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.

Talking with Your Little About LGBTQ Pride Month or Coming Out? Here are some resources that may help:

Human Rights Campaign (HRC)(A BBBSA partner): Talking with Kids About LGBTQ Issues

Anti-Defamation League (ADL): LGBTQ Pride Month [Resources by grade level]

The Trevor Project Support Center

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.”

Big Brother Paul and Little Brother Ashis

Big Brother Paul and Little Brother Ashis

For most of his life, Little Brother Ashis lived in a refugee camp. His family had fled Nepal, and waited for more than a decade to be resettled. Shortly after they were approved to enter the United States, they settled in Salt Lake City and Ashis was matched with Big Brother Paul.

Ashis’ parents say being matched with Paul is giving Ashis opportunities he never would have had otherwise.

“We did not have an education in our home country. We were very fortunate to resettle in America because now our children have the opportunity to have a good education, which means they can have a good life,” Ashis’ parents say. “Education is not just about school—we believe Paul is helping with Ashis’ education by providing him with a positive influence, good role-modeling, and helping him go in the right direction.”

“He really teaches me stuff that makes learning fun, which is why this relationship is working great for me.”

– Little Brother Ashis

Little Brother Ashis says his Brother not only takes him to do educational activities, like visit museums and libraries, but also infuses learning into their recreational activities, including Utah Jazz basketball games. “He uses the score of the game to help me with my math, asking how much the team is winning or losing by,” Ashis says. Paul also asks him to pick who he thinks will win. “I always pick the Jazz,” Ashis says. “Every game we go to, literally, the Jazz win. I think we are good luck for the Jazz.”

Paul and Ashis have spent a lot of time watching basketball, but also playing basketball together. Paul encourages Ashis to have goals and to focus on his progress. He challenges Ashis to try harder and to be confident. “I have noticed a big change from where my ball handling was then and is now,” Ashis says. “Paul knows how to talk with me. He even sometimes demonstrates to help me understand better.”

When Paul signed up to become a Big Brother, he says, he expected to do things like play basketball and watch the Jazz play. But he had no idea how impactful the match would be in his own life. Now, Ashis’ parents consider him family, and he says the same thing about them. Paul’s family is Greek, and he has introduced Ashis to his culture. “My family and I invited Ashis to a Greek Easter party, where he ate so much lamb and other Greek food that he almost had to sit out of my dad’s famous Easter egg hunt,” Paul says.

Ashis’ family also includes Paul in their traditions and holidays, including Bhai Tika. “We invited Paul because we feel like he is part of our family,” Ashis’ parents say. “As part of the traditional ceremony, we applied the ‘tika’ (a red paste) to Paul’s forehead. This symbolizes that Paul is part of the family – Paul and Ashis are brothers.”


Editor’s note: Statements from Ashis’ parents were translated by a family member.

Big Sister Chelsea and Little Sister Esmeralda

Big Sister Chelsea and Little Sister Esmeralda

Having everything in your life figured out isn’t a requirement for being a Big. Seven years ago, Big Sister Chelsea was a little lost. She had just dropped out of her second semester of college and she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. She did know she wanted to give back to her community, so she signed up to be a Big Sister. She was matched with Little Sister Esmeralda.

Going to Esmeralda’s house for the first time, Chelsea was nervous, but right away, sassy, outgoing Esmeralda made Chelsea’s nervousness vanish. The two bonded immediately. They began meeting every week and their bond grew. It wasn’t before long that Esmeralda was excitedly greeting Chelsea and calling her “Sis.”

One day, when Chelsea picked her up, Esmeralda was crying, having just failed the third grade. Esmeralda was now the one a little lost. Over ice cream, the two talked about what to do next.

“Chelsea is the best thing that has happened to my daughter.”

– Little Sister Esmeralda’s mom

“We decided we would practice reading that summer, so that she would be an even better reader after the summer,” Chelsea says. Esmeralda was eager to start and wanted to read right then to get better. They worked on it constantly, reading a couple of books each time they saw each other.

Before long, Chelsea no longer had to read the menu for Esmeralda when they went out to eat. The next year, she passed third grade. “I didn’t know I was capable of being so proud of someone, and I couldn’t stop smiling,” Chelsea says.

Chelsea and Esmeralda both looked forward to when Esmeralda’s father was set to be released from prison. She was buzzing with excitement. She had looked forward to having a dad for so long. “Over our four years of being matched, she talked about how much she missed him and about how she didn’t really know him since he was in prison for over half of her life,” Chelsea says.

But in the first three months after his release, he saw Esmeralda only once. In the past year, she hasn’t heard from him. The relationship she was hoping for was not the relationship she was getting. Big Sister Chelsea helped her deal with her disappointment and move forward. “I continued to be there for her, listening to her stories as well as watching her cry about her father,” she says.

Chelsea and Esmeralda are still matched, and Esmeralda is gaining confidence and self-esteem all the time. But Esmeralda isn’t the only one who has grown since their match first started out. Mentoring Esmeralda has had such a positive effect on Chelsea’s life that she decided to study social work, and she’s now working towards her master’s degree. She plans to pursue a career helping children facing adversity.

