I joined the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters (JBBBS) program my sophomore year of high school. Initially, I was a bit nervous to meet my match, and slightly skeptical that the two of us would get along. I was a social, outspoken 15-year-old, navigating a new high school and town all while facing a mini identity crisis. At that point in my life, I had moved to a suburb 10 minutes away from where I had lived for 10 years of my life and, along with the move, I switched to a much larger school than I had ever attended. Amidst all the new changes in my life, JBBBS offered me a person much wiser and loving to guide me through the transitions.

When we were first matched, my Big, Gifty, was working in a town nearby, and therefore we were able to meet frequently on weekends. Our outings ranged from coffee dates, going on nearby nature walks and discussing anything I may have been struggling with during the week. One thing I truly appreciated about the JBBBS program was how compatible their Big Sister matching was. Gifty and I were able to exchange our opinions on faith, academics and movies. I found this particularly enjoyable because our conversations never felt forced, and when situations would arise in my life, I felt comfortable sharing them with her and seeking her advice.

As a child with only an older brother, I found Gifty to be the Big Sister I never knew I needed. Our friendship-turned-sisterhood came at a time in which I needed it most. Gifty studied in the Ivory Coast for a portion of her life and then relocated to the United States for higher education. I was a high school student of Ugandan origin primarily raised in the United States. I learned that although our backgrounds were slightly different, we were similar in ways that looked beyond our experiences.

And while Gifty and I had our differences, we managed to complement each other. Had I not been able to develop a friendship with Gifty, I do not believe my transition to a new school would have been as smooth. Unknowingly, Gifty taught me to embrace life’s changes even with the fear of finding friends. She was able to move to a completely different country and adapt to learning a new language and living in a completely different environment. I admire her courage, strength and determination that I don’t think I fully understood until now as a sophomore in college.

Fast forward five years later, and I’m still eternally grateful for Gifty’s presence in my life. Although I’m now in college, we continue to speak as often as we can. It’s amazing to see how much our friendship has grown and how life just seems to fly by. Gifty now lives in a different country on another continent and has a child of her own, whom I love and adore. We still make the time to talk and catch up on each other’s lives.

To this day, I am still learning so much from Gifty. It’s a blessing to be a part of each other’s lives and transitions. Who would have known that at 15 I would meet such an amazing friend, sister and mentor? If I could advise anyone who is hesitant to go forward with getting a Big or wondering if it could even work, I say take that leap of faith. I promise you won’t regret it. What began as coffee dates and going to the park turned into a lifelong friendship.

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