In the same week of her 22nd birthday and the passing of her grandmother, along with mid-terms and Spring Break fast approaching, fourth-year student Reiko Simmons still found time to attend the weekly YWLP group meeting at Jack Jouett Middle School.
As per tradition, the group, consisting of YWLP Big Sisters, Little Sisters and facilitators at this school, started the meeting on Feb. 27 with each of them sharing highs and lows. Simmons emphasized that her “high” for the week was the group itself.
“I’m happy to be here and have fun with my sisters,” she said.
Simmons notes that the wide variety of backgrounds within her group makes interactions engaging as well as educational.
“The best part of YWLP is being surrounded by such a diverse group of dedicated and lively women!” Simmons said. “We can only grow as individuals by learning from new experiences and from those who are different from us […]”
It is this dedication and attitude that YWLP Assistant Director Melissa Levy finds to be assets to the program. As Simmons is in her third year of being a Big Sister for the YWLP, she has developed into a leader.
“She is creative in coming up with ways to make the curriculum accessible to the girls […]” Levy said. “She is a great listener, kind, able to not take things personally, which I think can be challenging sometimes. She is persistent, committed and reliable.”
Simmons has been a Big Sister to the same Little Sister, Taleh’Zha Godfrey, for two consecutive years. The program originally matched them up when Godfrey was in seventh grade year and later gave them the opportunity to stay together when entering eighth grade.
In addition to the weekly group meeting at the school and a meeting among just the facilitators and Big Sisters, YWLP Big Sisters meet with their Littles for a minimum of four hours a month. Simmons and Godfrey typically meet twice a month for a couple hours, in which they especially enjoy baking cookies or cupcakes together.
“We hang out at her house a lot to watch movies, cook together and eat!” Godfrey said. “[…] I like getting to know her better and having fun during our sister time.”
Godfrey, who has three brothers, said the most compelling reason to join the YWLP is the lasting impact it makes with “teach[ing] you how to be a young lady and how to be more mature.” Godfrey recognized how she has grown.
“Before, I kind of […] kept all my problems in and now, I let them out more so I’m not as frustrated,” she said. “[It helps to be] able to talk about them with other girls and not just the guidance counselor.”
The maturity and compassion that Godfrey and her peers express during the group conversations have been eye-opening to Simmons.
“Whether we’re discussing relationships or global problems such as poverty and hunger, it’s really interesting to see their perspectives and to see how they’re thinking […]” Simmons said. “[...] You can tell they do care about other people. You don’t expect that from middle schoolers […]”
Simmons discovered that her role as a Big Sister was not to be a second parental figure or a life coach. She has learned “how to be silent and listen, rather than constantly preach about what someone should or should not be doing” and the power of leading by example.
“Being a mentor to a middle school girl has taught me that it’s OK to not have an answer to every question, and more importantly, that sometimes an answer is not necessary,” Simmons said. “[…] Being a mentor is about being a positive role model and about inspiring another person in such a way that she wants to dig deep within herself in order to discover and expose who she really is.”
Simmons, who has one older brother and one younger brother, believes that she, as the Big Sister, has gained much more than she ever expected from her experience. Growing up with two brothers, she missed having a little sister, so one of the reasons she joined was because she had “always wanted one.”
“When you think of a mentoring program, you think of the mentee as being the only person really benefiting from the relationship, but I would say that’s not true at all,” Simmons said. “The mentor definitely benefits as well.”
By Agnes Filipowski