Simple gifts

I’ll never forget the look on my Little Sister’s face the day I met her — as if she knew right then and there that her life would never be the same. I immediately understood that I would be rewarded 100 times over for the simple gift of friendship I was offering.

Every child deserves someone to look to for guidance and reassurance; sadly, however, too many kids in this community lack that special someone. Could that person be you? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina helps create happy memories every day. I want to share one of them with you.

Spending a hot, sticky summer day in a boat on Lake Julian with an 8-year-old who’d never been canoeing might sound more chaotic than fulfilling. But without a doubt, the memories created that day will last a lifetime. While my Little Sister worked feverishly learning new paddle strokes, I was busy trying to steady the canoe so we didn’t tip over.

Without solid teamwork, my Little Sister and I would have been reduced to just going around in circles. And I’m quite certain she wouldn’t have minded a bit. Thanks to all our silliness, though, the instructor eventually banned us from going much beyond the dock. Nonetheless, we left the lake that day confident both in our friendship and our canoeing abilities.

That’s just one example of how my friendship with my Little Sister has grown over time. It’s a truly amazing gift to be able to experience the world through the wide eyes of a child. Sharing the wonders of the great outdoors (among many other things) with a kid who might not otherwise have a chance to experience them is immensely satisfying. The ways a mentor can positively impact the life of a child are virtually unlimited.

With its beautiful mountains, wealth of outdoor activities and kind, caring residents, Western North Carolina is a spectacular place to live, work and play. And the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program is a fun and rewarding way to give back to our community. The time commitment is minimal — just one hour per week for both the Mentors & Matches and After-School Mentoring programs, and two outings per month in the one I’m involved with — but the payoff is huge. The group is currently seeking mentors for all three programs (see box, “Getting Started”).

Male mentors are in especially high demand: Little Brothers always wait longer than Little Sisters to be matched with a mentor. I know there are plenty of positive male role models out there in our community with wonderful talents and interests to share (think fishing, biking or baseball games). Why not share them with someone who will truly appreciate it to no end?

When I asked my Little Sister how her life had changed since being matched with me, her answer was sincere and simple: “You came into my life at the perfect time. My brother had already been matched with a Big Brother, and I was getting lonely.” And as the wind swept us away in our canoe that day, I hoped my Little Sister wasn’t lonely anymore.

For me, the hardest part proved to be taking that first step. I questioned whether what I had to offer a child would be enough. But I quickly learned that it’s not about money or even a huge amount of time. And the feeling of being a mentor is something I can’t put into words.

In my heart, I know I’m making a positive difference in my Little Sister’s life, and I can plainly see how much she values our one-on-one time together. Knowing that one child feels happier or more confident because of your presence in his or her life is a spectacular feeling.

You don’t need any prior canoeing experience to be a positive role model for a deserving child — I can vouch for that. So why not go ahead and take the plunge: A marvelous adventure awaits you!

— West Asheville resident Marisa Wallgren has been an active Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer since moving here four years ago.

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3 thoughts on “Simple gifts

  1. tigermixtwo

    Thanks Marissa, for expressing how rewarding it is to be a Big Sister. Two outings a month is sometimes not enough; my Little & I often get together just for ice cream or errands & conversation. The best part is that age is not important. BBBS does an amazing job of matching Bigs & Littles.
    I encourage everyone out there to check out this great program next Thursday.

  2. dale

    How many men do you remember that made a difference in your life? It can be as simple as paying attention to what a kid says. Someone listening can be a huge resource to a kid. If you have additional ideas to help them navigate tough times all the better. Don’t wait do it now… get involved in a kids life. Come by the Asheville Pizza on Coxe Thursday the 25th to learn about Big Brother. I have been a “Big” for 8 years and the rewards to me and my little are amazing.

  3. Mike

    I have been an elementary school teacher for only a short period of time and unfortunately I’ve seen a fair amount of children who are in need of strong role models such as Marisa. Thank you Marisa for your selfless attitude and for making a difference in the lives of others.

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