Being a Big is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Big Sister Angela is a marathoner. She has patience and grit. When she became a Big Sister, she had no idea how much she would need those qualities. After being matched for six years, Angela and her Little Sister, Monica, almost gave up on their relationship. They had hit “the wall” as marathoners say. “But I have started and completed 16 marathons,” Angela says, “and being a Big is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Little Sister Monica recently wrapped up her freshman year at Bethel University. She sings in the women’s chorale, she’s involved with student government, and she is the first person in her family to attend a four-year university. As a single parent, Monica’s mom says her daughter’s Big Sister was a huge help to them in Monica’s teen years. “She has guided Monica in some tough situations,” she says. “She has also helped with guiding Monica on a path to college and discussing options with her of that decision.”

Monica and Angela were matched for nine years, until Monica graduated from high school and aged out of the program. In a blog post she wrote as a letter to her Big Sister, Monica said, “Thank you for being my biggest fan. You celebrated big wins like getting into my dream college and mourned big losses like the boy I thought I would spend forever with.”

This wasn’t always guaranteed, though. When Little Sister Monica was a teenager, she and Angela hit a rough patch in their relationship. Monica was set on terminating their match. Angela held out hope that Monica would reconsider. “Months went by where the only contact Monica and I would have is my occasional text of ‘I am here when you need me’ or ‘Ready to talk when you are.’”

“I have learned a lot about myself and the person I want to be because of the amazing role model she is.” 
-Little Sister Monica

Angela had grown to care about her Little Sister so much, she says, that she broke down several times, upset about Monica’s attitude and disrespectfulness, and the deterioration of their relationship. “Being a Big to Monica is similar to the unconditional support of true family members, and this includes the low points, too,” she says. So she stayed available to Monica and tried to understand and support her.

That kind of support is not always easy. 

"Watching movies together, going to dinner, playing mini-golf – that is the easy stuff,” Angela says. “The hardest part of this program is not quitting on kids that have known nothing else. But let me tell you, if you push through those hard moments, it is worth it.”

Angela’s patience paid off. After waiting and waiting for Monica to circle back to her, Angela got a phone call. “It was Monica, crying from the girls’ bathroom at her high school. She needed me. She missed me. She knew I would pick up the phone when no one else would.”

Now, when Monica describes Angela’s impact on her life, she says she looks to Angela as a role model. “I want to show compassion to others the way Angela shows me every day. I want to be patient like Angela is with me when I’m being a teenage girl,” she says. “I want to make others smile like Angela did for me when I all I wanted was to cry in my room.”

Technically, their match ended last spring when Monica aged out of the program. But both say their relationship will continue. “I plan to be there and support her through this next phase of her life,” Angela says,“by continuing to be a listening ear, buying her meals that have nothing to do with ramen noodles, and, in four years, watching her don a cap and gown to accept a diploma.”

Being a Big may be a marathon, but the end of their official match was not the finish line of Angela’s personal commitment to Big Brothers Big Sisters. She now works for BBBS of Southern Minnesota, helping make sure more Bigs get to the starting line of their own matches.

Building a Relationship from the Ground Up

Crossing the finish line at their first 5K, Little Brother Miguel and Big Brother Stefan matched each other step for step. But only because Little Brother Miguel waited. “At our last 5K,” Stefan says, “I assured him that as much as I appreciated the gesture of him waiting for his Big Brother so we could finish together, I wanted to see how fast he could really go.” Out of everyone who competed, Miguel finished second. In everything they do, that is a common theme: Big Brother pushing Little Brother to realize his potential.

When Little Brother Miguel and Big Brother Stefan were first matched, Miguel had just lost his bicycle. Big Brother Stefan suggested they build him a new one. The first step was to find the right parts. They combed the junkyard. They sanded and painted the components and learned the mechanics of how a bike works. Over time, they built from scratch not just one but two bicycles. Big Brother Stefan confesses that he knew that while they were building the bikes, they were also building their relationship. He was teaching his Little Brother that if you want to create something good out of nothing, you have to be patient and work hard. “While many of our outings have been just for fun, like going to a movie or bowling,” Stefan says, “many have an ulterior motive as well, such as learning something new or honing existing interests, skills and talents.”

More than three years ago, Miguel’s mom signed him up at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas because she saw him developing an attitude. “My son was rebellious with me,” she says. “My son talked back to me and didn’t listen to me. He behaved very poorly at school.” Big Brother Stefan has supported him through struggles and shown him how to be patient and how to relax. “He has motivated me to do better in school and to keep going so I can one day live my dream,” Little Brother Miguel says.

Little Brother Miguel’s mom says that when he started spending time with Stefan, Miguel’s outlook changed. “My son’s attitude changed little by little. Before, he didn’t do the homework his teachers assigned him. Now Stefan motivates him in his schoolwork,” she says. “He told Miguel that if he wanted to be a famous soccer player, he would need to do well at school. Now my son thinks better, and makes better decisions about his studies.”

“Stefan has motivated me to do better in school and keep going so I can one day live my dream.”
-Little Brother Miguel 

Big Brother Stefan is a video game developer, and he has shown Miguel the offices where some of his favorite games are made. Being able to talk about video games right away may have helped Miguel bond with his Big Brother quickly, even though he admits he expected his Big Brother to be boring. “But then as we started to get to know each other he showed me that he wasn’t a boring guy,” Miguel says.

Big Brother Stefan decided to become a mentor after participating in Bowl for Kids’ Sake. After recruiting other members of the game development community to raise money and bowl with their team, Stefan began reflecting on the mission for which he was fundraising and thinking about his own life. “I recognized how a number of adults had made positive impacts on me growing up, through activities, projects, or just sharing stories and advice from life experiences,” he says. He decided to help out at just the right time, Miguel’s mom says. “If it weren’t for Stefan, my son would not be the boy he has grown into today.”

Bome a Big