Big Sister Lauren and Little Sister Shyae

Big Sister Lauren and Little Sister Shyae

When Big Sister Lauren was matched with Little Sister Shyae, they felt an instant connection. Shyae felt so comfortable around Lauren that she opted to call her “Sissy.”

“I was feeling kind of lonely before I met Lauren,” Shyae says. “I was happy to have a new friend to venture out in life with.”

Shyae’s mom signed her up to be a Little because she noticed a negative change in Shyae’s attitude in school and at home. She felt she needed someone to listen to her, give her guidance, and help boost her confidence. Luckily, around this time, a graduate student named Lauren had completed her student teaching and decided she could spend her extra time being a Big Sister. They were soon matched.

“Shyae and Lauren are the perfect match and have similar, yet unique personalities,” Shyae’s mom says. “It’s funny because their clothes often match when they get together..”

In the six years they have been matched, Lauren has made an effort to share new experiences with Shyae and help her explore her interests. The two have walked on runways at fashion shows, appeared on a live radio talk show, and sung their hearts out at a Taylor Swift concert. Together, the two have also used their match outings to overcome each other’s fears – public speaking for Lauren and heights for Shyae.

“The organization has made a Big difference in both or lives, and will for years to come.”

– Big Sister Lauren

“Shyae has now stood beside me as we have presented about the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization at numerous nonprofit events throughout greater Pittsburgh,” Lauren says. “We have also conquered her fear of heights by riding the Pittsburgh Incline and Kennywood’s highest roller coasters.”

One of Shyae’s favorite outings was an event at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh office called “Fierce Women Project.” There, she listened to inspiring women speak, and felt moved to kick-start her own little business of designing and selling jewelry.

“I named my business ‘Shyae’s Unique Jewelry,’” Shyae says.

Shyae set up “Shyae’s Unique Jewelry” tables at various events, and Lauren supported her Little Sister’s entrepreneurial efforts, often helping her pick out supplies to make her jewelry.

Over time, Shyae has transformed from a lonely, shy, girl into a confident young woman who conquers her fears, owns her own business, and excels at school.

“To me, Shyae is an artist, a stylist, and an entrepreneur,” Lauren says. “She’s a snapshot of today’s youth, and I just so happen to be lucky enough to call her my Little Sister.”

Lauren should probably add “poet” to that list of words describing Shyae. Recently, Shyae’s teacher asked Shyae to write a poem, and she chose to write about Lauren. She encapsulated the beauty of their relationship in eight lines:

“Ode to My Sissy”

Thanks for supporting me, even when I am wrong
Thanks for protecting me, and making me strong
Thanks for soothing me with love, when I am down
Thanks for making me smile, and wiping my frowns
Thanks for watching out for me, when things don’t seem fine
Thanks for pulling me up, when I am out of line
Thanks for playing perfectly, my sister’s role
I will always love you, from my heart and soul.

Big Brother Wayne and Little Brother Zyshonne

Big Brother Wayne and Little Brother Zyshonne

Two years before Little Brother Zyshonne was born, his brother died. Though Zyshonne never met him, he still mourned and agonized over the loss once he was able to comprehend what happened.

“One day, at the playground, I actually caught him crying about his brother’s death,” Zyshonne’s grandfather says. “He told me, ‘It hurts so bad to have a brother die before I had a chance to try to help him.’”

Zyshonne has eight siblings, but he lives with only two of them and his grandparents. His other six brothers and sisters were separated and placed in foster homes. When he was 7, he watched child protective services take away two of them.

The loss of his brother and the displacement of his family led Zyshonne to build a wall of shyness to keep people from getting close to him. His grades and social skills suffered. So, when Zyshonne was 10, his grandfather turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“As the weeks went by, I saw Zyshonne every week for lunch, slowly building our friendship, one game, one laugh, and one smile at a time.”

– Big Brother Wayne

Around this time, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland and Salem Counties hosted their annual Rise and Shine Breakfast, an event to raise money and cultivate interest in volunteering. In the crowd sat a man named Wayne, who says that day changed him forever.

“The heartfelt stories I heard that morning moved me to stop sitting on the sidelines,” he says. “I wanted to make a difference, so I took action and volunteered to be a Big Brother.”

The following February, Wayne became the Big Brother to Zyshonne. They began as a school-based match, slowly getting to know each other over games of checkers.

