Submitted by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington
Eighteen years ago Heather decided she didn’t want to be like every other twenty-something she knew, she wanted to do something meaningful with her spare time. She decided to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington by becoming a Big Sister.
Not long after completing the application process, Heather found herself matched with a 14-year-old, Brita. “Our first outing was roller skating. We were supposed to go roller skating for two hours, except it took us one and a half hours to find the rink. But it didn’t matter, we had lots of fun trying to read the map and making u-turns,” Heather said of their first official match activity.
Soon the two were meeting on a regular basis. One of Heather’s most treasured memories is signing up for karate lessons together. It started when she gave a month of lessons to Brita for her birthday. Heather would pick her up and they would go together. “It was not something I would normally have done. Knowing she was depending on me made me go,” Heather said.
The school offered a discount on Brita’s lessons if Heather would pay full price. The pair ended up going for two years, at one point attending classes three times a week. They became a part of the community at the school, lovingly being referred to as “The Sisters.”
Heather felt it benefited Brita on so many levels. “She got a great group of friends her age to hang out with outside of class that could offer positive influence, and even more adult role models. She really looked up to the sensei. She had been getting into fights at school, but he told her that fighting at school wasn’t good and she stopped.”
“Karate benefited me as well,” says Heather. “I was slightly overweight and needed to exercise, but I never would have stuck with it if it hadn’t been for Brita.”
The lessons deepened Heather and Brita’s friendship as well. “A lot of times we would try to plan activities, but would run out of ideas. Karate gave us something to do and talk about. Sometimes we would go to Shari’s Cafe and Pies to eat and would just sit there memorizing sequences together,” Heather said.
Another favorite memory of Heather’s was their Saturday morning routine. At the time, Heather was living in a studio apartment in Tumwater that didn’t have a dishwasher. Often, a week’s worth of dishes would accumulate. Heather would pick up Brita every Saturday morning and bring her back to her apartment. Heather would then do dishes while Brita did her homework, something Brita usually didn’t have the motivation to do on the weekends. After the dishes and homework were done, the pair would head to Shari’s Cafe and Pies for lunch, where Littles ate for free if they dined with their Big. Brita got to order whatever she would like.
After four years of being officially matched with Heather, Brita graduated high school with almost straight A’s. Both Brita and her mother attribute this accomplishment to Heather’s friendship.
Fast forward to today and Brita is doing very well. Brita has held the same job and has been promoted multiple times over the past ten years. She also has her own art business and purchased her own home when she was just 24-years-old. “I am so proud of her. She’s doing fantastic. Every time I see her I am blown away,” Heather says of her Little Sister-turned-friend.
Though the official portion of the match ended when Brita turned 18 and graduated high school, the friendship has endured for 13 more years. Of being friends for so long, Heather says, “[Brita and I] talked about how we have been matched for 17 years. We agreed that we are proud our friendship has lasted so long. After all, 17 years is longer than most marriages.”
Just this past March, Brita convinced Heather to go to the Emerald City Comicon. “A comic book convention is not something I would normally attend. But the way she described it got me all fired up. When she stayed at my house for the convention, it was just like old times,” said Heather.
When asked what she would like to say to those that are contemplating being a Big but are unsure, Heather said, “You don’t have to be perfect. People set the bar too high trying to make match activities a big event. You don’t have to plan an event or dedicate a full day. You can just pick them up and have them talk to you while you do the dishes. It was the times that I sat there and made her do her homework, or she talked to me while I did laundry or other everyday tasks that were great. You’re supposed to be a friend, not a parent. Don’t pressure yourself to be a role model.”
To learn more about being a Big Sister or Big Brother, contact the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Washington at 360-943-0409 or visit their website www.swwabigs.org.