Category Archives: Audio/Video

Big in Boston: Former Little Sister Lianne Hughes speaks at Big Sister’s 60th Anniversary Party [Video]

Former Little Sister Lianne Hughes brought the crowd to their feet at our 60th anniversary party, Big in Boston, with her inspiring words on the power of human interconnectedness and mentoring to change lives and communities.


I am beyond grateful, yet humble to be standing here in front of you today to share, recapture, and paint my story as I re-explore the creation of my masterpiece as a former Little Sister of the Big Sister Association.

Growing up in the projects of Boston, my mother was a single parent learning how to navigate her way to the American Dream. My mother struggled to maintain like many single urban parents. What was important to her was food, shelter and survival. So she did her best to raise my brother and I so we wouldn’t fall victim to the streets.  She understood because of her circumstances and situation that she alone could not provide us with the resources and opportunities that we needed.  So she reached out to the Department of Social Services who then connected us with the Big Sister Association.

As I shared in the video, I was nine years old and nervous the day my Big Sister and I were matched.  She was white; I was black. Her name, Maja Milenkovic, sounded like a witch spell from the Disney Channel. We had so many cultural differences! I knew at nine I was socially constructed because a lot of my perceptions about white people came from watching television shows like Feed the Children on B.E.T. All I could think about was, I didn’t want someone to “save me”; I wanted a friend, someone I could relate too, and someone that was going to believe in me.

As we bridged the gap, Maja was just normal. She was nothing I expected. She liked dance; I liked dance. She loved hip-hop music; I loved hip-hop music. She was impatient in malls; I never had any patience in malls. We just had a lot of things in common.  Even when it came to principles and perspective, she always mixed the old school with the new school. She never was the type of person to say, “I’m older, so I know better.” It was all about positive youth development and finding common ground.

From Maja I embraced the concept of Ubuntu, “I am because you are, humanity, human inter-connectedness”. It was from her that I learned not to judge people by their skin color, but more by their principles, character and dignity. It’s really hard when you grow up in a society where everything is so black and white. You get all these different mixed messages about people, so automatically you become programmed to judge. But I learned from my Big Sister through all the confusion and illusions, the common denominator remains the same within people. We’re human. Despite our differences, were one in the same and we should celebrate those differences.

Two years ago before I graduated from Wheelock College, I didn’t have the money to go back to school. I was short $5,000. And I remember painfully crying to Maja that, “It’s wasn’t fair that I didn’t have the money to go back.” Her simple reply of “It’s OK, Lianne. I’ll co-sign your loan” provoked the most overwhelming feeling of affirmation in my life. She affirmed that my aspiration for college was not merely a choice, but a task my heart so eagerly needed to complete. I knew it was more than just signing my loans. I knew this implied that she was inspired by my dreams, trusted my judgment and ready to join me on my quest toward self-accomplishment.  This didn’t mean she paid for my college, this means she signed her name on a paper that could merit me my dreams.

With that being said, my wish for Big Sister over the next 60 years is that it grows and keeps producing Big Sisters from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. Diversity within race, as well within ideas is important in the world we live in. Just being culturally competent, relatable, and interpersonal touches people from the heart; it’s human interaction at its purest.

I mean, I’m glad I and we have Big Sister, and it provides the services that it does. Because I know without having my Big Sister in my life, as cliché as it sounds, I wouldn’t have the mind set or perspective on the world that I have now.

So I challenge Boston as well as everyone in the room to think collaboratively. Envision the best possible Boston, community, and world. Let me give you an alternative way to think about it. In school, I learned about Bronfenvrenners Ecological Systems Theory. In short, it speaks to the ideology that every institution on a micro to macro level is connected.  For a society that’s thriving, everybody has to be involved, but most importantly everybody has to be on the same page. Not just communities and local organizations, but governments too.  I feel that when everybody is listening to the mission, negotiating, or has some type of common interest, it serves the betterment of society, and young kids are able to strive. And when we’re not, we fail, our systems fail and we fail our communities and kids.

