Thursday, December 3, 2020

“If you give them your time and believe in them, then they can accomplish anything” -- a S.I. mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters

Hispanic Heritage Month

“Little Sister” Angel, 17, of Staten Island, and “Big Sister” Stephanie Cruz, a grad student at Boston College, on an outing to Ellis Island. (Courtesy Big Brothers, Big Sisters of NYC)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you meet a friend who positively influences the course of your life.

This has been the good fortune of Stapleton resident Angel, 17, who met her mentor, Stephanie Cruz, of Queens, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC (BBBS) program in 2013. The ‘sisters’ have shared several valuable experiences ever since.

(Please note: BBBS of NYC’s policy is not to share last names of “littles” or where they attend school.)

“It’s been seven years since I met my ‘big sister’ Stephanie, and we have grown a strong relationship that will last a lifetime,” said Angel, who started the BBBS program when she was just nine years old and experiencing challenges in her life.

“My therapist suggested I sign up for BBBS of NYC. After the interview, It took a couple months to find my ‘Big Sister,’ but they found my perfect match in Stephanie and we immediately clicked."

The application process indeed was lengthy, beginning with a thorough interview, wherein backgrounds, expectations, goals and interests were assessed. “When we met, Angel was 9 or 10, and I was in my young 20s and we were both really shy,” said Stephanie. "During our first few outings I brought her to museums so we could explore new activities together.

“After about a month or two, she started to get comfortable and opened up to me about her family and interests. After our first year, Angel totally opened up and we became really close.”

As a match, Angel and Stephanie have also enjoyed celebrating their shared Latinx heritage and have even visited Ellis Island together. “Latinx” is a gender-neutral or nonbinary term for a person of Latin American origin.

“We had many similar interests and backgrounds," said Angel. "Stephanie has had huge impact on my life and has really helped me grow through school and in life by motivating me. She has been helped me with college applications, and has been there for me when I need her whenever I experience shifts in my life.”

Ironically, Angel has also helped Stephanie. “Part of the reason why I volunteered for BBBS was because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” said Stephanie. “What Angel taught me is that I wanted to work with kids and become a mental health counselor.

"Angel totally helped me figure out my path in life and I am currently in grad school at Boston College.”

Stephanie has enjoyed supporting her ‘little sister’ Angel through many milestones over the past seven years, including landing two part-time jobs, joining her high school’s Honor Society and winning BBBS of NYC Academic Recognition awards three years in a row.

"Winning the award has been the highlight of my life because we knew, going to the awards ceremony, that hard work pays off.”

Stephanie has also developed a great relationship with Angel’s mom, which has enabled her to sharpen her Spanish speaking skills as well.


‘Big sister’ Stephanie Cruz first got involved with BBBS because she was looking for volunteering opportunities after college, something she enjoyed in high school and college. "I liked BBBS’s mission of investing time with a ‘Little’ to help them become more confident.

“I really liked how mentors form a relationship with a young person over the course of one year, the minimum requirement for matches. I thought, ‘Yeah, I can commit to a year.’ Little did I know it would be such a huge part of my life for seven years.”

The greatest obstacle pre-COVID, however, was always distance, since Stephanie lives in Sunnyside, Queens. “When we met, I was in Queens and Angel was in the Bronx," said Stephanie.

Angel later moved to Staten Island, making the outings even more difficult. But they made it work and connected through text or phone calls and made the time to get together.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo stayed connected over Zoom since the start of COVID-19. “Having Stephanie has made the pandemic situation a lot better because she’s someone that I can always go to and talk to,” said Angel. “Not only is she supporting me, but I’m able to support her as well through these difficult times.”

“We have been connecting on Zoom since the outbreak,” said Stephanie. “As soon as this occurred, I wanted to make sure that Angel was doing okay, knowing that this has impacted many people’s mental health, especially young people.

"I wanted to make sure that her classes were going well and she felt fully supported, given the shift to remote learning.”


Although Angel struggled in elementary school, “she grew so much over the years," and Stephanie recognized her potential in high school. "It’s been amazing to watch her grow into this amazing young adult and I can’t wait to see what she continues to achieve.

In the summer, they set some goals to ensure Angel would stay motivated and continue to prepare for college.

“On our zoom calls, we would tour colleges and I had her build out an Excel sheet to track her college applications, cost, and dates," said Stephanie. "We continue to stay connected and support each other as Angel begins this school year and continues the college process, while I pursue grad school.

“I believe that it doesn’t matter where a person comes from,” said Stephanie. “If you give them your time and believe in them, then they can accomplish anything.”

If you give them your time and believe in them, then they can accomplish anything