Both Chelsea and Esmeralda, together, have come a long way since the days they were a little lost.

Big Brother Harrison and Little Brother Michael

Big Brother Harrison and Little Brother Michael

Little Brother Michael had a sad and troubled childhood, his adoptive parents say. “Imagine running away from an abusive situation to be eventually placed with people you don’t hardly know in an unfamiliar town in a different state with a new school and culture.” With all that uncertainty and change, they knew their son needed a Big Brother.

Michael was matched with Big Brother Harrison, who was then a college student. The two bonded immediately. At their first match meeting, their match support specialist and Michael’s mom left them alone to get to know one another. “We played basketball and talked for what must have been two hours,” Harrison says. “It got to the point that [Michael’s mom] said she would go home and I could drop him off when we got done, since we were having so much fun.”

They have continued having fun together for almost four years. “Ever since that first day it has been a nonstop ride of bowling, basketball, soccer, riding bikes, getting ice cream, eating, talking, and some of the most fun I have had in my life,” Harrison says.

“He is someone I can trust. Someone I can get help from. Someone who is always there for me.”

– Little Brother Michael

Michael says that having Harrison’s support has been life-changing. “I feel like I can say my feelings and talk about what goes on in my life with him,” Michael says. “He is a person who listens to me and helps me to see things in a different way.”

Harrison has also taught Michael by example. As a graduate student studying to be a pharmacist, Harrison has shown Michael the importance of focusing on academics. “We believe Harrison has helped Mike to drastically improve his grades as he transitioned to junior high school this year,” Michael’s parents say.

In the last four years, Michael’s parents have also noticed him becoming more comfortable in his own skin. “Mike is much more confident out in society and in new and uncertain situations than when he first came to us,” his parents say. “Harrison provides an outlet for Mike away from us and his daily concerns.”

To this day, Mike says these outlets are still light-hearted and fun for the both of them. “More often than not, when we get done playing sports or doing whatever it is we’re doing, we’ll be on our way to drop Mike off, but neither of us wants to stop hanging out yet, so we’ll turn up the music in my car and drive around for a while longer just to hang out for a bit more.”

After all these years, Big Brother Harrison and Little Brother Michael have still retained the excitement and shared bond they discovered at their first match meeting.

Big Sister Shari and Little Sister Ajaea

Big Sister Shari and Little Sister Ajaea

Ajaea was 5 when her mother died suddenly. With her father incarcerated, she and her sister went to live with their grandmother. Losing her mom left Ajaea feeling lost and scared. She would barely leave her grandmother’s side. “I came home from school and she wasn’t there anymore, and I didn’t want that to happen to my grandma,” Ajaea said.

While shifting her life to accommodate being the only parent to two young girls, Ajaea’s grandmother was also dealing with her own grief. She knew that Ajaea needed another supportive adult in her life, so she enrolled her as a Little Sister. At age 6, Ajaea was matched with Big Sister Shari.

“Over the years, Shari has helped me to understand a lot of things that I never understood.”

– Little Sister Ajaea

“Shari understood how Ajaea felt about the loss of her mom,” Ajaea’s grandma says. “Shari encouraged Ajaea to open up about her feelings, and that helped Ajaea to deal with emotions she didn’t understand.”

At first, every new experience was difficult for Ajaea. She was shy and overwhelmed, but luckily Shari was patient and empathetic. “Shari gently sat down beside me and told me about how her mom had died unexpected also, and how she felt, and that it was okay for me to feel the way I was feeling,” Ajaea says.

Before long, Ajaea and Shari were going to the library and playing board games. They took up drawing and painting. And over time, Shari helped Ajaea cope with her sadness and develop her confidence.

Now, Ajaea is finishing her freshman year in high school and is involved with the local Salvation Army. “This shy, traumatized girl now plays several instruments in the band, teaches, and volunteers time with children younger than her, regularly attends sleepaway camp, has developed a healthy social life, opened a savings account, rings bells at Christmas, participates in church services, and volunteers in the nursery,” says Big Sister Shari.

Little Sister Ajaea and Big Sister Shari are still matched, and they are committed to staying in each other’s lives. “Shari is more than just Ajaea’s Big Sister with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She’s a member of our family,” Ajaea’s grandmother says. “Not only is she loved by Ajaea, she is loved by our entire family, and I know that Ajaea’s mom would love her just as much as we do.”

Big Brother Jamie and Little Brother Elijah

Big Brother Jamie and Little Brother Elijah

Elijah’s grandmother prayed that a mentor would come into her grandson’s life. With both his mom and dad out of the picture, he didn’t know how to deal with the extraordinary loss in his life. Instead, he acted out in school. He was even expelled from kindergarten. His grandmother was at a loss as to what to do next, and then he was matched with Big Brother Jamie.

“My intent when I volunteered to be a BIG was to make a difference in someone’s life, but I don’t think I ever realized how spending time with someone like Elijah would brighten my days and make me a better person.”

