When I was introduced to Maya, our social worker, Jenny, started the conversation by reminding Maya about an upcoming birthday. Maya seemed unsure of the date so she looked to her mother for the answer. When her mother said April 16, my heart skipped a beat. I quickly responded: “Maya, guess what? Your birthday is on the same day as my brother’s! One thing is certain; it will be very hard for me to forget your birthday.” She smiled, giggled and said with gusto, “Really?” At that moment, we had a special connection.

This year, Maya’s birthday was a milestone—The Big 10. I wanted to do something special but we could not meet in person because of COVID-19. I struggled with how best to celebrate her birthday virtually. From angst to a lightbulb moment, I came up with a fun and meaningful birthday celebration. We first shopped online together—Maya loves makeup and anything pink.

Shopping online was fun; however, it felt like we were missing something. With millions of people struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, this seemed like an incredible opportunity for us to give back. Maya and I talked about resources and nonprofits people can turn to for help and how a donation would be a big help for them. We discussed what many of the Jewish organizations could provide (of course, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters was among them), but it was Maya who mentioned a special organization close to her family’s heart. I could not have been more excited. Maya understood this organization could use a boost in funds for the struggling single parents it serves. Together, we made a difference and we both felt good.

Every minute with Maya has been special and unique. Besides being adorable and sweet, Maya is smart, kind, thoughtful, curious and confident. She is not afraid to ask a salesperson for help finding something in a store. She is polite and pleasant to all those we meet. In fact, on one of our outings, after a round of miniature golf, we went to a salon to get our nails done. Maya loves getting a manicure on special occasions; it’s what we girls do.

While the two of us were chatting, a lady on one side of us caught our attention. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhear your conversation.” Looking directly at Maya, the woman went on to say, “You sound so knowledgeable. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a gift I could bring to my granddaughter who is about your age?” Maya graciously presented a list of items and articulated details of what made each suggestion perfect. The woman was impressed and thanked Maya profusely. I was equally impressed and proud to be with a child who is so poised and confident.

Maya’s love for animals knows no bounds. We have been to the zoo and to animal shelters. On one occasion, as we were about to leave to visit a shelter, Maya’s mother made me promise not to let Maya bring home any pets. It was said in jest, of course, but as one may surmise, it was not easy leaving the shelter empty-handed, or even just leaving the shelter. Maya gets very sad to see animals in cages. Yes, she would like to bring them all home with her.

We have done so many other things such as painting pottery, going to movies, shopping, bowling, apple picking and exploring Boston’s Museum of Science. We’ve taken a painting class and a Thai cooking class. Closely watching Maya with a knife in her hand, cutting vegetables, was just a touch scary. Thankfully no blood was drawn and we had a most delightful time—bringing what we cooked home to Maya’s family.

Along with other JBBBS matches, we went to see the musical “School of Rock” and “Blue Man Group.” On our own, we went to see the musical “Aladdin.” We got dressed up, had a nice dinner before the show and thoroughly enjoyed our awesome seats. We have done community service together, teaching each other what it means to give a part of ourselves for the welfare of others.

Just recently, as Massachusetts went into Phase 2 of reopening, JBBBS gave “Bigs” a cautious green light for get-togethers. The restrictions included no riding in a Big’s car, only walking to parks or open spaces for playtime or picnics, wearing masks and social distancing. It was exciting to make plans. The only dilemma was how to prevent Maya from hugging me when we first saw each other. As a joke, I had tucked behind me a tape measure extended six feet out. As predicted, Maya came running toward me with her arms outstretched. I quickly whipped around the extended tape measure. She stopped in her tracks and a second later we both laughed and laughed. We went on to have a wonderful reunion and picnic lunch at a lovely location near her house. It felt like old times again.

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