Renee & Maria

“I can actually be more than the typical statistic.” Mentorship allowed Little Sister Maria to realize that she has the potential to do more and dream bigger. 

Big Sister Renee grew up in Saskatchewan with a big family. As the youngest of 4 children, she was constantly surrounded by siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews whom she adored. However, when she moved to Vancouver in 2007, she felt the missing piece of having that large family and wanted to experience that connection with young children again. Thus, she volunteered to be a Big Sister and was quickly matched with 9-year-old Maria in 2009. 

Little Sister Maria did not have the same experience as Renee growing up. Maria recalls growing up in the stereotypical broken home. She grew up all around BC and was constantly in and out of foster care until the age of 8 when she moved back in with her mother. “I didn’t have a lot of positive role models growing up,” Maria states and as a young mom, Maria’s mother thought the same. She knew Maria needed a positive influence in her life and she knew that Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland was the right place to help her with this.

From the age of 9 to 16, Maria and Renee would meet at the same time every week. Both of them found this schedule to be perfect for their lives, especially for Maria. “Renee provided a lot of structure that my life just didn’t have,” says Maria. Renee’s commitment to Maria made her feel special and taught her the importance of consistency. 

With every meeting or hang out, Maria felt more safe and secure with Renee. Maria strongly believes that without Renee present in her life, she wouldn’t have been able to trust and be where she is now. “This experience has allowed me to open up a lot more as an adult. I’m a lot more open to new people in my life. I learned how to set healthy boundaries. I’m in a loving relationship. I’m even engaged! I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that without Renee here,” Maria shares.

Maria is currently attending Capilano University to become a board-certified junior behavior consultant and she gives credit to Renee for finding the program that she is currently studying in. Initially, Maria wanted to be just like her Big Sister – a Medical Laboratory Technologist. However, Renee knew this decision was because it was all that Maria knew. “She had a very limited world view,” Renee says, “I told her to please dream bigger!” Maria agreed and the two of them sat down and created a list of potential careers that Maria could look into. Eventually, Renee asked Maria what she was passionate about and Maria replied, “my brother.” From there, Maria found a career that she was passionate about. Today, Maria is a behavior interventionist and works with young children with autism, like her brother. 

In the past 12 years, the match says that they were far from perfect. However, with every passing conflict that the two had to experience together, they came out stronger and closer than before. The pair lived through all of their milestones together and shared all of the laughter, joys, and tears along the way. Maria watched Renee get married and become a loving mother to 3 daughters. Initially, it was difficult because her time had to be shared amongst Renee’s children but it was a good addition to their relationship overall. Maria knew that although Renee was extra busy now, Renee would always have time for her.

Renee expressed that her favourite memories with Maria have been their recent lunch outings. Although all of her memories with Maria have been nothing but the best, she enjoys the adult conversations that she is able to have with now with 21-year-old Maria. They’ve discussed all of Maria’s achievements from graduation to receiving the CIBC Youth Vision scholarship to getting accepted into her dream program. Renee did not expect her experience with Big Sisters to be this emotional. She initially volunteered with Big Sisters to be able to spend some time with a child and do fun things together but never did she expect to receive this amount of love from a young stranger. “I didn’t know that helping her would help me,” Renee says.

Maria emphasizes that without Renee, her life would be completely different. “I probably would not have gotten into post-secondary,” states Maria, “I probably wouldn’t be a functioning member of society.”  Maria goes on to praise Renee for being someone who knew herself and would constantly do her research to become a better version of herself which Maria admired. “Renee taught me that I don’t have to be a certain type of person because my family is this way. I can actually be a lot more than the typical statistic.”

Renee and Maria’s relationship is the perfect reminder that mentorship goes beyond spending one hour a week with a young child. Mentorship is a positive impact that supports a child and pushes them to ignite their true potential, regardless of their upbringing or their environment.