It’s now eighteen months since I started mentoring Mary. The time has gone so quickly. After a year Big Brothers Big Sisters had a “graduation” ceremony which we attended. Bigs and Littles are presented with certificates and it also gave us all an opportunity to get to know one another. Beforehand, mentors are asked if they wish to continue being a Big. When you start out with Big Brothers Big Sisters you commit to mentoring for a year. Some people stop after that for a variety of reasons, such as not having the time, because they’re moving away or, sometimes, just because they don’t bond well with their Little.
I can understand why some relationships might not work long term. However, fortunately Mary and I have bonded well so it makes the decision to continue that much easier for me. Also, if I walked away from Mary now, I would feel that I was letting her down by repeating what other adults have done to her in the past.
I have been reflecting on the last eighteen months and how Mary and my relationship has developed. I particularly remember how anxious I was before meeting her. That anxiety was mainly induced by a fear of doing or saying something “wrong” and because I was concemed that she would find me boring or not like me. I knew she had requested a young mentor, not a fifty plus year old, although her care workers had felt she would bond better with an older woman, which is why I was matched with her.
After we met I slowly began to realize that none of those things were matters for concem. What Mary really needed was just to know that someone truly cared about her. It has taken time to convince her of that. Not long ago she asked me if I was going to stop being her mentor. It was as though she was preparing herself for the eventuality. I assured her that I had no intention of stopping being her friend and as far as I was concemed we would always know each other. I pointed out that even if for some reason we moved far away from each other we would be able to email and call each other. She seemed to relax a bit more once we had cleared up her worries.
It’s been fascinating watching the way Mary has changed over the time we have known each other. Initially the only real emotion I witnessed in Mary was anger but gradually I have seen her contain that anger when necessary. Nowadays she (mostly) manages to walk away from fights and when something is bothering her she likes to talk about it.
Another side of Mary I have leamed about is her very caring nature. She particularly loves young children and takes any opportunity to be with them and look after them. They love her too. I wonder sometimes if she is trying to give them what she missed in her own childhood.
Mary also had low self-esteem about the way she looks and did not seem confident that she could do well at school. The Mary I know now takes pride in the way she looks, talks confidently to people when she meets them, has won awards for scholastic excellence and is determined to go to college. She also tells very funny stories and I often see her making people laugh when we are at get togethers.
Last year we were interviewed on the radio to help publicize Big Brothers Big Sisters. I was very nervous but Mary took it in her stride. The interviewer asked me what I loved about being a Big Sister and I replied that it had been getting to know Mary and building a relationship. I mentioned how I enjoyed laughing together as well as having serious discussions about all kinds of things. Mary was asked what she loved about her Big Sister and she answered: “She is a very busy person and has lots to do but she always makes time to see me and that makes me feel important in her life.” It brought home to me once more how big a difference a little bit of time and care can make to a young person.
When I started writing this piece I wondered what Mary felt about the time we have known each other, so I asked her if she would like to write something for me to put in the article. She was very enthusiastic and I was very touched (and somewhat embarrassed!) by what she wrote. I shall leave you with her words:
–For the past year and a half Carina has become more and more important to me. When I started as a Little I never thought it would mean so much to me. I gave my everything in making this work with my Big Sister and we made it so far. There is not a day that goes past that I don’t say thank you for having a person like Carina in my life. Although people say “don’t hold on too tight”, I hold on tighter.
Carina has become a very important person in my life, like a second mother. She is always there when I need her which makes it so much easier for me. To be honest the day me and Carina leave each other I don’t know what I'll do, but crying will be my first action.
Carina is the reason I control my anger because I can always talk it out with her. Carina you are an angel sent from heaven and your time with me is far from over.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a youth mentoring non-profit organization. It was founded in the USA in 1904 and became international in 1998. The program matches youth in need with adult volunteers in one to one relationships which have a direct and lasting positive impact on the lives of the young people. For further information go to www.bbbsi.org