Look What You've Started

In the Wake of Tragedy, a Big Sister Goes to Bat for Her Little in an Incredible Way

"Team Yesenia" Running a 5k in New York City.

Ten months ago, Yesenia Parker’s life took a traumatic change of course unheard of to most 12-year-old girls her age. Following a gunshot wound, fun activities like playing with friends, participating in a dance group and learning karate were replaced with daily physical therapy in order to relearn the simplest of tasks, like flexing her hand. 

Yesenia’s estranged father is charged with the horrific act of gun violence that has left her partially paralyzed.

But Yesenia and her family have a special support group: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties (Newark, NJ). Yesenia joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program four years ago under the guidance of Margaret Grandstaff. Before the shooting, Yesenia and her Big Sister engaged in countless recreational activities such as ice skating, picking apples at an orchard and carving pumpkins in the fall.

While much has changed for the Big and Little, Grandstaff’s commitment to Yesenia remains steadfast. Margaret has been by the girl’s side during her hospitalization and rehabilitation. Although Margaret emotionally supports her, she has also taken it upon herself to raise money on behalf of the Parker family to help with medical expenses and other necessities.

In the past six months, Grandstaff has raised $17,000 on behalf of the Parker family. She hosted an arts and crafts fundraiser and her family held a yard sale while encouraging a local college fraternity to host a bake sale in support of Yesenia and her family. Grandstaff has also posted Yesenia’s story to HelpHopeLive.org, an organization that provides opportunities to donate and raise money for medical expenses.

Recently, Grandstaff put together a team to participate in a local 5K race in support of Yesenia. Tightly wrapped in a blanket to fight off the cold, Yesenia was the central figure in the race as Grandstaff pushed her wheelchair along the route, flanked by supporters wearing pink shirts bearing Yesenia’s face.

Carlos Lejnieks, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties, spoke about the powerful relationship shared by the girl and her Big.

“Out of the midst of such a tragic situation, they are able to make something positive,” he said. “Both the Big and the Little give each other such great energy, offering each other hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

Yesenia and Margaret’s story serves as an ideal example of the type of relationship that a match can be. Through all the difficulty and the hardship that Yesenia and her family have gone through, Grandstaff was there for Yesenia in every way possible. 


Local Media Coverage

From NJ.com – In aftermath of a nightmare, paralyzed girl dares to dream in Newark (by Barry Carter)

From NJ.com – Sisterly love shows Newark girl will always be winner after tragedy (by Barry Carter)

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