The women of their dreams: Nine students take home award for essay contest
Photo by Ian Hurley/Photographer
Lincoln School eighth-grader Sophie Pearl, 13, left, and “Big Sister” Claire Napolean get together weekly, such as this recent shopping trip at Newbury Comics in downtown Boston.
By Jessica Scarpati/Staff writer
Thu Mar 29, 2007, 12:10 AM EDT
They look nothing alike, but it’s easy to mistake Sophie Pearl and Claire Napoleon for giggling, gossiping, squabbling sisters.
But that wouldn’t be much of a mistake, as Napoleon, 23, has been the “Big Sister” mentor to Sophie, 13, a Lincoln School eighth-grader, since November.
And their friendship — bound by television shows and tensions at home — has been rewarding in more ways than one.
Naming her mentor as the woman who inspires her for a recent essay contest on the subject, Sophie won first place in her grade level for her writing.
The Cypress Street resident is one of nine students honored tonight, March 29, for their essays at the 15th annual Women Who Inspire Us awards ceremony, hosted by the Brookline Commission for Women.
“It serves an important way for Brookline to chronicle the history of women,” said Casey Hatchett, commission chairwoman and a Brookline Police officer.
The commission will also honor its 2007 Woman of the Year, Pat Norling, for her fight to raise awareness about domestic violence.
More than 150 essayists applied, Hatchett said.
“It’s very clear from when you read them which ones were more than an assignment for these children,” she said.
‘We bicker like real siblings’
During a recent outgoing to Newbury Street, Napo
The teen rolled her eyes exaggeratedly.
“That’s annoying,” she interrupted overdramatically as Napoleon smirked.
“She tells me that all the time,” said Napoleon, who lives in Boston’s South End.
“But then we laugh,” Sophie said with a shy smile and shrug.
“We bicker like real siblings,” her “Big Sister” added.
Such easygoing chatter and the innocent teasing underscore the essay’s message.
“She always puts a smile on my face,” Sophie wrote. “When we are out in public, she will do something wacky, and it makes me want to be happy all the time.”
While the pair has much happiness to share, Napoleon has also become Sophie’s confidante for when things get rough.
“I felt that with difficulties, I guess, at home, I felt like I needed a friend who would always be there,” said Sophie, who declined to elaborate. “She really accepts who I am.”
Napoleon, who faced her own family struggles, said she always makes herself available for Sophie. That comes as a relief to Sophie, who will attend boarding school in New Hampshire next year.
“I know it’s really corny, but before I met Claire, I was kind of a shy person and I didn’t really speak what I felt,” Sophie said. “She kind of made me realize it’s OK to do that.”
‘She’s an angel’
It seems the nightmare for Jabrill Bowden, 12, is nearly over.
Early in his childhood, the Department of Social Services separated him from his six siblings and tossed him into an institution, said grandmother Catherine Harris.
Harris fought to rescue him from the state agency and finally gained custody of Jabrill and his brother in 2005.
But it was not just separation that traumatized him, said Harris, an Egmont Street resident. Citing “behavioral problems,” state workers forced her grandson to take antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs that made him hallucinate, she said.
He has recently returned from a three-month stay at a clinic in Dorchester to help stop the medications; Jabrill has also since been diagnosed with pervasive developmental delays.
“He was thinking the world had ended for him,” said Harris, who Jabrill wrote about last year in the “Women Who Inspire Us” essay contest last year, taking home first place.
Although Harris tirelessly advocates for her grandson, she cannot be everywhere.
That is where his classroom aide at the Devotion School, Mary Puccia, 27, came in.
“She helps me during the day, she takes me bike riding and she doesn’t have to, and when I’m feeling down, she helps me with that,” said Jabrill, a sixth-grader at Devotion. “God sent her into my life for a special reason. She’s an angel.”
In his second consecutive win, this time in second place, Jabrill named Puccia as the woman who inspires him.
“In history class, sometimes I feel like I want to burst out laughing or be disruptive. She always knows how to calm me down,” he wrote in the essay.
“She always helps me and comforts me when I have centipede hallucinations.”
Additionally, Puccia rewards Jabrill’s good behavior with bike rides at Amory Park, trips to Good Time Emporium in Somerville and dinners out.
Puccia, who said working with Jabrill inspired her to pursue social work, doesn’t see herself as extraordinary.
“It’s hard for me to think I’m really some exceptional person,” the Roslindale resident said.
The Brookline Commission for Women will honor their Woman of the Year and “Women Who Inspire Us” essay contest winners Thursday, March 29, 6:45-8:30 p.m., at Hunneman Hall in the Brookline Public Library, 361 Washington St.
Jessica Scarpati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First place: Lily Waldron, Baker School
Second place: Jabrill Bowden, Devotion School
Third place: Jancarlos Aguasvivas, Lawrence School
First place: Michela Moscufo, Lincoln School
Second place: Maya Midzik, Lincoln School
Third place: Alison Rowe, Runkle School
First place: Sophie Pearl, Lincoln School
Second place: Katherine Kim, Baker School
Third place: Wilson Neal, Lincoln School
leon, a music teacher in Braintree schools who volunteers with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, talked about how she has tried to introduce Sophie to more classical music.