For many people in the Boston-area, early 2015 will be forever associated with the “Snowpocalypse” when the area was blanketed with over 100 inches of snow in just six weeks. For Nicole Pogue and her Little Sister Nakiya, it will be remembered as the time they were matched in our Community-Based Mentoring program.
Nicole was inspired to become a Big Sister, having had many positive female role models in her life as a young girl. “Being a Big Sister is about being a part of something bigger than yourself,” Nicole said. “It’s about being a mentor and using life experiences to help someone else. I get to show Nakiya something new and help her experience things that she may not otherwise get to experience. It’s been so fun to see the world through someone else’s eyes and to be challenged by questions.”
Around the same time that Nicole was ready to step into the role of a Big Sister, Little Sister Nakiya’s mom, Nicole Hollins, knew that her daughter needed an older, female friend in her life. “Even though she had an older sister, she wasn’t hanging out with her,” Hollins said. “She needed someone to motivate her. It’s not healthy to only have your mom!”
Naykia and Nicole formed a strong bond through trips to the Museum of Fine Arts, baking and going out to eat. These experiences, coupled with having Nicole as a trusted friend to talk to, have contributed to Nakiya’s increased confidence. “She is still quiet, but she’s more willing to take chances and try something new, whether that’s a new food or a new activity,” Nicole said. “She’s also more willing to take the initiative.” Nakiya needed someone she could trust, who would listen to her and care about her unconditionally. “I wasn’t sure what to say and now I find myself talking about the weirdest stuff,” she said. “We just talk about anything and everything!”
The pair has built their relationship on mutual trust and respect over the last five years. Nicole can be a sounding board for Nakiya as she faces the challenges of becoming a teenager. “My favorite part of having a Big Sister is getting to talk to her about things that go on in my life,” Nakiya said. “She’s really easy to talk to because we are matched so well.”
“I love getting to spend time with someone who looks at the world differently,” Nicole added. “I also love being there for milestones in her life and helping her through some of the more challenging aspects of being a teenager.”
Nakiya isn’t the only one who is benefitting from the relationship. Nicole admits she was unsure about her ability to be an effective mentor at first, but that she has learned a lot from Nakiya, including staying on top of the latest internet and fashion trends.
“This has been such an amazing journey over the past five years. I was so nervous at first but have been so encouraged throughout my time,” Nicole said. “I’m just trying to be a safe space where she can process things and ask questions. I’m also trying to expand her world. I hope I’ve taught her half as much as she’s taught me.”
As the two celebrate their five-year anniversary, both are looking forward to what is next in their relationship. As Nakiya gets older and starts to think about a career path in forensic psychology, Nicole will be on the lookout for someone in that field for Nikaya to meet. “I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring!” Nicole said.
Matches in Big Sister’s Site-Based Mentoring program average about two years. Typically, matches end when the girls graduate from the final grade at their elementary school. The Josiah Quincy school is an exception as the school encompasses kindergarten through twelfth grade. Big Sister Nicole Ricciardi and Little Sister Zhiyin have been matched for nearly eleven years.
On a whim, Nicole attended a Big Sister information session at Hill Holliday where she was working at the time. When she was a young girl, she had an older reading buddy. “It was nice to have someone to talk to who was older,” Nicole said. “A person who takes an interest in you. I always remembered that experience.” She wanted to be that person for a young girl.
When they were first matched, Zhiyin was in the third grade and had only recently moved to the United States. She felt awkward when she first met Nicole, knowing that she didn’t speak English very well and wasn’t used to meeting new people. “I tended to be really awkward, and uncomfortable with new people so I didn’t really talk much,” Zhiyin said. “Nicole would do most of the talking but through our relationship, I become more talkative and energetic.”
Their early meetings relied on arts & crafts or games to help them connect, but through the years they have deepened their relationship and don’t need an activity to spark a conversation. “It progressed
from needing activities to fill our time, to now we just sit down and talk about anything that’s going on,” Nicole said. “We know each other really well so we just talk now about what is happening in Zhiyin’s life and how I can support her.”
“I went from this awkward and shy kid to being open to people,” Zhiyin added. “As I grow older I have been more free talking to Nicole about my life and school. It’s good to have an adult friend.”
Throughout their relationship, Nicole and Zhiyin have had to be flexible with their get togethers as their schedules have changed, yet, they have managed to stay connected and continue to build their bond. “My favorite part has just been getting to know Zhiyin over the years and having our relationship grow and really trusting each other,” Nicole said.
Though Zhiyin was an only child when they were first matched, she has since become a sister herself. She tries to use some of the lessons she has learned from Nicole throughout the years to be a good role model to her younger brother, but also appreciates having someone older who she can share her feelings with. “At first I was the only child so when I first came to the United States I had no one to talk to,” Zhiyin added. “Having Nicole there really helped me feel comfortable in school.”
Zhiyin has applied to college and has been accepted to several schools; she is considering a career in a science-related field like biology or biomedical. Nicole hopes to be able to continue to be a resource to Zhiyin as she goes off to college and enters the next chapter of her life. “Watching her go from being someone who kept to herself, to figuring out how to talk to strangers, to having the confidence to apply to college, is so impressive. It’s wonderful to see her come into her own,” Nicole said.