By Kendra Hoskin
At the recent annual Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa (BBBSO) volunteer recognition event, Cathy was awarded Big Sister Mentor of the Year. She was presented with a certificate which she proudly framed and hung on her wall in her home office.
“I don’t usually hang certificates but this one means a lot to me,” she said.
Cathy has been volunteering her time as a Big Sister for 10 years. When her only son, Neil, went to university out of town, a co-worker suggested she look into becoming a Big Sister. She contacted BBBSO and was soon meeting her Little: a blue-eyed six-year-old girl named Katie.
“She got me through that year and we’ve gotten each other through difficult things,” said Cathy. “If anything, I get such a joy out of it, and I know it’s helping her, but I just love it.”
Cathy, who describes herself as quiet and shy, said it was the perfect match. At the initial meet, the six-year-old Katie put Cathy at ease.
“She just chatted the whole time and she’s never stopped chatting — that’s just who she is,” said Cathy. “It’s so perfect for me because it just completely relaxed me at that first meeting, and ever since.”
From day one, Cathy said the experience has been excellent.
“We just clicked from the beginning and we’ve never had any problems. We just get together and have a good time,” she said.
At first Cathy made arrangements through her Little’s mom. However, as Katie started to get older, Cathy started to make arrangements directly through her.
“One thing I didn’t want to happen when Katie got older is I didn’t want her to feel like she had to get together with me … so I started leaving the decision with her,” said Cathy.
For the first five years, Cathy and Katie met once a week. But then Katie moved to Hawkesbury with her Dad. And yet, despite the hour-long drive, the pair still managed to see each other every second weekend when Katie visited her Mom in Ottawa.
On ordinary visits the twosome would go to the movies, window shop, go out for a bite to eat, make a meal at Cathy’s or just “chat.”
“It’s always such a good time and I always feel so happy after,” said Cathy.
Between visits, the duo email, use Facebook, and text to keep in touch and make future plans. They are currently planning an overnight trip to a close-by hotel to “pamper” themselves.
Now that Cathy is retired she hopes to again see Katie once a week. Recently she drove to Hawkesbury to visit Katie’s school. Katie took Cathy on a tour and introduced her to her teachers, friends, and her boyfriend.
“Every one of them said ‘Oh ya, we know who you are.’ It was neat,” said Cathy.
The whole experience made Cathy feel “so proud” of her Little, who is now 16-years-old.
“She (Katie) is a very well-liked girl because she’s so friendly … She’s just amazing,” said Cathy.
Cathy’s advice for anyone thinking of becoming a Big is simple: “Oh, to do it. Do it. It’s such a good feeling and there’s such good support from Big Brothers Big Sisters,” she said. “I’ve learned that children are very strong. They sometimes go through some things that even an adult would have trouble with. They’re so strong and they remain so loving,” said Cathy.
But children need consistency. “Someone that says ‘I’m going to be there’ and they’re there,” said Cathy.
Although Cathy’s the one who was recognized by the organization, she said the experience has been so meaningful to her. She signed up to be a Big Sister but ended up making a life-long friend.
“She [Katie] giggles when I tell her, ‘You better invite me to your wedding,’” said Cathy.
When Katie turns 18, she will graduate as a Little. Cathy and Katie have requested to host the 2014 BBBS Wrap and Friendship ceremony, which will be the year they graduate, after what will be 12 years together.
But graduation day, Cathy vows, won’t affect their relationship.
“We’ll be friends for life,” she said.