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Local BBBS creates lasting bonds matching 'bigs' with ‘littles’

Lisa Thompson met her match when Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Simcoe introduced her to ‘little’ Ella Grant four years ago. Since then, Thompson says they’ve learned a lot from each other
Ella Grant and Lisa Thompson have been matched as a ‘little’ and a ‘big’ through Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Simcoe for four years.

Shortly after Lisa Thompson was matched as a ‘big’ with her ‘little’ at Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Simcoe the pandemic made things challenging for the new pair.

Regardless of that hurdle, Thompson, a freshly retired 60-year-old and her 11-year-old “little sister” Ella Grant recently celebrated four years of being a team.

“Every year (BBBS of North Simcoe) asks us if we want to continue in our match and I say ‘yes’ every year, and so does Ella,” explains Thompson about the review process that matches go through to make sure their relationship remains strong.

Thompson says she wanted to be a ‘big’ after her son went to university. She had heard some co-workers talking about having fun with their “little sisters” and she knew being a “big sister” was right for her.

What really drew Thompson to her volunteer role as a ‘big’ was not only the prospect of having another young person in her life, but also the opportunity to learn from each other.

“I’ve said from the get-go that I’m looking for reverse-mentoring,” says Thompson.

As an example of how this match was forged through mutual mentoring, Thompson recalls that one of their first activities was treetop trekking when Grant was only tall enough to tackle the kids’ section of the course. Grant is afraid of heights, and she completed the kids’ course well.

Thompson says she’s not afraid of heights, but maybe a little more cautious, and was impressed when the duo went on another tree top adventure this summer and Grant tackled the entire course.

“It was awesome. She said she was afraid to try, but the people behind her encouraged her to take her time. By the end, she did it all,” says Thompson.

They had the option to leave after the first section, but Grant was ready to keep going.

“We spent three hours there. And, she gave it right back to me, the encouragement, saying ‘you did it’. It’s a two-way street,” recalls Thompson.

“We accomplished something that we were hesitant to do at the beginning. That was an awesome day.”

A cautious attitude towards heights is not all Thompson and Grant have in common. The well-matched “sisters” are also both shy.

The day they were introduced, it was at a gathering put on to match ‘bigs’ and ‘littles’ called a big bunch.

Thompson saw that Grant was hesitant when her mother dropped her off.

“I encouraged her to come in. Asked her some questions. We partnered up. We spent the whole afternoon together, and it clicked,” says Thompson.

By the end of the day, they were both asking to be matched with each other.

BBBS of North Simcoe currently reaches about 225 young people every year through their traditional community matches and school programs.

Currently, there are more than 40 children waiting to be matched with a ‘big’, and more than 100 children are waitlisted for the school program.

The commitment for a traditional community match — a one-to-one ‘big’ to ‘little’ pairing — is about three to four hours bi-weekly for at least one year.

School-based mentors volunteer for about one hour a week during the school year.

Since Thompson and Grant met, they’ve enjoyed cooking together, bike rides and playing soccer.

Thompson says no matter the activity, it was always the mentors in her life that made all the difference. A track and field coach helped Thompson see her own potential, and it helped her gain confidence to try new things.

“In my life, the mentors stood out to me. Throughout school, I was very shy. It took one person to recognize my abilities,” says Thompson.

“People just need to be given that opportunity to open up and expand their horizons.”

Since they’ve started their friendship, Grant’s mother, Lesley Johnston, says her daughter has changed because of her relationship with her “big sister.”

In a video for BBBS of North Simcoe, Johnston says: “She's just a completely different child now, and it’s given her the confidence to come out of her shell."

When Thompson was considering joining BBBS of North Simcoe the Me Too movement had picked up momentum. The moment was about women and girls, gender equality, and demonstrating how common sexual assault and harassment are for women and girls.

“I wanted to ensure someone’s little girl was encouraged, and empowered,” says Thompson.

After four years of being matched with her ‘little’ Thompson is as overjoyed by Grant’s transformation, how she’s gained confidence and the intelligent young woman she’s becoming.

Thompson hopes to continue on with her match with Grant for many more years to come.

“There have been stories of how ‘bigs’ get invited to their ‘little’s’ weddings, because they’re still friends,” she says. “That’s just so cool.”

If you’re interested in becoming a “big” or participating in the school mentorship program, visit BBBS of North Simcoe and learn more.