The relationship between a Big and Little is more than just providing mentorship, finding the perfect balance of being a mentor and a friend is the key to a great match.
This month, we are celebrating Sandra Casci as our mentor of the month, who has been matched with her little Caitlin for five years.
Recently, we spoke to Sandra to discuss her experiences and why she thinks everyone should consider becoming a Big with BBBSMMC.
What prompted you to want to become a big?
I became interested in the idea of becoming a Big after my second child graduated and moved away. As an empty-nester, I had time on my hands. Originally, I was under the impression that Bigs had to be closer in age to the kids. When I attended a fundraising event [for BBBSMMC] and saw a slideshow of Bigs and Littles together, I realized that many Bigs were in my age bracket, or older, so I began the application process.
What has been rewarding about being a big?
The most rewarding part is truly making a difference in a young life. In the short term, you may not notice the subtle changes, but once several years have passed and you compare where your Little is now to where she was the day you met, you realize the positive impact.
I also enjoy introducing her to new things. She was a picky eater when we met, but we have tried so many foreign cuisines that she is now open to trying a lot more!
I have also introduced her to live theater. We regularly attend the Plays in the Park in Edison, which cost less than a movie ticket, and we have been into New York for Christmas outings, once to see “Wicked”, another time to go to “Shear Madness”.
What has been challenging about being a Big?
For me the challenging part was at the beginning of the match. You want to start out on the right note, keeping that delicate balance with your Little’s family as you build trust with them and establish a rapport with your Little. The training that I received from BBBS was invaluable. They have you role play various scenarios to avoid pitfalls that could easily derail you.
What advice would you give to people considering becoming mentors?
Potential mentors should be completely open and truthful when filling out their application and answering questions at their placement interview – there is no right or wrong answer, but the case managers need to be aware of any issues ahead of time as this is critical to ensuring a good match. The BBBS staff really takes [the matching process] seriously, as they want to make sure the match starts on a solid footing.
You should not apply unless you are able to dedicate a few hours every other week to your Little, and can weather a little bumpiness in the beginning as everyone gets used to each other. Also, while you initially only commit to one year with your Little, I can honestly say that 12 months is really the settling in period and the second year is so much more fun. I encourage potential Bigs to look on this as a longer commitment as the real rewards are reaped further down the road.
Do you have a favorite memory in mind that you’ve shared with your Little?
I have a couple of favorite memories and it is important is to start your own traditions. Caitlin loves to bake, but really doesn’t have the opportunity to do it at home. Our first Christmas time together we baked cookies at my house for her to share with her mom and brother. Each year, we make two different types: jam thumbprints (which were her father’s favorite) and one of her choice. We then go over to my church’s Advent Spaghetti Dinner for food and singing.
My other favorite was when I took her to Grounds for Sculpture. I knew she would enjoy it, it turned out to be one of her absolute favorites. At the end of the day as we got in the car she said, “I hope this place is still here when I have kids, I want to bring them here”.
How do you feel your relationship has impacted your Little?
When I first met Caitlin, she had experienced a lot: her parents had divorced, she had moved from a house to an apartment where she had to share a bedroom and could not bring her dog, then her father died tragically leaving the family reeling. She was an insecure, shy and a socially awkward eleven year old.
Over the years, I have challenged her with activities that have brought her out of her comfort zone, including dressing up as zombies and participating in the Zombie Walk and attending the BBBS Gala and interacting with donors.
She has learned not to worry what people think of her. When we showed up at a Victorian tea party last month all dressed up (like the event coordinator suggested) only to find we were the only ones in full costume, we both felt a little foolish. until all the ladies started exclaiming over our clothes and taking our photos. Caitlin took it all in stride – I could not have been more proud of her.
What has it been like to work with BBBSMMC?
BBBSMMC is an amazing organization. As mentioned above, they really want every match to work, but realize that there are going to be questions and problems from time to time. You can always get hold of someone when needed. The first year or two, they call you monthly for progress reports and also to speak to the Little and his or her parent so everyone can give feedback about how things are going. Through fundraisers and other events, I have gotten to know most of the staff and some of the trustees. Everyone is passionate about making a difference in the children’s lives.
What surprised you the most about being a part of the program?
I cannot believe how close we have become over the years. Caitlin knows she can tell me absolutely anything and she sometimes bounces ideas off me regarding boys and school. I, in turn, began in the early days talking to her about everything from drugs to teen pregnancy and opening the lines of communication.
In an ideal world every child should have a Big to encourage and support them. I know I would have loved to have someone who was all mine who didn’t have to nag me but took me fun places and listened to me attentively. I can truly say that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My relationship with Caitlin and her family will continue long after we graduate from the program.