“As the weeks went by, I saw Zyshonne every week for lunch, slowly building our friendship, one game, one laugh, and one smile at a time,” Wayne says.

Their match was still blossoming when the school year ended, and the two wanted it to continue to grow. They transitioned into the community-based program. Their days of playing games of checkers turned into days of attending Phillies and Eagles games, both firsts for Zyshonne. The two formed unforgettable memories, and Zyshonne’s shyness wall began to crumble.

Now, Zyshonne is an outstanding and outspoken young man. His grandfather has noticed improvement in Zyshonne’s confidence and academics. He says “slowly helped him climb out of his cocoon.”

Zyshonne has come a long way from being the boy who didn’t want to get close with anyone. He looks up to his Big Brother and plans to follow in his footsteps.

“I live in a town where kids get in trouble all the time,” Zyshonne says. “I want to show them they can be good because somebody loves them – that is why I decided to become a High School Big. I want to be good for them because I have the power to make them smile and be happy like Wayne did for me when I was growing up.”

Wayne and Zyshonne see how powerful mentoring can be, and they recognize that their story is emblematic. Now, they often speak at Big Brothers Big Sisters events, such as the Rise and Shine Breakfast that first inspired Wayne. They share their story in hopes of inspiring someone in the crowd to become a Big.

Big Sister Elena and Little Sister Rustie

Big Sister Elena and Little Sister Rustie

Growing up without a father or mother for any length of time is one of the hardest things a child can experience. When Little Sister Rustie was 2, her mother decided she no longer wanted to raise her. When Rustie got older, her father was incarcerated. After a stint with caregivers, Rustie went to live with her grandparents.

Her tough early childhood meant that Rustie struggled to make positive choices and fit in with her peers at school. To help change that, her grandmother signed her up to be a Little.

Big Brothers Big Sisters matched Rustie with Big Sister Elena, who had worked as a staff member at a children’s hospital, where she learned how to handle stressful situations with children  with various behavioral and mental health concerns. Despite her Big Sister’s credentials, Little Sister Rustie wasn’t immediately impressed.

“The first time I met Elena, she was shy and quiet, and I thought, ‘this isn’t going to work,’” Rustie says.

Their first outing together changed things. They went to see “Big Hero 6,” on a special themed night where the movie theater encouraged moviegoers to dress up as their favorite superhero. Rustie didn’t have a costume, so Elena made something for the two of them to wear: matching red and purple capes.

“I think someday I will be a Big too and make a sad girl feel happy and special.”

– Little Sister Rustie

They became their own superheroes.

“Nobody ever made me something like that before,” Rustie says. “I had fun, and she made me feel like I was special.”

A month later, they attended a superhero event at the carousel, so once again, they wore their capes.

As time went on, Rustie began to see Elena as someone she could talk to about friendship issues, and someone who wanted to spend time with her hiking, rollerblading, and ice skating.

One of Rustie’s favorite memories of their match is a time that did not go as planned.  Elena’s car broke down, and she and Rustie had to walk to get help. On that walk, the two talked nonstop. “I just felt like she was listening to me and giving me good advice.” Rustie says. “That was when I knew that she really cared about me.”

Elena has also helped Rustie maintain a relationship with her father. Elena often takes photos of things they do together for Rustie’s grandma to share with him. “He has written me in gratitude for my time spent with Rustie, and I can tell by his words that his daughter means the world to him,” Elena says. “I can tell by the excitement in Rustie’s voice when she talks about her dad how fond she is of him.”

The strength of their match is undeniable, but Elena doesn’t like to take any of the credit. She gives it all to Rustie.

“Rustie is an incredible, strong girl and she makes me look good as a Big Sister,” Elena says. “Learning what a huge difference simply being present can make for someone has been a very powerful lesson to me.”

Since the two were matched, Rustie has started to deal with some of the challenges that brought her family to Big Brothers Big Sisters years ago. Now, she is often first in her class to finish projects. She has made friends at school and is always eager to tell Elena about her social life.

“I have watched Rustie develop into a fun loving and confident individual,” Rustie’s grandma says. “Elena is someone Rustie has been able to connect with and turn to for advice and guidance as well as be introduced to a wide variety of experiences she otherwise would not have had.”

Rustie’s childhood circumstances may have led her to think she needed a Big who would be a superhero, but as it turns out, she only needed Elena, who gave Rustie her own cape and showed her she could be her own hero.