According to Wednesday’s Boston Globe, “Poverty Worsening in Hub, Study Says”, 85 percent of families in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury are headed by a single parent, mainly mothers and at least 20% of the adults have no high school diploma. These are the broken communities I live within. And every day when I walk though my community I see the impact and reflection of those statistics. I see young girls without fathers and mothers. I see young girls pregnant, and not enrolled into high school or on a pathway to a preferred future into college. I see young girls without that positive role model or Big Sister.

So if you BELIEVE IN GIRLS (B.I.G) and that every girl in this room is a MASTERPIECE, you’re not just believing in the organization; you’re believing in a better individual, community, society and world as a whole. Because Big Sister is not just about the “neighborhood girl from around the way”, it’s about every young girl all over the world. Thank you.

Video: CEO Deborah Re & Former Little Sister Jesse Kwan on NECN’s CEO Corner

Deborah Re, CEO of the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, talks about the agency’s 60 years of mentoring.

Jesse Kwan, a former Little Sister with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, discusses how the organization changed her life.

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Video: CEO Deborah Re on WBZ-TV’s What’s in the Community

CEO Deborah Re speaks on WBZ-TV’s What’s in Our Community

Since 1951, Big Sister Association of Greater Boston has been helping girls reach their full potential through positive mentoring relationships with women. CEO Deborah Re explains why this is such a special time for our organization.

UPDATE: Big Sister Amanda & Little Sister Mickaella

Mickaella & Amanda

Big Sister Amanda Martinez and Little Sister Mickaella share why they believe in the power of mentoring. Amanda, a former Little Sister herself, was named a 2011 Ignite Award winner at Youth Mentoring Day at the State House. Thanks so much to Mass Mentoring Partnership and Conover Tuttle Pace for creating this piece and helping us highlight the impact mentoring can have on a young girl’s life.


Big Sister Amanda Martinez was named  the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week by the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.

Patriots Running Back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Big Sister Amanda Martinez, and Rich Greif of Mass Mentoring Partnership

Patriots Running Back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Big Sister Amanda Martinez, and Rich Greif of Mass Mentoring visit Morse Pond School in Falmouth to promote volunteerism.

Amanda Martinez had a Big Sister when she was younger and always wanted to return the favor. When she moved to Boston she became a Big Sister and has been matched with Mickaella, a middle school student, since January 2008. They enjoy doing arts and crafts, learning about new cultures, meeting new people or trying new foods and being active in the summer rock climbing, rollerblading, bike riding, and swimming.

Amanda loves being a Big Sister because “it gives me the opportunity to have a positive impact in a young girl’s life and to learn about other people’s life experiences.” She also believes that “it is important for girls today to have positive female mentors because there is a lot of negative messaging that is pinpointed towards girls and having a mentor gives a young girl an opportunity to concentrate on what she has to offer on the inside.”

Mickaella loves having a Big Sister because “it is like having an automatic friend. Without my Big Sister I would not know how much fun it is to eat Indian food or that I am smarter than I think I am. Amanda has also helped me learn that there is more to life if you look at it from a different point of view.”

Big Sister’s 1st Podcast: Meet Little Sister Zaire and Big Sister Katie

Little Sister Zaire and Big Sister Katie.

Meet Little Sister Zaire and Big Sister Katie (Download the mp3, 3minutes 40 seconds)

Big Sister is trying something new to celebrate our 60th anniversary of mentoring  Greater Boston’s girls. We’re launching a new podcast series called a “Perfect Match” where you get to hear directly from our Big and Little Sisters.  Our first podcast features Little Sister Zaire, a fifth grader at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School, and her School-Based Big Sister Katie Abarr who have been matched since March 2010.

From our 2010 Annual Report:

The first thing you notice when you meet Little Sister Zaire is her self-confidence. She is a smart and bold fifth grader at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like and isn’t afraid to tell you. This quality often so rare in girls her age who are struggling with self-esteem and who are starting to exchange “I want” with “whatever you want”, often gets her into hot water. In her own words, it has also gotten her mistakenly labeled as a “trouble kid”.

