Growing up, Big Sister Marisa was the youngest of three girls living in Roxbury with their mother and father. Her father was the Community Center Cluster Director for the City of Boston, and instilled in his daughters the importance of community, family, and helping others. Marisa took his ethos into her adulthood and often found herself informally mentoring girls. When Marisa’s coworker, who was herself a Big Sister at the time, told her that there were girls where Marisa grew up waiting for a Big Sister, Marisa knew this was the opportunity she had been seeking. “I thought it was really interesting that it wasn’t just girls anywhere; there were girls right in the neighborhood where I had grown up that I could mentor,” said Marisa. “A lot of people in my neighborhood don’t go to college or are still trying to find their way, so knowing that I can provide that kind of guidance to even one girl, who probably grew up similar to how I grew up, was important to me.”
At the end of December 2012, Marisa was matched with Mya, who had recently turned 10 years-old. Mya had spent the first eight years of her life as an only child. She longed for a sibling, but when her brother was born she soon realized that her mother’s attention was no longer hers alone. So, Mya asked for a different kind of “sibling,” a Big Sister. Marisa was exactly what Mya had hoped for: someone with whom she could be silly, tell corny jokes, and gossip about celebrities; someone she could confide in about bullies at school and friends who started acting older than they were; someone who would be there just for her and would expand her comfort zone. “We just kinda clicked,” said Marisa.
Marisa gently encourages her Little Sister to try new activities. “Once she’s into an activity, she’s in it,” Marisa said. “But sometimes she just needs that extra push.” The opportunity for Mya to see what she was really capable of was apparent during a Big Sister Boston-sponsored overnight at a camp in New Hampshire. With the support of her Big Sister, Mya took a deep-end swimming test. “She was treading water and yelling that she couldn’t do it,” said Marisa. “But then she realized she was doing it.” With her confidence boosted from the swim test, Mya decided to try kayaking for the first time with her Big Sister, and wasn’t afraid to paddle far from the shore.
Knowing that she not only has the support of her Big Sister, but also the support of an entire community behind her gives Mya a sense of belonging. The two frequently attend activities run by Big Sister Boston—from our workshop on puberty to summer picnics to faux sleepovers for teen Little Sisters and their Big Sisters. They look forward to seeing familiar faces of other Big and Little Sisters as well as meeting new people. “ It’s fun to be around people who have the same intent as you, and the same interest in terms of being a mentor to their Little Sister,” said Marisa. She added that for Mya it’s an opportunity to see that there are so many other Little Sisters out there and that they form their own kind of community. “It’s a common thread between everybody at these events,” said Marisa.
Mya, who is now 13 years-old, cannot imagine not having a Big Sister. “I would be less educated about the world and wouldn’t know what’s going on in the community without Marisa,” said Mya. “I wouldn’t have gone camping, and I wouldn’t just relax and talk to people and express myself.” Having watched her Little Sister learn and grow over the course of nearly four years, Marisa sees a bright future for Mya. “She’s holding on to what makes her her, to her core, and I love that about her.”