A Message from Pam Iorio, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America:

“We have 27 Bigs at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”

These were the words I heard from Ana Cedeno, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County in the hours after the dreadful tragedy.

In those first hours, we didn’t know the full extent of this horrific shooting. As the day unfolded we learned of 17 deaths, including 14 students. Other students were injured and hospitalized, including one of our Bigs.

Since that shooting all Americans have been saddened by the destructive force that one person can unleash. The senseless loss of these students and their teachers diminishes us all.

And then I go back to those first words: “We have 27 Bigs at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

A “Big” is the word we use for a mentor. For 114 years caring adults have volunteered to be a Big Brother or a Big Sister to a “Little”. These professionally supported matches can make all the difference in a young person’s life. Time has shown that our Littles perform better at school, are less inclined to engage in risky behaviors and report greater self-esteem.  There are times in the life of a Little that the only person they can turn to for support is their Big.

Some of our BBBS agencies have a High School Big program which matches a High School student with a Little in elementary school. For 15 years, Douglas High School has been the site of such a program.

It is an incredible display of leadership to mentor a young person.  That so many teenagers at Douglas High School decided to devote part of each week to help the next generation of children speaks volumes about them and the culture of the school. The 27 High School Bigs at Douglas High School are demonstrating their concern for the welfare of younger children as they face the many challenges of growing up.

Their leadership is inspiring, as is the leadership displayed by over 150,000 Big mentors across our country.  These volunteers, in all 50 states, give of their time and their hearts to help a young person be their best self.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to reach and help every young person who needs guidance and support. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. Our country is only as good as we make it, each of us, in our own way. We can’t help but wonder if the shooter’s life would have taken a different turn had he been matched with a Big Brother.

Big Brother Scott and Little Brother Connor

Big Brother Scott and Little Brother Connor

Police Chief Scott grew up with two quality mentors — his parents. His father taught Scott and his friends to fish and hunt, and his mom encouraged them to empathize with others. The lessons had lasting effects on Scott, but modeling mentorship may have been the biggest. As he went through college and started his career as a beat cop, he sought out mentors for himself and eventually sought to become one.

“Thanks to my upbringing, I wanted to contribute to my community by becoming a mentor,” Scott says.

Back in 2006, Scott connected with his local agency and became the Big Brother to Little Brother Marcus, who he describes as being a “curious fifth-grader.” They began as a school-based match. Scott and Marcus played games and worked on homework at Marcus’ school. Eventually, they transitioned to being a community-based match, so they could do activities in the community.

“I introduced Marcus to fishing and other outdoor fun that this ‘city kid’ had never experienced,” Scott says. “Through Marcus, I learned important information about what it was like for him to be raised as a young black child facing poverty in North Minneapolis, as well as his experiences in school, with sports, and unfortunately with the police.”

Around this time, Scott became Chief of Police for the City of Columbia Heights. The city had a rising crime rate and was one of the least affluent of all the Twin Cities suburbs. As the new police chief, Scott took a look at the city and his department and realized that strengthening the relationship between the law enforcement and the youth they served could have the positive impact he was looking for, and thanks to his Little, Marcus, he knew exactly how to do it.

“I cannot overstate the tremendous impact BBBS has had on our community and our kids.”

– Big Brother Scott

He started by organizing the first “Summit on Youth” which brought together community members, school and city officials, and other leaders to set priorities for youth development. One of the key priorities that emerged was mentoring. Scott first had his officers visit schools to lead story time, talk about bullying, and play sports with kids. In 2012, when a new BBBS School-Based Mentoring Program started in Columbia Heights, Scott made sure many of his officers signed up, and now more than half of the officers serve as Bigs.

“It’s great to see my cops visiting schools, making friends and perching on tiny chairs to read stories, shoot hoops, or talk with teens,” Scott says. “The department’s culture has fundamentally changed and our staff now understand the benefits of building mentoring relationships.”

The city and the department have seen the results and people outside have taken notice as well. The International Association of Chiefs of Police awarded it a Community Policing Award in 2012. The U.S. Department of Justice honored the police/school collaboration with the 2015 Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award, calling it “a national role model in stark contrast to the climate of mistrust that now dominates police-community relations in many cities.” The department has been featured in news outlets from the Minnesota Star Tribune to the Huffington Post.

