her self-confidence. She was matched with Big Sister Brianna, and the two say they are perfectly matched.

Big Sister Brianna has visited Hannah in the hospital countless times, and now that Big Sister Brianna has studied to become a nurse, Hannah says they can talk about medical stuff. “Their relationship is so strong,” Hannah’s mom says.

When BBBS of the Ocean State was looking for a match to feature in a promotional video for ALEX AND ANI’s new CHARITY BY DESIGN bangle set that would benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, called the Big and Little Dipper Set of Two, Hannah was chosen out of more than 500 kids to represent BBBS of the Ocean State. She had to talk her Big Sister into it.

“She did it just for me. She doesn’t really like to be the center of attention or anything,” Hannah says. “I just told her some tips, like how to be confident on camera.”

Hannah was a pro, and they shot the video in one take.

She made a big impression on the ALEX AND ANI team. They helped spread the #HeySuperstar hashtag on social media and encouraged their followers to send messages of support and love to Hannah. Tens of thousands of likes and retweets have followed, and she says each one makes her smile. ALEX AND ANI also gave her a tour of their Cranston, Rhode Island, headquarters, have sent her countless care packages in the hospital, and organized a blood drive in her honor. “They have done so much for me,” Hannah says.

Hannah is constantly thinking of ways to do more for other kids like herself. Every September since she got her first bone marrow transplant at age 6, she has tried to raise awareness at her school for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. “She makes cupcakes for her whole school with the childhood cancer awareness symbol on them, and we order stickers and pins for the school to wear,” Hannah’s mom says. Hannah gives a speech about being grateful to be in school and about appreciating health. She gives facts about childhood cancer and is open to questions and dialogue.

Singing at Fenway Park, she looked confident and proud. That’s part of her personal mission, though, to inspire other kids. “I want to show them that you really can do anything, and don’t give up, and just follow your dreams.”

Hannah’s performance of “God Bless America” at Fenway Park:

Big Sister Elise and her Little Sister

Big Sister Elise and her Little Sister

Big Brothers Big Sisters Abilene is mourning the loss of Big Sister Elise, an Abilene, Texas, detective who was killed in a car accident last weekend. Matched in 2015, Elise was a “perfect Big Sister” who had an “enormous and enduring impact on her Little Sister,” says Mark Rogers, Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star’s Abilene Market President. Rogers says Little Sister Brooklyn and Big Sister Elise were known for being joyful goofballs at agency events.

When Elise graduated from the police academy, she wasted no time in applying to become a Big Sister. She understood naturally that serving your community as an officer is connected to serving it as a mentor, and that the two roles would complement one another. “When she first signed up, she was on patrol, she was on night shift, but she made it work,” says Rogers.


In their Facebook post expressing their condolences to Elise’s family, Big Brothers Big Sisters Abilene says Elise was “one of our original Bigs in Blue.”

As the agency began to talk about formalizing a Bigs in Blue program, the planning centered on Elise. She and her Little Sister, Brooklyn, would be the match that showed other officers that mentoring was not only necessary but also fun. As the agency started recruiting more officers to become Bigs, they knew Elise was in the background, setting an example and encouraging them to volunteer.

Elise leaves behind a husband and infant daughter. For information on how to donate to help her family, visit abilenepolicefoundation.org.

To read BBBS of Abilene’s full post about the loss of Big Sister Elise, click here or read below.

Big Brother Myrone and Little Brother Sidd

Big Brother Myrone and Little Brother Sidd

When Sergeant Myrone Grady was a little kid, he never thought he would become a police officer. “I was a knucklehead, I was always getting into trouble,” he says. “I am from the city. I wanted to be a street kid, I wanted to run around and act a fool, and I thought I would go to Florida State, and buy my mama a house and an Escalade.”

But there was always somebody there for him. A football coach. A basketball coach. An uncle. Someone who talked to him and shifted his course. With their positive influence, he stayed focus in school and eventually became a patrol officer and then a school resource officer. Now, he’s a sergeant.

He knew he wanted to have that same influence on kids like him, so he studied social work in college. And now his list of titles includes “Big Brother.”

He was matched with Little Brother Sidd through Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters two years ago. Now in third grade, Sidd is an outgoing, rambunctious kid who sometimes has a hard time focusing. “He’s kind of learned that if he acts up a little bit, he gets that attention, so we are working on that,” Big Brother Myrone says.

Mentoring Sidd allows Myrone to connect one-on-one and make a difference in the way he was hoping for when he first became an officer. Once a week, he visits Sidd at his school. They play games or work on homework.

