Author Archives: Sarah MacDonald
What initially interested you in Big Sister?
I know—from my teaching, volunteering, and being an auntie—the difference that a supportive one-to-one relationship can make on a child, and how much the mentor benefits, too. I loved the Big For a Day program; it’s such a creative and intelligent idea, and it was perfect for me because I’m in Boston for less than one year. Currently, I live in London but was born here in Cambridge. I left the US when I was 4 and have wanted to come back to live, work, and explore here for years. I chose 2012 in order to help re-elect President Obama. I left my job, rented out my apartment, and have been in Boston since January. I’m renting a room on Beacon Street and I absolutely love it here.
What has been the most interesting Big Sister activity that you have done so far?
I’ve only been able to take part in one Big For a Day event, which was in May at Roxbury Community College. I was impressed by the organization, coordination, range of activities, and the great atmosphere. We participated in the Zumba and Healthy Eating sessions and made a delicious sundae with yoghurt, nuts, and fruit. My Little Sister also made a fun book for children in hospital. I loved how thorough she was when making the book; she wanted it to look great and be professional. It was fascinating to have a glimpse of my Little Sister’s life and to spend a few hours with her. She was friendly, cheerful, and confident. She was also quick and bright, and able to navigate the MBTA. She told me she has ADHD and she talked a lot—asking questions, commenting on the world around her, chatting about her likes and dislikes and her upcoming birthday. She was engaging and exhausting.
I also really enjoyed the Big Sister Reads book club discussion of All Souls at the Big Sister office. I appreciated the mix of views, ages, and experiences in the room—people who’d lived in various parts of Boston, some with close connections to the story and the places in the book. I liked the way we covered specific aspects of the book and also universal themes of poverty, race, family, community, and choices.
How would you describe your experience of volunteering as a Big Sister for a day?
It was a mix of exciting, fascinating, and moving. I saw a Little Sister who looked sad and wondered whether the whole experience might compound her troubled feelings. I was moved by how some Big Sisters supported their shy or reluctant Little Sisters. Mostly, I was impressed by how it all appeared to work, and how self-possessed most Little Sisters were. Overall, it was very rewarding!
Did you have any mentors or role models when you were growing up?
My beloved mother was my role model for the way she lived, her values, and how she cared for people. She treated everyone as if they were important, and she was thoughtful, caring, and wise. She was encouraging and able to give us unconditional love—she was the sort of person you just felt better for having spent time with. She was very principled about equal access to good education and she was humane in response to world events. The only time I saw her cry was when Martin Luther King was murdered—I was 10 and it had the most profound and long-lasting effect on me. When I was 14, she and my dad fostered a child from Uganda who was in need of a temporary home. My mother was always baking cakes for people, sending notes, and checking in on people who were going through hard times. She was also a youth worker in her 20s in a poor part of London and the children loved her. My dad was a role model for me as well. He inspired me with his energy and was an example of the value of hard work and how rewarding it is to do a job well, with all your heart, taking responsibility and seeing things through with generosity.
What would you say to a woman who is thinking of becoming a Big Sister or a Big For a Day?
I would suggest she talk to a few women who are experienced Big Sisters and really think about all aspects of the role – the many great positives and the potential difficulties in the case of being a long term Big Sister.
Little Sister Blasmiry and her Big Sister Evelyn Reyes, who are both residents of Jamaica Plain, recently met with Big Sister Association CEO Deborah Re to present her with a $25 donation. This contribution represented the profits from Blasmiry’s entrepreneurial initiative, the lemonade stand that she and her Big Sister Evelyn operated as part of Lemonade Day on May 5. Lemonade Day is a national program which teaches children how to own and operate their own business. By taking part in this event, Little Sisters like Blasmiry develop leadership and problem solving skills, and learn how to set and achieve goals. They also gain experience in economics as they learn about supply and demand, credit and debt, gross and net income, and return on investment. Blasmiry took out a micro loan to finance her business, and spent hours studying and planning in order to make the Pink and Yellow Lemonade Stand a success. She also handed out flyers advertising her stand, introduced herself to every customer, offered promotions such as a free cookie with a lemonade purchase, and provided bilingual service for both English and Spanish speaking buyers.