“The city has seen an astonishing turnaround, and is thriving,” says Scott’s BBBS Match Support Specialist. “Juvenile arrest have fallen by more than half, from 243 in 2007 to 90 in 2015; and the high school suspension rate has dropped 130%.”

While Scott’s advocacy for mentorship throughout his department have been a key part of city improvements, he hasn’t forgotten that it all starts with individualized one-to-one relationships. When Little Brother Marcus became a young adult, Scott became a Big again to Little Brother Connor. Over the last three years, he’s seen Connor go from an unfocused and disengaged kid to a kid who participates in the afterschool robotics club and school musical. To celebrate Connor’s growth, Big Brother Scott took him go-karting.

Scott has spent his life witnessing the power of mentoring and the power of advocating for it. He continues to this day, recruiting his friends in fire departments and city councils to become Bigs as well. He even recruited his own wife to become a Big Sister. Whenever someone he knows decides to become a Big, he shares the same advice.

“Life is about connection,” he says. “Just care. Be there. People don’t need advice as much as they need presence. Just show up.”

Big Sister Verna and Little Sister Sarah

Big Sister Verna and Little Sister Sarah

After retiring as a school principal, Verna still felt compelled to make a difference in someone’s life, so she became a Big Sister. She was matched with Little Sister Sarah, who was 6.

Like many kids, Sarah was struggling with school, both socially and academically.  Her attendance was inconsistent. Bullies targeted her. Reading didn’t come easily, and she had trouble making friends. Her mom signed her up to be a Little Sister so she could have a positive role model who would help her through these tough times. As a former school principal, Verna had worked with many kids before, but even she admits that this relationship would be different.

“As an elementary school principal, I met and worked with many 6-years-olds, but this was unlike any of my previous experiences,” she says. “Fortunately, the BBBS match support specialists helped us find ways to spend time together that focused on getting to know each other and having fun.”

“Seeing another person blossom into a caring thoughtful young adult is worth every second.”

– Big Sister Verna

The two found themselves enjoying all sorts of outings, both educational and fun. They conducted science fair projects, explored books at the library and blew through writing activities on the computer to help Sarah develop her spelling skills. They also discovered animals at the zoo, snagged tickets to Beauty and the Beast (the play version), and sat in the stands when the circus came to town. Sarah couldn’t get enough of her new Big Sister.

“She is so fun to be around, and every time I’m with her, her smile and cheer just light up the room,” Sarah says.

Sarah was enjoying her time with Verna, but the turbulent times weren’t over for her. For a time, Sarah was hospitalized for mental health issues. Even during these most trying of times, her Big Sister still made it a point to visit and write letters. Sarah’s mother was moved by this.

“Verna gives so much love, time and attention to Sarah,” she says. “She has stood by and supported her through the good and the bad.”

The same could be said for Sarah. When Verna was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatments, Sarah mirrored Verna. She wrote Verna a letter, saying:

You have been an extremely WONDERFUL BIG SISTER. I know that you are having to do your therapy so we haven’t really been able to see each other lately, and that’s alright. I understand that you have to put yourself first and your health first. I’ve been praying for you every day.

The letter is Verna’s favorite keepsake.

“During one of the most difficult points in my own life, my Little Sister was encouraging me through breast cancer treatments,” Verna says. “What a blessing.”

They have grown inseparable, and Sarah’s mom thinks Sarah’s future will be much better because of Verna.

“Sarah is not as quick to give up on school and life and her future as she once was,” Sarah’s mom says. “Verna is the best Big Sister I could have ever hoped for Sarah.”

Early on, Verna was right to think that her relationship with Sarah would be different from those she had when working as a principal. Now, 10 years since the two were first matched, the relationship has also proven to be the most special.

Big Brother Tyler and Little Brother Dre'Von

Big Brother Tyler and Little Brother Dre'Von

Dre’Von grew up surrounded by girls, with an older sister and two younger sisters, so his mother decided to enroll him as a Little Brother.  She felt Dre’Von could use a positive male model in the form of a Big Brother, and he was matched with Tyler.

“Dre’Von and me have been matched for almost three years now,” Tyler says. “But it definitely feels like we’ve been hanging out for much longer.”

“When we met, we were cool with each other right away.”

– Big Brother Tyler

Dre’Von was quiet at first, but the two bonded over video games. They got to know each other while laughing and duking it out on games of Madden and NBA 2K. As their bond strengthened, they began exploring the world beyond video games. They’ve visited the Seattle Zoo and agreed their favorite animal is the wolf, and have also seen two of their professional sports teams play.