“The point is to do your best and make a connection.”

– Big Brother Myrone

He says having a Big Brother who is a police officer gives Sidd a boost of self-confidence and self-esteem. “He had a sense of pride that I was his,” Myrone says. “It made him feel special when I showed up.”

Because he visits his Little Brother at school during his shift, he arrives in uniform, and it’s obvious he is a police officer. He doesn’t mind the extra attention the uniform attracts. “It’s almost like I am show-and-tell,” Myrone says. “I am high-fiving the kids, and they all want me to sit with them at lunch.”

Big Brother Myrone says he hopes the effects of getting to know an officer ripple through the lunchroom, beyond his own Little Brother. “It’s going out there and being visible. If you’re out there dealing with kids, if they see you as a person,” he says, “when those kids are 25, if they have had positive interactions with police officers, that’s what makes a difference.”

When Myrone got involved with Kansas BBBS, he approached his Chief of Police, Tarik Khatib, about getting more members of the department on board with “Bigs in Blue,” Big Brothers Big Sisters’ program created to foster relationships between police officers and Littles. Chief Tarik was not just in favor of more officers becoming Bigs; he was the first to volunteer. Having the Chief sign up to be a Big Brother made it easy for officers to take that step too.

“Some people worry that they might not be able to be as committed as they want to be, and they don’t want to let the kids down, but that’s not the point,” Myrone says. “The point is to do your best and make a connection.”

He knows that when people see the badge and the uniform, they are sometimes reminded of negative news stories, old wounds, or misperceptions. But he believes that the way to change that reality is to relate to the community, and the way to relate to the community is to get to know them authentically. “I think it’s important to know that we are cops, but we’re also regular people,” he says. “I’m a regular person – I just have an extraordinary job.”

Big Sister Amy and Little Sister Jasmine

Big Sister Amy and Little Sister Jasmine

When Amy signed up to become a Big Sister, she envisioned being matched with a 7-year-old. She thought she’d spend time with a little girl who would do crafts and run around on the playground. Instead, the staff of BBBS of Puget Sound asked her, would she be willing to be matched with a teenager?

A thousand questions ran through her mind. “What if she didn’t like me?” she thought. “I mean, I guess any age match could potentially not like me, but a teenager?”

The staff told her more about Little Sister Jasmine, and the more she learned how much they had in common, the more comfortable she became with the idea of being matched with a 13-year-old.

“Amy holds me accountable and reminds me that every decision that I make is important to my future.”

– Little Sister Jasmine

“It was on our one-year match anniversary that I knew we had formed a bond that would last a lifetime,” Amy says. “To celebrate, she wrote a song for me about what I meant to her, and then she and her younger sister performed it for me. Of course, I cried.”

Jasmine was sure of their bond much more quickly. “When I first met my Big, I was in seventh grade, and although I didn’t know how to show it very well, I loved her from the first time we hung out.”

In the five years since then, Amy and Jasmine have spent time cooking and doing craft projects, but as Jasmine grew older, they spent more time on practical goals. They studied for Jasmine’s learner’s permit. They crafted her resume, practiced interviewing, and got her a part-time job at Starbucks. They searched for scholarships and planned for Jasmine’s transition to college. She received a full scholarship to Stanford University.

“Over the past five years, our relationship has grown and evolved,” Amy says. “I have watched her change from a young girl in grade school who was still unsure of herself, to a confident young woman soon to graduate high school who has an exciting, amazing future in front of her.”

Amy may have envisioned something different in the beginning, but a bond as strong as theirs can sometimes be hard to imagine.

Big Brother Adam and Little Brother C.J.

Big Brother Adam and Little Brother C.J.

When Little Brother C.J.’s grandmother first took custody of C.J. and his younger sister, she struggled with C.J.’s attitude. She knew he needed a positive male role model, so she enrolled him as a Little Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State in Rhode Island.

It wasn’t long before C.J. was matched with Big Brother Adam. Hanging out with C.J. became one of Adam’s favorite things to do. The two love playing video games and eating “sticky chicken” together.

“Adam is really fun to be around and funny,” C.J. says. “Adam calls me if I do not feel well, and he really cares about me.”

“He has taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined.”

– Big Brother Adam

But C.J.’s grandmother didn’t turn to BBBS of the Ocean State just for C.J. to have someone to have fun with. She was looking for a “positive male role model,” and Adam is definitely that.

He models caring for others and asking about their feelings, and he encourages C.J. to do the same. When they are out at dinner, Adam often suggests C.J. choose a treat for his sister. After two years of being matched, 10-year-old C.J. has matured and changed.