– Big Brother Jamie

Jamie wanted to become a Big because when he looked around at his peers, he realized that he had grown up with advantages that not everyone else has. With two supportive parents and a close family, he was set up for success from the start. After college, he decided it was time for him to give back to those who didn’t have the same advantages. “I didn’t want to just donate money or time,” Jamie says. “I wanted to make a commitment to try to make someone’s life better.”

Despite getting married and having children since they were first matched, Jamie has stayed committed to Elijah. In between outings, they often chat and play video games online together. “Even when we are not together in person, we still stay connected through social media or by phone, and communicate very often,” Elijah says.

The biggest effect that Jamie has had on Elijah, Elijah says, is showing him that college is within his reach. Jamie, his father, and his brother are all Penn State alumni. “They have included me in tours of the campus, tailgating to football games with the family in their R.V., and have greatly influenced my decision to attend that school because of the firsthand experience that I have there,” Elijah says.

The Little Brother who was once struggling so much with his feelings and behavior is now a positive influence on his Big Brother. “Little did I know that his positive attitude, laughs, and inquisitiveness would make my day every time we would get together,” Jamie says. “I was trying to give back, and he was making my day.”

Big Sister Ann and Little Brother Darius

Big Sister Ann and Little Brother Darius

At 11, Little Brother Darius already has college plans. He’s going to be a Vanderbilt University Commodore, like his Big Sister, Ann.

He was first introduced to Vanderbilt by going to basketball games with his Big Sister, who is a proud Vanderbilt alum. Darius’s mom says visiting the campus for charity events, basketball games, and football games has made Darius “bleed black and gold.”

When Big Sister Ann first volunteered to become a Big, she envisioned being matched with a Little Sister. But the waiting list for Big Brothers is often much longer than the waiting list for Big Sisters, so she was matched through BBBS of Middle Tennessee with a Little Brother. “The thing I admire most about Darius is his fearlessness,” she says. “He may be a little smaller than other boys his age, but the child is determined, full of self-confidence and a positive attitude.”

“I plan to grow up and be successful so that I can become a Big myself and show other kids how to enjoy life.”

– Little Brother Darius

The two have bonded over sports and adventure, and Darius says the best activity they have done together is ziplining. “We had 10 obstacles to go on, but the last one was the best, because it was the longest and highest line,” he says. It’s no wonder Big Sister Ann describes him as fearless.

A couple of years ago, Big Sister Ann enrolled Darius in a summer football camp at Vanderbilt. He was immediately at home on the college field. “When I walked him into the camp, he was greeted with high fives, fist bumps, and overwhelming welcomes from the Vandy crew who knew him from being at events,” his mom says.

At camp, Darius learned to run in cleats, throw a spiral, and catch with both hands. He says the experience empowered him to try out for the school football team.

On the last day of camp, the coaching staff gave out awards for the kids’ achievements during the week. Darius was awarded “Best Attitude.” Ann says she was prouder of that award than anything else he could have earned.

“This child who I know to be fearless, confident, and positive was being recognized for those very things by a totally impartial collegiate coaching staff,” she says. “I realized then that the most meaningful thing that I can do for Darius is to nurture those instincts.”

With a Big Sister like Ann, it won’t be long until Darius is continuing to nurture those instincts at Vanderbilt University.

Big Brother Kevin and Little Brother Aden

Big Brother Kevin and Little Brother Aden

When Big Brother Kevin was growing up, his father wasn’t home much. He worked 13-15 hours a day. “Not once do I remember throwing a football or baseball to him,” Kevin says. “It was like he was there, but he wasn’t there.” So Kevin relied on his uncles to be role models. Knowing that there were many boys growing up like he did, with a dad not involved or not present, he decided to become a Big Brother.

Kevin was matched with Little Brother Aden six years ago, when Aden’s mom decided to enroll her son as a Little Brother because his dad’s involvement was inconsistent at best. “I wanted Aden to have a consistent, positive role model in his life who could take him to experience new things and help improve his self-esteem,” she says.

“He helped me become the young man I am today.”

– Little Brother Aden

Together, Little Brother Aden and Big Brother Kevin have gone golfing, participated in Bowl for Kids’ Sake, and completed projects around the house. They even visited the local police department once so Aden could learn what it would be like to be a police officer. In college, he hopes to study criminal justice.

Kevin’s goal with Aden is always to plan activities that help him gain confidence and self-respect. “The activities Aden and I do are infused with lessons to ensure he’s developing into a young man who understands his potential is unlimited,” Kevin says.

In the middle of last season, Little Brother Aden’s basketball coach quit the team. Without a coach, they wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the season, so Big Brother Kevin stepped up and became the new coach.

He had always been at every game, and as coach he was now at every practice, showing his Little Brother what it meant to follow through on a commitment. “I make this commitment to him because it’s important that he knows I’m there for him,” Kevin says, “because we all benefit from having extra people in our lives who remind us that we matter.”

Little Brother Aden couldn’t agree more. “He’s helped me with lots of my problems and tells me how to deal with future ones,” he says.

Whether it’s on the court or off of it, current problems or future problems, Aden knows he always has a Big he can count on.