“We’ve been to a Mariners game on a perfect fall Friday evening, and recently were sponsored to go to a Seahawks game and saw the brightest neon jerseys ever worn in football history,” Tyler says.

Coming from a house with three sisters and his mom, Dre’Von really appreciates all the fun he can have with Tyler. The two are able to talk trash to each other and joke around about things going on around them.

“We treat each other like family and it’s really nice,” Dre’Von says. “I love having a guy to hang out with.”

The two have shown that they can have fun together, but it’s Tyler’s dedication to the match that makes the fun and impact possible. When Dre’Von was living in transitional housing, Tyler never hesitated to make the drive to a new location to pick him up and hang out with him. When Dre’Von needed , Tyler rearranged his schedule so that he could pick up some from the Big Brothers Big Sisters office and deliver them to Dre’Von.

“Since Dre’Von has been matched, he has been happier, and loves when he goes with his Big Brother,” Dre’Von’s mom says.

Dre’Von is still years from graduating, but Tyler has already started him thinking about college. He’s taken Dre’Von to college campuses just to throw the football around, and Dre’Von has already begun to talk to him about what it would be like for him to attend one of the universities. The day will come eventually, but for now, Tyler is just enjoying the match and watching the once-quiet boy grow and mature. He says, “I’m looking forward to keeping our relationship going and seeing him continue to become more and more confident over time.”

Big Sister Annie and Little Sister Sabina

Big Sister Annie and Little Sister Sabina

One of the first things Annie did when she moved to Salt Lake City was look into volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. As she was going through her trainings and waiting to meet her Little Sister, Annie started learning things about her new home. One of the things she learned was that Salt Lake City has a large refugee population. During her interview with Big Brothers Big Sisters staff, they asked if she would be interested in being matched with a refugee youth.

“It was as if the person interviewing me looked right into my soul and saw something that I didn’t know about myself yet,” Annie says. “I immediately knew that I would prefer to mentor a refugee youth.”

Annie was matched with Little Sister Sabina, who was a 6-year-old Nepali refugee. Sabina had watched her older sister get a Big, and she was excited to meet her own Big Sister. When the day came to meet her Big, Sabina was a lot shyer than she expected.

“I know that I’m Sabina’s mentor and that there are probably a few things she has learned through our relationship and interaction, but I think I’ve benefited from this relationship the most.”

– Big Sister Annie

“Sabina was very quiet, and her sisters were talking to her in Nepali telling her to sit by me and talk with me,” Annie says. “Thinking back on that moment gives me such joy and it also makes me laugh because Sabina is anything but nervous and quiet now.”

At the time Sabina admits to feeling lost and having few friends outside of her family she could count on, but as the outings with Annie continued to happen, Sabina shed her shyness and began to appreciate Annie’s role in her life.

“As a refugee with no English, getting the privilege of having a mentor was an amazing opportunity,” Sabina says. “Meeting Annie was really one of the best things to happen to me.”

The two enjoyed getting manicures, visiting museums, and window shopping at the mall. Annie has helped Sabina with her schoolwork by reading with her at the library and challenging her with math problems while in the car. Sabina’s mother says she has noticed the positive impact that Annie has had on her daughter.

“Sabina has gone from very shy and quiet to a young woman who is very nice and confident. Annie has helped her become this by being her sister and friend,” Sabina’s mom says.

Sabina hasn’t been the only one to grow during the course of this match. Annie says she knows she has benefited from the relationship as much as her Little Sister. Being introduced to Nepali culture and getting to know Sabina’s family has changed her life.

“The trust that her parents gave me immediately after meeting them was also inspirational,” Annie says. “The family has taught me so much about acceptance and love and because of my relationship with them I have become an advocate for refugees here in America.”

Annie has become more than an advocate. Nearly a year ago, Annie and her husband began fostering two refugee girls from Somalia, and now are caring for them as parents. Annie adding two kids to her family has not led to any jealousy in the parties involved, but instead to admiration.

“My daughters saw our relationship and wondered if they too could have a Big Sister,” Annie says. “I’m very happy to report that both of them now have their own Big Sister through the program.”

Big Brother Roy and Little Brother Cahill

Big Brother Roy and Little Brother Cahill

Big Brother Roy did not have the best upbringing. He grew up with an abusive father, and after an incident with him, Roy made a promise to himself.