In describing why she wanted a Big Sister, Zaire wrote that she wanted to be able to share life stories with her, to be able to socialize, to practice her multiplication tables and to be able to tell her the important things that were going on in her life. The subtext is also that she wanted someone who would understand her and who could see through her impatience and occasional brashness to the real her. She wanted “her Big Sister to know that she’s a good kid, [and that she’s] really fun and a jokester.”

Twenty-four year old Big Sister Katie Abarr has been matched with Zaire in our School-Based Mentoring program for a little over a year now. She wanted to be a Big Sister because she remembered the women in her life who had made an effort to spend time with her as a child and how much it had meant to her.

“I will always remember the people who went out of their way to take care of me or mentor me or just make me laugh,” says Katie. “That made a big impact on me and I’d like to do that for someone else.”

According to their match support social worker Sara Pizzute, Katie turned out to be the perfect mentor for friendly and thoughtful Zaire. A coordinator at the Westin Boston Waterfront, Katie remembers being equally opinionated at Zaire’s age. She would also get reprimanded for testing and trying to bend rules that didn’t make sense to her, such as not chewing gum or the requirement to keep her uniform shirt tucked in at all times. As a mentor, she is very understanding of Zaire’s temperament, but sets firm limits and helps her become more patient and positive in her overall attitude towards teachers and her fellow students. Zaire is grateful to know that she isn’t alone. She is also happy to have guidance on how to constructively deal with her feelings of frustration and to have a cool adult she can laugh with and be goofy.

Zaire recalls that the pair got along immediately when they first met with “no awkward moments”. They had a lot in common. They liked yoga, were self-proclaimed girly-girls, and both had a good sense of humor. Zaire also approved of Katie’s fashion sense. “She knows how to dress. Like me.”

On Friday afternoons when they are together, they often do homework and talk about their New Year’s Resolutions — Zaire’s are to get good grades, have a more positive attitude and stop biting her nails. Katie’s resolution is to talk to her mother more often. Sometimes though, they don’t need to say a word and can just sit in comfortable silence and color. They understand each other.

And then there are those multiplications tables. According to Zaire, Katie “really likes math”. Big Sister Katie has increased Zaire’s appreciation of math and has helped her recognize her skills in the subject. “She’s actually really good at math. She just thinks that she isn’t. … She’s really smart.”

When asked about her experience as a Big Sister, Katie answers that it has taught her to stop and make time for the things that are more important in life, the things that are more heartfelt, “which is how I feel about hanging out with Zaire.”

Video: Start the conversation with your Little Sister about internet safety

Do you want to talk more about internet safety with your Little Sister, but don’t know where to begin? Here are three videos submitted to Trend Micro’s annual internet safety contest that might help you start the conversation.

Message Sent” shows one of the many painful consequences of sexting.

Too Much Information” humorously advises against over-sharing online.

And finally, do you ever wonder what life is like for people after their YouTube video goes viral?

All three pieces give the same message: “Think before you click!” Your Little Sister needs to understand that what she posts on the internet or otherwise distributes digitally can be used in ways that she never intended. Once it’s out there in cyberspace, she no longer has control over what happens to the content, who sees it or how they choose to respond to it.

As a bonus, here is this year’s Grand Prize Winner “Where are You?“, a spoken word piece explaining the two sides of being an online citizen.

A girl like me

We have always worked to create mentoring experiences that affirm the many aspects of girls’ identities and our Big Sisters play an integral part in bringing this value to life!  They inspire girls to believe in, and value, themselves despite the false and unattainable standards of beauty and the low expectations of intellectual achievement so pervasive in the media and in our culture at large.

When a Big Sister celebrates her Little Sister’s interest in arts and crafts she is affirming her creative identity.  When she shows interest in her Little Sister’s ethnic and racial background this affirms her cultural identity. Spending time in her Little Sister’s neighborhood affirms her community identity.  These affirmations of Little Sisters’ many selves serve as armor against the negative influences that girls still endure today.  The depth of these negative influences is evident in the video, A Girl Like Me: color is more than skin deep for African-American girls struggling to define themselves.  In this short video clip you will hear girls speak candidly about the competing expectations they are managing from their family, friends and media about how they should look as African-American girls.