Twelve years ago I was fortunate enough to enter the amazing Big Sisters Mentoring Program. I was only 10 years old and growing up with a single mom. I wanted a Big Sister after seeing my brother’s relationship with his Big Brother, Andrew, as I’d seen how much fun they were having and what an amazing role model Andrew was to him. My mother had seen the success in my brother’s experience and knew what a great opportunity it was for a child to grow up with another adult to talk to and connect with. I remember meeting my Big Sister Shelley for the first time and realizing we shared a love for lip gloss, baking and all things girly! I knew then that we’d be great friends.
Throughout the years we’ve bonded over anything and everything! We both share a strong love for family, spending time with girlfriends, watching a flick, cooking, crafting and being a role model. I think the greatest thing Shelley has taught me is just how amazing and successful a woman can be. She constantly volunteers her time with Big Sisters and many different organizations while still managing a successful career. She’s an amazing wife and friend to many. Seeing her success and her giving nature, I’m constantly inspired and reminded what a role model looks like. My mother always did the best job she could to be both parents to me and my brother and to guide us to make the best choices in life, but there’s something children experience from the Big Sisters/Big Brothers programs that she knew she couldn’t provide. These programs are unique in that they allow children to connect with another adult who becomes a role model, a friend, a confidante and – for me – an “adopted” sister for life.
In late March of 2001, I met a somewhat awkward but lively 10-year-old girl who had a firm belief in championing the underdog. She was uncomfortable staying away from home for even one night and the thought of public speaking brought her to tears. The little girl was Heidi and we had just been matched in the Big Sisters mentoring program.
For almost 12 years, we have talked, baked, crafted, laughed, watched movies, hunted for garage sale deals and visited a huge number of tourist attractions. We have eaten our way through a plethora of restaurant menus, window shopped, talked some more, celebrated, cried and solved many of the world’s problems – at least in theory. Basically, we have done all the things sisters and friends do together.
Watching Heidi grow over the years has been a truly amazing experience. At the age of 12 she decided she wanted to visit her cousins in Paris, and she not only saved enough money to go but made the long flight on her own. Gone was the fear of sleepovers. At 15, she won one of the highly sought-after CIBC Youthvision scholarships – four years of paid post-secondary education. At 19, she was living on her own, holding down two jobs, and attending school full time. At 20, her fear of public speaking was a thing of the past as she spoke about the benefits of being involved with Big Sisters to a room of 300 guests at the Big Sisters Gala. This past summer she began volunteering at some of Big Sisters’ fundraising events in what little spare time she had.
Next year, Heidi will graduate with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, the first in her family to do so.
I have been and continue to be touched by Heidi’s thoughtfulness and I’m greatly impressed by her maturity and insight. Being a part of an organized mentoring program like Big Sisters has greatly contributed to the confident, caring woman Heidi is today, and I am proud to have been a part of that.