“I swore to myself, if I ever had children, I would not treat them the way my father had treated me,” he says. “My guiding rule was that whatever my father would have done, I would do just the opposite.”

Big Brother Roy raised two sons who grew up to be independent and responsible, just like him. When they left the house, Roy says he experienced “empty nest” syndrome. He tried curing it by babysitting his three granddaughters, serving at his church, and taking up new hobbies, but nothing seemed to fill the void.

After reading about Big Brothers Big Sisters in the newspaper, Roy signed up to be Big. He was matched with Little Brother Cahill, who wasn’t your typical 12-year-old.

“Our son Cahill was diagnosed at a very early age with Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of Autism where they have poor social and communication skills, and we knew he would have a challenge developing relationships,” Cahill’s mom says. “Big Brothers Big Sisters seemed like it would be a great opportunity for our son to get paired with someone that could explore different activities outside of the family dynamic and who could become a mentor for him.”

“Whenever I was frustrated or upset about something, I’ve been able to talk to Roy about it.”

– Little Brother Cahill

Roy says his mentoring relationship with Little Brother Cahill developed slowly. Like all matches, they had some awkward outings in the beginning, but eventually, they bonded over superheroes and video games. They also spent time around Lake Thunderbird and took annual trips to the state fair.

“We’ve done so many different things together,” Little Brother Cahill says.

Roy noticed that Cahill’s attitude was evolving from “I’m only doing this because my parents are making me” to excitedly bursting out the front door when Roy’s truck approached. Cahill began greeting Roy every time by saying, “Hey, dude.”

Roy points to one moment when he truly felt assured of connection with Cahill. They were driving, and Roy got a phone call from a family member, who told him that his mother had been found in her apartment, unresponsive. Roy apologized to Cahill and told him that he would have to drop him off and rush to the hospital. Roy’s mother died that night.

The next week when Roy picked up Cahill, the first thing Cahill said was, “Hey, dude, how is your mom doing?” Roy told him that she had died, and that he and his wife would have to fly to South Texas to scatter her ashes. Cahill said he was sorry, and he insisted on going with them to South Texas. It was difficult for Roy to explain why Cahill couldn’t come, but the sincere expression of caring brought tears to Roy’s eyes.

“That was a defining moment in our relationship,” Big Brother Roy says.

Their relationship has only grown stronger since then. When Cahill was 17, Roy asked him if he wanted to continue their weekly activities, wondering whether he might be growing out of it. Cahill only response was, “Of course, dude.”

Roy says, “What began as an attempt to find purpose in my life has evolved into what might become a life-long friendship between Cahill and the ‘dude.’”

Big Sister Shannon and Little Sister Courtney

Big Sister Shannon and Little Sister Courtney

Shannon was sitting in traffic when she saw an ad on the back of a bus that changed her life forever. “You can could be a Big Brother or Big Sister,” it read, and she believed it. She signed up and was matched with Little Sister Courtney.

Courtney’s childhood had been tough, with drugs and alcohol affecting her family and her dad incarcerated at the time of her match. This inspired Shannon, as she saw a lot of herself in Courtney during their first match meeting.

“She needed a positive role model in her life just like I did when I was her age,” Shannon says. “From that day meeting her, I have tried to provide this for her in every interaction we share.”

Early on, these interactions including going to the zoo, working on homework, and playing at local parks. As the Courtney got older, they began hitting local coffee shops, exploring museums, and talking about life and the future.

“We are truly more than just a match — we are family and will forever be sisters.”

– Big Sister Shannon

The two have also made it a point to be there for each other’s important milestones. Shannon was there for Courtney’s 13th and 16th birthdays, and her first homecoming dance, and all the ones that followed. In return, Courtney was there for one of Shannon’s biggest milestones.

“She stood next to me in my wedding in 2013 as a junior bridesmaid on one of the most important days of my life,” Shannon says.

Throughout their time together, Courtney’s grades have steadily improved and she is now in high school and already taking college courses. She’s also volunteered on numerous occasions at soup kitchens and became a Big Sister herself through an afterschool program. Courtney gives a lot of credit to Big Sister Shannon for encouraging her to take college prep classes and going to volunteering events with her.

“Over these past eight years, Shannon has truly changed my life for the better,” she says.

The two thank each other for changing one another’s lives, but they owe a thanks to that ad on the back of a bus.