“The biggest accomplishment I see is in how C.J. treats others, especially me and his sister,” C.J.’s grandmother says. “He used to have very little patience and thought mostly of himself. Now, he’s always thinking of me and his sisters.”

Having fun with C.J. and teaching him lessons, is a big part of Adam’s life. His passion, though, is movies. He is the director/founder for the 401 Film Fest, through which he has raised more than $3,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ocean State. But he continues to point to his match with C.J. being the most important thing to him. “Mentoring C.J. has been the most positive, fulfilling thing I have ever done,” he says.

C.J.’s grandmother says that now, she couldn’t be happier with how C.J. is growing up. “He has matured so much, and I know Adam made this happen.”

Big Sister Erin and Little Sister Noelle

Big Sister Erin and Little Sister Noelle

When Erin first got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, being named the 2017 Big Sister of the Year at the BBBSA National Conference was the last thing on her mind.

As a mother of three boys, she didn’t even become a Big Sister right away. She wanted to be sure she was ready for the time commitment of mentoring another child, so instead, she worked behind the scenes, helping with fundraisers and events. It wasn’t until she learned about the School-Based Mentoring Program, which only required a commitment of an hour a week, that she decided to become a Big.

When she first volunteered, there were no girls on the waiting list to be Little Sisters through BBBS of Alaska. The Match Support Specialist asked Erin about becoming a Big Sister to a Little Brother, but after hearing Erin was a mother of three boys, she had a change of heart.

“Something in Suzy said, ‘You know what? No. You need a little girl. Let’s just wait and find that little girl for you, and she did,’” Erin says.

“Erin exposes Noelle to opportunities and teaching moments that foster Noelle’s self-confidence and show her how to handle difficult situations and decisions.”

– Little Sister Noelle’s mom

That little girl was Little Sister Noelle, and the two were matched when Noelle was just 6 years old. “I will never forget our first match meeting,” Erin says.  “She was this tiny little first-grader, really cute.”

Noelle says that when she met Erin, she was so nervous she could barely speak. “I didn’t want to talk at all,” she says. Erin suggested that they go for a walk so Noelle could show her around her school. Erin says Noelle “took off like a rocket,” she was so excited to show her Big Sister everything. Despite her shyness, she showed Erin a glimpse of her personality, and they bonded almost instantly.

All through Noelle’s elementary years, Erin came to see her once a week at school. They played Connect 4 and Battleship, read books, and did homework. Through Erin’s consistency, they built a bond that was key to Noelle dealing with difficulties at home.

“When I was 8 years old, there was a lot of change in my family due to my parents’ divorce. When my dad left, I did not hear from him very often, and that was very hard to deal with,” Noelle says.

Noelle’s mom says Erin helped Noelle learn to cope with her dad leaving. “She stopped talking to everyone, except Erin,” Noelle’s mom says.

“I helped her through this by being a sounding board, allowing her a safe space to talk, to share her feelings, and even draw them out. Sometimes she would shut down, and I would get her to talk,” Erin says.

When Noelle was in fifth grade, they transitioned to BBBS of Alaska’s Community-Based Mentoring Program so they could start doing activities outside the school. They made plans to go the theater, bake cookies, and visit museums.

“Before I met Erin, my life was crazy, and I never got to get out of the house, except for school,” Noelle says.

With Big Sister Erin, she began to explore the world outside her home and develop her creative side. Noelle is interested in fashion, so Erin got her an art set for designers. Big Sister Erin even put her own shyness aside to walk in a charity fashion show with Noelle to help build her confidence.

At the National Conference, Erin and Noelle both took the stage to accept the Big Sister of the Year award. Noelle showed some of her keen fashion sense in a dress she picked out herself and a beautiful necklace.

The two look like an inseparable pair, but Erin doesn’t like to overcomplicate her role. “More than anything,” she says, “just being Noelle’s friend/mentor, a person who cares, is all that’s really needed.”

17-07-12-big-impacts-big-brother-terence-little-brother-terrell

Long before Terence was walking on stage at the BBBSA National Conference to receive the 2017 Big Brother of the Year award, he was just a college student volunteering to be a Big. He had been a Little himself, and though the match didn’t last long, it left an impression on him, and he knew he wanted to give back.

His timing couldn’t have been more perfect, because he was matched with Little Brother Terrell, who his aunt described as being “in a really dark place” and “missing something.”

Terrell’s childhood had been  traumatic. Both of his parents were incarcerated, he lost his 3-year-old brother, and he  was separated from his older brother and his baby sister. As a result, he struggled with trust and anger. He wasn’t a bully, but he was a kid who reacted quickly with aggression.

