Miss Fresno County- My Little Sister

IMG_0788I wanted to write about something special to me and shed some light on something very dear to my heart, and that's a program I am a part of, Big Brothers Big Sisters. Some may know what this program is, and others… well, I am hoping to enlighten you. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring program in which those who are 18 years of age and older have the opportunity to do something magical. They have the chance to mentor a young child. Actually, the child is able to enroll in the program as young as seven years old and can remain in the program up until they turn 19. So, I guess a majority of the program's enrollments are children, while some are becoming young adults. Either way, the experience is life changing… for the big and the little.

IMG_0781Most of the littles enrolled in this program come from backgrounds of which some of us could never fathom. Earlier, I said we have the chance to do something magical. Well, this is it, and this is why. These littles are very special… not to mention unique, different, and full of life. They are special because of who they are, and who they dream to become regardless of where they are standing. It is our duty as a big to make sure we keep our littles' mindset on the right path. The homes these littles have come from are not always safe, or in the safest areas, but we are their safe haven. We, as bigs, are the light that keeps their spirits high and their hopes alive.

IMG_1944I am enrolled in this program as a big. I have a little, and her name is Alijanah. She is seven, and she likes to talk a lot. Which, I don't mind at all. If she has a lot to say, well, I am here to listen. She tells me about the kids who pick on her at school and how she reacts to it. Sometimes she asks for advice and if she made the right decision on a situation she tried handling herself. She talks to me about her family, friends, and how she falls asleep in class all the time due to a late night at home. She also tells me about her favorite Disney Princesses, animals, colors, books, and how she wants to be a clown and Miss Fresno County like her big (ME!) when she grows up… I am truly honored by this.

IMG_1364As a big, it is my goal and my chance to keep her on the right path to a happy and healthy life. I am an only child, and I am so grateful for the relationship and bond we have formed as sisters. Although I can be straight forward with her about not falling asleep in class anymore and why, it never dampens the day. We spend anywhere from two to eight hours together depending on many things. I give my little incentives, like how I mentioned her falling asleep in class. Well, she now has incentives to stay awake. We have levels of activities we can do together… for example, going to the park with a picnic basket and homemade snacks is for days when we just need to get away and relax. We feed the ducks while we are there too. She loves that, and I love the joy it brings to her.

There are also higher level things like bowling and pizza. When Alijanah brings me a good report card we go bowling, to the movies, or mini golfing. Color Me Mine is also always a good option, too. I actually took her bowling for the first time a couple weeks ago and she bowled a strike! I was so happy for her! I probably embarrassed her over it a little, too.

IMG_1926Anyway, next we have things like Chuck E Cheese, John's Incredible Pizza, and Disneyland. D I S N E Y L A N D? Yes… but Alijanah has to have all good grades for the entire first half of her school year AND must no longer be falling asleep in class… are you following where I am going with this? How I am using the incentives to instill the importance of having good grades, as well as good behavior? Oh, and another thing we do is our reading sessions. These littles are smart, but sometimes they need a little help to improve in certain curriculum areas.

Alijanah is good with numbers. So, we have made a deal to work on her reading together. Every time I pick her up, before we we do ANYTHING, except maybe grab a snack, we hit the bookstore. We go to Barnes & Noble where Alijanah picks out a book to read to me. After she reads it to me, or sometimes we read it together, we begin our adventures. We have started quite the book collection. I want her to learn how to read well and be a strong reader. It's an area we are working on together. I talk to Alijanah about the importance of doing well in school today for a better tomorrow. I encourage her to try reading more at home with her mom or big sister, but I can't deny I love when we get to read together. Before each activity we do, she must read a book to me, and she knows the faster she reads her book, the faster we get to the fun!

It's not all about books, though. We also share our feelings. What foods are healthy, which foods are delicious but not so healthy. Sometimes my little gets feisty with me and so I pursue asking her about how her day went and if something maybe didn't go as planned. I want to know her and her quirks, why she laughs, what makes her cry, why she gets feisty with me. Everything there is to know. After all, she is my little sister now! Sometimes I talk to her and she cuts me off to point out a funny looking car, or a goofy looking tree we passed by, but if I were to ask her what I said she can repeat everything back to me, and I feel that shows we respect each other.

How she feels effects how I feel, but I don't let that show. I just let her know I am here for her no matter what, and I will be for a very long time. We also bond over Frozen. On our way home, every single time, we roll down all four windows of my car, turn up the Frozen soundtrack, and sing at the top of our lungs! We have a lot of fun, but we also have our serious moments. I feel like I am babbling because the entire time I have been writing this I have been thinking of her and what adventures we will encounter when I pick her up from school. So, I am a little distracted, but aren't all seven year olds distracting? Even if they are only with you in spirit for the time being.

Anyway, I have watched Alijanah grow. She has always had manners with me. “Yes, please,” “No, thank you,” “May I…” but I've been able to see how she is with people other than myself, and how she has grown from once being a tad shy to not even remembering what the word “shy” means. As I mentioned earlier, her reading skills have been improving! I only need to help her with the really big words when at one point she needed a little more help than that. This, our relationship, is magic, our program is a blessing because not only is Alijanah a happy little, she has made me one very happy, and lucky, big. I smile when I think about seeing her again, and often find myself worrying about her when she isn't around. She has made me a better person, she has forever changed my life. Being apart of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I recommend everyone find the time to change a child's life, and have their life changed through this program!

Keri Allred
Miss Fresno County