Ten-year-old Blasmiry has been matched with her Big Sister Evelyn for just over one year, during which time they have gotten to know each other well. Some of their favorite activities have included attending a Celtics game with courtside seats, which was Blasmiry’s first time visiting TD Garden, and going to see The Nutcracker at The Strand Theater, where Blasmiry had her picture taken with Santa Claus. When asked what activity she has enjoyed the most, Blasmiry said that she loved “drinking tea with my favorite cookies,” and visiting her Big Sister at her workplace, State Street. Evelyn enjoys taking her Little Sister to different restaurants, such as Spike’s Junkyard Dogs, Dogwood Café, and even to an Indian restaurant. Evelyn was surprised that Blasmiry liked the Indian food, which she had never eaten before. “She tells me just to at least try it,” Blasmiry said, “and I end up loving it!”
Blasmiry, who wants to be a teacher when she grows up, chose to donate her Lemonade Day profits to Big Sister Association in order to help another girl like herself have as much fun with a Big Sister of her own. If you would like to donate to Big Sister, please visit our website.
With the immense popularity of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, it’s become commonplace to find grown-ups shopping in the young adult section of the bookstore. This summer, participants in Big Sister Reads, a bi-monthly virtual book club, will be roaming the same section as they pick up their copy of Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Little Sisters age 13+ are invited to participate as well, as we read this Newbery Award-winning young adult novel about 13-year-old Sal, who embarks on a journey from Ohio to Idaho with her grandparents to trace the path of her missing mother. We are excited to read and discuss this book with both teens and adults throughout July and August.
For those of you who want to read more than one book this summer, here are some additional choices that are appropriate for young adults but enjoyed by readers of all ages.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This novel chronicles protagonist Francie Nolan’s coming of age at the turn of the twentieth century in the tenements of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Written with honesty and earnestness, Smith brings the Nolan family, and Brooklyn as it was 100 years ago, to life. This sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting classic of American literature is sure to strike a chord with readers of any age.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Bronte’s 1847 tour de force tells the story of Jane’s quest to find autonomy, love, and a fulfilling life. An orphaned girl, plain in looks and deficient in opportunity, Jane faces many challenges in the oppressive Victorian society of nineteenth century England. Radical for her time, Bronte’s heroine is filled with passion and yearning, and follows her own heart even as it leads her against societal norms.
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
This novel centers on 12-year-old Frankie, her 6-year-old cousin John Henry, and the family’s African American maid Berenice. Frankie, friendless and without a mother, longs to feel connected to something greater than herself and focuses her dreams on joining her brother and his bride-to-be on their honeymoon. This 1946 book renders adolescence with a sensitivity and honesty that still resonates with today’s readers.
My Antonia by Willa Cather
This 1918 book by the renowned American author Willa Cather is narrated by Jim Burden, an orphaned boy who is sent to live with his grandparents in Nebraska, where he develops an emotional attachment to neighbor Antonia Shimerda, a young Czech immigrant. This timeless story of hardship, love, friendship, and growing up is as relevant today as it was at its time of publishing.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lee’s only book was this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the children of a lawyer who defends a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman. Though its depiction of life in the American South in the 1930s is bleak at times, it is written with a warmth and humor that has engaged readers of all ages for decades.
How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez
This 1991 novel, which is written in reverse chronological order, tells the story of four sisters who leave the Dominican Republic and start new lives in New York City. Consisting of fifteen interconnected short stories, this novel spans more than thirty years in the lives of the Garcia daughters. The themes, which include coming of age, personal identity, and assimilation to a new culture, are valid to readers young and old alike.