“He has helped mold Terrell into a great young man, and has truly become his brother for life.”

– Little Brother Terrell’s aunt

It was his aunt and uncle who stepped in to right his course, and one of the first things they did was enroll him as a Little Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati.

The family wasn’t all-in at the beginning.

“I had questions and doubts; I was worried about everything,” Terrell’s aunt says. “The last thing I wanted was to introduce him to someone new who could potentially not hang around.”

Terrell had doubts too. “With my background, with what I’ve been through in my life, I didn’t trust people a lot.”

But it wasn’t long before Terence proved he was committed to being Terrell’s Big Brother. “Terence stepped right in and before I knew it, I could see the light start to glow in Terrell again,” Terrell’s aunt says.

At first, Terrell’s story was a little overwhelming for him, Terence admits. He never pushed him to talk about his past, but stayed consistent with Terrell. About a year into their match, as they drove through Cincinnati, they passed a cemetery. “He goes, ‘my brother’s over there, he’s buried over there,’” Terence says. “When I heard that from him, him wanting to share with me, I pulled over to the side of the road and we talked about it.”

Terrell says being able to open up to Terence, and having him as a role model, has changed Terrell’s life.

“I promise you, without this program, getting matched with Terence, and my uncle getting involved, I’d be somewhere following the wrong people in the wrong crowd,” Terrell says.

Now, Terrell is focused on his future. When his friends skip class, he doesn’t join them. If they distract him from his goals, he says, they’re not his friends.

“My future plans are to go to college, join the National Guard, be a dentist,” Terrell says.

Terrell’s future plans don’t end there. At the BBBSA National Conference, he told the crowd during Terence’s introduction that he was “going to be a Big Brother like Terence and pass it on.”

Despite Terence being the award winner, Terrell’s line received the biggest applause of the night.

Big Sister Gretchen and Little Sister Brianna

Big Sister Gretchen and Little Sister Brianna

When Big Sister Gretchen first met Little Sister Brianna, she met a shy, smart, curious girl who often got into trouble. Brianna got upset quickly, threw fits, and fought with other kids. As the daughter of a single mother who was dealing with a chronic illness, Brianna’s childhood has not always been  easy.

“Because her home life was volatile, she didn’t have the encouragement to focus on school, and it showed in her grades,” Gretchen says.

The match met once a week at Brianna’s school at first. They would read or work on homework and then eat lunch and play. After a couple of school years, Gretchen added tutoring sessions to her time with Brianna. “It concerned me that such a smart girl was so behind in her schooling and that she didn’t think she was smart or capable of doing the work,” Gretchen says. They worked on Brianna’s skills and her confidence, and by the end of the year, she had made the honor roll.

“I’ve learned that just being there and being consistent is more important than quick advances.”

– Big Sister Gretchen

As their relationship grew, they eventually transitioned to the community-based program. They started doing at-home science experiments, like creating crystals. As a particle scientist, Gretchen liked sharing her love of science with her Little Sister. Making science fun and finding balance between tutoring and fun activities has been key for the match.

Brianna’s mom says that having Gretchen in Brianna’s life over the last five years has helped the whole family tremendously. “Brianna has changed a lot in the past few years. She has matured and is more interested in getting her education,” Brianna’s mom says.

With Brianna’s mom’s medical issues, Gretchen often steps in to help fill in the gaps for her Little Sister. She has attended Brianna’s parent-teacher conferences and basketball games. “She always answers my phone calls when I need someone to talk to or need help with my homework,” Brianna says.

Little Sister Brianna says she knows she has a brighter future because she was matched with Gretchen. “In third grade, I was a little shy, and now with my Big Sister Gretchen, I feel so much better,” she says. “I also misbehaved a lot, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more mature.”

The two may have been creating crystals in their home science experiments, but they seemed to have already formed a perfect match.

Big Brother Emilio and Little Brother Brandon

Big Brother Emilio and Little Brother Brandon

When Little Brother Brandon was struggling with his identity and realizing he was gay, he wanted to tell his Big Brother Emilio. He was scared at first, but he says Emilio simply accepted him.

“From my perspective, that’s my job as a Big Brother, just to listen and be supportive,” Emilio says.

Coming out to Emilio took trust, which didn’t always come easy for Brandon. Back when he was in second grade, he was constantly bullied. He tried to make friends, but other kids pushed him away. “Everybody used to hate me,” Brandon says. “Kids didn’t even understand.”

