The incoming text immediately brings a smile to my face. It’s that of a young teenage girl, her cheek pressed against her dog’s face.

“Aww you two are so cute! How’s she doing? How are you doing?”

My text response prompts a FaceTime call from Ivy so we can chat and check in.

Being a Big Sister during a pandemic brings challenges, but I’m thankful that modern technology allows us to remain in touch. Easy phone conversations and video chats were not always the way we interacted.

In early 2016, I submitted my application to become a Big Sister. When people asked me why I was becoming a Big, I would answer with the stereotypical, “To make a difference in a child’s life” or with the comical, “Oh, so I can go see kids’ movies in theaters with a child.” But in reality, I was excited to build a connection with another person and help them grow and develop. I visualized playing games and getting ice cream, chatting through difficult life lessons and being the person she felt comfortable and safe around.

I was lucky and did not have to wait long to get matched. When I first met Ivy, she was 8 years old and incredibly shy. We sat on a bench at the Jewish Community Center in Newton, and I asked her questions about what she liked doing. She was hesitant about answering or offering any suggestions, but with some gentle coaxing we were able to talk about fun things to do.

We made our first match date soon after to go to the Museum of Science in Boston. As we walked around, Ivy tentatively pointed at her favorite exhibits, which I was excited to visit with her. That first timid outing graduated to Ivy asking if I would come meet her at her temple’s Purim carnival the following month. I happily obliged and we ran around the community room, winning tickets at the various games with Ivy dressed as Queen Esther and me wearing face paint.

Deanna Reiss and Little Photo
Deanna, left, with Ivy (Courtesy photo)

Over the years, our fun activities took us all over the city (and sometimes the state). We attended Red Sox games (mostly spent in the kids’ zone), got a good workout at the trampoline park and even drove to Bolton to visit an exotic animal sanctuary. Every car ride, every activity, every moment we spent together, we learned more about each other.

I am so incredibly fortunate because not only did I receive exactly what I was hoping for out of our relationship, I got so much more. I have watched Ivy’s love for soccer strengthen over the years and have observed her passion for science turn into a passion for coding and magic. She has taught me how various stones and crystals have healing attributes; making those into jewelry is one of her many talents (you can find some of her pieces sold at her family’s shop, Hidden Jewel of the South End). Her caring soul flourishes around all living things, whether it be her family, animals or her friends.

At the end of the day, I am lucky enough to watch this smart, talented, sweet individual grow into a young woman. She began to outgrow the playgrounds we frequented and became less interested in the kids’ zone at Fenway. When asking what movies she wanted to see, superhero and action movies began to replace the G-rated kid flicks. I stood next to her at her bat mitzvah, attended open houses at her new school and have met many of her friends and family through various events. Together there have been countless laughs—and a few tears—as time continued to develop and refine our relationship.

Deanna and Ivy feature
Deanna, right, with Ivy (Courtesy photo)

For anyone considering becoming a Big Brother or Sister, all I can do is enthusiastically recommend it. It’s not always easy, and it can be difficult to commit to carving out time in a busy schedule, but the bond you develop and love you find makes it absolutely worth it. To those who are still new in their match relationships, my recommendation is to cherish it. Before you know it, five years will go by and suddenly you won’t be hanging out with a kid but a young adult.

In the future I can see scenarios where I help her learn to drive, give her sage advice and attend her graduation. When I first started being a Big, I became part of Ivy’s life to help her grow, and grow she has. Like her name, she has crept up, beautiful and blossoming, adding life and color to every living thing she interacts with. And piece by piece, she, in turn, has helped me grow as well.

Deanna and Ivy
Deanna, right, with Ivy (Courtesy photo)

Learn more about how JBBBS changes lives here. Apply to volunteer here!

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