The next time that you head to the beach this summer, toss one of these books into your bag along with your flip flops and sunscreen. If your Little Sister is coming with you to the beach, don’t forget to bring a copy for her, too. Happy reading!
Written by Sarah MacDonald, Executive Assistant at Big Sister Association
“I’m sorry” is a phrase that I hear a lot. This could be because I spend a lot of time with polite, well-mannered people. Or, it could be because I spend a lot of time with women. I’ve noticed that many women are quick to apologize when they make a mistake at work or even when they bump into someone in the hallway. Of course, if you have the human trait of imperfection and make an error, or if you have your eyes on the floor and walk right into a co-worker, an apology is an appropriate response. However, many times when I hear “I’m sorry” it’s not really a reaction to an apology-worthy act. I might hear “I’m sorry” when a woman needs to pass by me on the subway, when something unfortunate happens that’s not her fault, or when I can’t hear what she says and she has to repeat it. None of these scenarios really seem to me like they should make the ‘offender’ feel apologetic.
I myself am a culprit of over-apologizing. I first noticed this quality of mine the time that I was rammed into on the sidewalk by a rollerblader and the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” Why was I apologizing? I had been obeying the rules of the sidewalk (that is, I had been walking, not blading) and I had done nothing to cause the accident. Yet an apology was an automatic response, the words tumbling from my lips the way that the rollerblader had tumbled into me. I should mention here that the rollerblader simply accepted my apology and offered none of his own in return. Why is this?
A recent University of Waterloo study, which was published in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science, might hold some answers. Of the 66 study participants, women consistently apologized more than men did; however, women also reported having committed more apology-worthy offenses. When they believed that they committed an offense, men apologized just as often as women. So, perhaps the problem isn’t only that many women have “I’m sorry” set as a kneejerk reaction the way that I did during my encounter with the wayward rollerblader. Maybe the problem is also that if I had spent some more time thinking about it, I would have started to wonder: was I walking too fast? Was I on the wrong part of the sidewalk? Was this really my fault after all? Women, it seems, are not only prone to apologizing but are prone to thinking that they have done something wrong.
In my opinion, one reason for this is that women strive for perfection and are rattled when perfection is not achieved, whether it’s our fault or not. We feel responsible for problems and mistakes that are not our own because they impede our vision of perfection. This is true for me, as well; I wish for perfection and often hold myself accountable when things go awry, no matter the reason. This perfectionism becomes so ingrained in us that we automatically apologize for things that are out of our control, like getting bumped into by someone on the sidewalk. And though I believe that women should be strong and confident, and that we should not carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, I still wonder if our tendency to over-apologize beats the alternative. If we so often determine that we have committed an apology-worthy act, then at least that means we care about right and wrong. We strive to be our best and we want people to know that we value their feelings. And as much as I don’t want to say “I’m sorry” when I’m guilty of nothing, I don’t want to say nothing when I’m guilty of something, either. Finding the balance between over- and under-apologizing is a challenge, but a worthy challenge that I believe we women are capable of meeting.
What do you think about the phenomenon of over-apologizing? Do you notice women saying “I’m sorry” more than men? Why do you think that is?
On Friday, May 25, 100 Big and Little Sisters attended the Red Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park, thanks to a ticket donation from Highland Street Foundation. Because of Highland Street’s generosity, all 50 matches received t-shirts, hats, water bottles, The Red Sox Century books, and food vouchers, along with tickets to the game. The donation enabled many Little Sisters to attend their first ever professional baseball game, including Little Sister Sequoia, who visited Fenway Park for the first time last Friday.
Big Sister Rebecca and Little Sister Sequoia have been matched for nearly one year, and in that time they have gotten to know each other really well. They’re comfortable being themselves around one another and enjoy spending time together just talking. They’ve also participated in many interesting activities, including bicycling in the Arnold Arboretum and making Valentines and cookies for Sequoia’s class. “Sequoia and I are both a mix of artistic, crafty, and outdoorsy, which is great,” said Big Sister Rebecca. Little Sister Sequoia’s favorite outing prior to Friday’s Sox game was when she and Rebecca visited the indoor trampoline park, SkyZone. Sequoia said, “We did crazy flips! Even off the wall!”