Brandon grew up in a single-parent household with little supervision, and he needed a role model he could count on. Through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, he was soon matched with Big Brother Emilio. That’s when he says everything changed.

“I was kind of lost until I met Emilio,” he says.  Over the years, the two found common ground and built the trust that enabled Brandon to be comfortable enough to come out.

“I’d have to say that I’ve learned from Brandon as much as he’s learned from me.”

– Big Brother Emilio

Now a high-schooler, Brandon is a lot more confident. He and Emilio started a YouTube channel and make videos together. Brandon dances or sings, and Emilio runs the sound, controls the camera, and helps edit the final video before posting to YouTube.

Brandon is working towards a career as a dancer, and Emilio supports him chasing his dream. “He reaches out to dance studios, he takes dance classes, he talks to dance crews,” Emilio says. “That’s what makes him unique—his drive for making that happen in his life.”

Big Brother Emilio is an engineer, and he does not think of himself as creative or artistic, but he enjoys helping Brandon edit his dance videos. He says it’s helped him by pulling him out of his shell a bit. “We couldn’t be more polar opposite,” Emilio says. “Brandon is a super outgoing kid who loves to dance and sing and is extroverted and super creative. I am an introverted engineer who hates to dance.” Being different from each other allows them to learn from each other’s strengths.

After Brandon came out to him, it was Emilio who explained to Brandon that he wasn’t alone, and that there was a whole community of people who had been through similar struggles and came to accept themselves.

“He actually introduced me to gay pride, and I had no idea it existed,” Brandon says. Knowing he wasn’t so different was a huge turning point for him. “Ever since he brought me there, I’ve been myself a lot more,” Brandon says. “I’ve been the confident, sassy Brandon that everybody knows and loves.”

Emilio and Brandon exemplify that it doesn’t take having a long list of commonalities to be a strong match, but sometimes it just takes listening and being supportive.

 

Big Sister Shannon and Little Sister Mykayla

Big Sister Shannon and Little Sister Mykayla

Little Sister Mykayla’s mom to have a relationship with her daughter like Rory and Lorelai from “Gilmore Girls.” The mom and daughter were so close in age that they were already best friends.

But throughout Mykayla’s childhood, her mother was sick. She was diagnosed with cancer when Mykayla was still a toddler, and she dealt with other severe illnesses and injuries. “My mom has been sick in some shape or form for the majority of my life,” Mykayla says.

Mykayla’s mom enrolled Mykayla as a Little Sister when she was 10 years old. She wanted her daughter to have someone to talk to, a role model. “As close as we were, Mykayla still needed an outlet of her own, aside from me.” Mykayla’s mom says. She was soon matched with Big Sister Shannon.

As the match was just starting out, Mykayla and her mother lived with her grandmother. Mykayla and her grandmother were very close, but just a few months after she was matched with Shannon, her grandmother died.

“It was unexpected for Mykayla,” Big Sister Shannon says. “She knew she was sick but she didn’t see that coming at all. It was really a tough time for her, so we spent a lot of time together at that point.”

“She’s been with me for every milestone in my life. From listening to me ramble about my first serious crush to consoling me when teenage drama became too much, she’s always been there.”

– Little Sister Mykayla

Now living alone with her mom, Mykayla had to take on more responsibility for caretaking. When her mom had a doctor’s appointment, it was Mykayla pushing her wheelchair and getting on the city bus with her to get to the doctor’s office.

“Any time I was in the hospital, I couldn’t be 100% mom, and Shannon picked up on that,” Mykayla’s mom says.

Spending time with Shannon gave Mykayla the freedom to be a kid. When she returned home from hanging out with her Big Sister, her mom says, Mykayla had a light about her again.

Throughout their match, Shannon encouraged Mykayla to be herself and to give back. She provided the outlet and encouragement that Mykayla’s mom was looking for when she first enrolled her daughter as a Little Sister.

Now, Shannon describes Mykayla as a confident, cultured, well-read adult. She took Advance Placement classes in high school, sang in the school choir, and has been accepted into college. “Taking care of my mom was a sort of first inkling on what I want to do,” Mykayla says. She plans to study kinesiology and become a physical therapist.

Eight years after they were first matched, even with college looming, Mykayla and Shannon are still spending time together.

“I thought that I would be involved for a year in this program, but instead, it’s been eight years,” Shannon says. “And it’s never going to be over for me and Mykayla. We’re going to be in each other’s lives forever.”

Shannon says she knows Mykayla will also eventually become a Big herself. “Any child would be lucky to be matched with her,” Shannon says. “I know I was.”