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Sister Spotlight: Big Sister Emily & Little Sister Elizabeth

Posted 03/31/2016

In 2005, Emily Boone had been a social worker at Big Sister Boston for more than a year. She had earned her master’s degree in social work and felt stable and fulfilled in her personal life and her career. At work, she guided, supported, and shared resources with her caseload of Big Sisters, Little Sisters, and their families in our Community-Based Mentoring program. When she decided to seek out a volunteer opportunity, she did not have far to look.

Little Sister Elizabeth with Big Sister Emily at a Red Sox Game in 2009
That same year, Little Sister Elizabeth entered the third grade at the Hurley K-8 School, a Spanish-English immersion school in Boston’s South End. Though she liked school, Elizabeth struggled with the rigorous demands of a bi-lingual curriculum and was at risk of repeating third grade. At home, Elizabeth was the youngest of four children, but there was a large age gap between Elizabeth and her three older brothers. Her parents, who had immigrated with her brothers to the United States from the Dominican Republic years before, spoke limited English. Elizabeth’s mother had some schooling; her father left school after the fourth grade to work on his family’s farm. They prioritized education for their children, but found it challenging to understand parent-teacher conferences and intricacies of the school system. Elizabeth often found herself translating for her parents and advocating on her own behalf.
Big Sister Boston had forged an on-going partnership with the Hurley School as part of our Site-Based Mentoring Program. When Elizabeth’s teacher asked the girls in the class if they were interested in having Big Sisters, Elizabeth’s hand shot up in the air. Following an assessment interview of both Emily and Elizabeth by one of Big Sister Boston’s enrollment and matching specialists, 27 year-old Emily and 9 year-old Elizabeth were matched as Big and Little Sister. Despite her strong familiarity with the process, Emily was still impressed with the decision to pair her with Elizabeth. “Our social worker’s name was Jessica and she did a really good job matching us,” said Emily. “I remember Jessica asking me good questions,” Elizabeth recalls. During their first visit at the Hurley, Emily and Elizabeth made beaded necklaces for each other. Ten years later both women still have the necklaces; a reminder of how a lasting friendship began.
A recent drawing by Little Sister Elizabeth depicting one of her favorite activities to do with Emily – long chats over freshly baked cookies and tea

Elizabeth’s family saw the positive impact of her relationship with Emily. During their first year together, Elizabeth’s brother wrote a letter to Emily while he was away at college, thanking her for looking out for his younger sister and caring so deeply for her. He wrote that Elizabeth’s friendship with Emily took away some of the guilt he felt about not being there to support his sister. The next year, Elizabeth proudly went on to fourth grade, and she and her Big Sister Emily transitioned into the Community-Based Mentoring program. The two would go to Emily’s apartment to try out new recipes for baked goods, make pottery at a studio in Brookline, or talk over fribbles at Friendly’s. Their relationship gave the mature Elizabeth the space she needed to be a kid. “I had to grow up fast,” she said. “I worked throughout high school to help my family. My friends weren’t doing that.”

Elizabeth worked hard and was excited at the prospect of attending college like her brothers and her Big Sister, but disappointment struck when she was waitlisted at Emerson College. On top of that, Elizabeth worried about financial aid. After years of looking forward to college, she became discouraged. But, she knew where to turn. Big Sister Emily and her husband joined forces to offer moral support and help Elizabeth develop a financial plan. This past January, Elizabeth entered Emerson College as a freshman.After four years together, Emily’s path took her to Connecticut, where she got married and started a family, but her commitment to Elizabeth never faltered. They visited often, talked on the phone, and Emily was always invited to family events. Emily attended Elizabeth’s quinceanera, where she was asked to sit at the family table. Elizabeth dedicated one of her 15 candles to her Big Sister and Elizabeth’s father recognized Emily in his toast. When Elizabeth graduated from high school, Emily was there to cheer her on and attended the family celebration afterward.

“I’ve learned from Emily that it doesn’t really matter where you come from or how you grew up, you can build a relationship with someone and learn from them,” said the now 19 year-old Elizabeth. “I strongly believe our relationship has molded me into the woman I am today.”