Rebecca and Sequoia were thrilled to be able to attend the May 25 baseball game. Sequoia got very excited, especially when she and Rebecca walked into the park and she saw Fenway for the first time. “The game was really cool and we were in really cool seats,” said Sequoia. “I could see the bullpen!”
Rebecca and Sequoia loved being able to share this experience with one another. “My Little Sister thought it was a fun activity to do together because I know a lot about baseball and could tell her about it,” Rebecca said. “I especially liked to see how excited she got about the baseball she received from Tampa Bay Ray Fernando Rodney. Sequoia also made friends with another Little Sister, which made the event even more fun!”
Big Sister Association would like to thank Highland Street Foundation for their generous donation!
The power of this high-achieving pair who has been together for twelve years is underscored by what Little Sister Staci and Big Sister April Cook have in common. Both are the first in their families to go to college. Staci, 19, is a sophomore at Quincy College; April, 33, is a graduate student at Harvard University.
Both Staci and April grew up in working-class families with parents who didn’t strongly encourage their daughters to succeed. As April put it, “I know financially challenged families who focus on education as a way to help their kids achieve a more secure and intellectually rewarding life. This was not the case with my parents.” While April said her parents, who reside in a small town in Pennsylvania, love her and her three siblings, they placed little importance on education when she was growing up.
Staci, who grew up in South Boston, said her mother was unable to cope with a rambunctious and inquisitive eight-year-old. Although she is not in touch with her mother today, she noted that one of the best things her mother did was enroll her in the Big Sister program. The next great thing to happen to Staci was when the agency matched her with her Big Sister April.
April recalls the first time she met Staci. “She was so tiny. All I wanted was for her to like me.” Reflecting on her childhood and the lack of role models in her own life, she continued: “While I didn’t know how I was going to connect with Staci, I knew that I was in it to win.”
In the beginning, April had a humble goal – to tire Staci out to the point that she was calmer and less restless after their outings. But it didn’t take long for April to discover that Staci’s energy could be channeled because she was really smart and ambitious. Staci laughed when she thought of her career aspirations as a middle-school girl. “At first, I wanted to be an Olympic skier; then, an astronomer.”
Today, as Staci approaches the age of making real-life career choices, she says matter-of-factly, “I want to own my own publishing house.” Staci is a voracious reader (she has read all of Jodi Picoult’s books and has even seen the author in person three times), and she loves to write poetry. April proudly adds that Staci was the editor of her high school newspaper in her senior year.
Back then, as soon as April realized just how much talent was packed into this young girl, she began to instill in Staci the importance of excelling in school and setting her sights on college. April even devised a monetary reward system to motivate Staci to get good grades: Staci received $5 for As, $3 for Bs, $2 for Cs. Just hearing April retell this story made Staci excited: “When I got my report card, I couldn’t wait to call April. My first words would be, ‘You owe me $12. We’re going shopping.’” April qualified their shopping sprees: “I didn’t buy her much of anything except books.”
When it came time to apply to college, Staci turned to April for advice. April knew first-hand what it was like to fumble through the college process, so she was determined to give Staci what she never had – a good support system. Together they created a spreadsheet of college characteristics listing things like class size, tuition, location, internship opportunities, application fees, and deadlines.
Holding back tears, April turned to Staci and said, “Staci, you’re amazing. You’re driven, talented, insightful, emotionally comfortable with your feelings, honest, and forthright. Most of all, you’re a good friend.”
When Staci realized just how much time they have spent together over the years, Staci was deeply moved. “Wow, I never realized until now how much you’ve been there for me.” It’s clear that these two are a match for life, who will be there to share each other’s milestones.