Cheryl M. Shuffler, former Big and BBBS Burke Advisory Council member, wrote this piece to be submitted to The Morganton News Herald. A public relations officer for Burke County Public Schools, she talks about what led her to be a Big and it changed her.
Nineteenth century public school pioneer Horace Mann once said, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” My high school English teacher may chastise the sentence for its double negatives, but it is true.
One reason I became involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Program in 2012 was purely selfish, as I was feeling a bit “undone.” At the time, my stepchild was entering the teen years, my young cousins, who are like nieces to me, were getting older, and I missed having “little” kids in my life who needed me.
After doing a story on Big Brother Big Sisters for my work at the newspaper and getting to know the local coordinator, I decided to give it a try.
My first match lasted about a year and ended when she moved to another county. My second match officially lasted about four years, but thankfully with my position now in the school system, I still get to check in with her and she recently invited me to her quinceanera (a girl’s 15th birthday party).
As a school-based “Big,” I met with my matches once a week during the school year for about an hour. The teacher would send work that the “Little” needed extra help with, whether it was reading, math or science. We worked on schoolwork for 30 minutes and played games or did crafts for the other 30 minutes.
For help with schoolwork, I had to learn the new way of teaching math, but that gave my “Littles” an opportunity to teach me something. My second “Little” is from a home where English is not the primary language, and we had fun learning about each other’s cultures and languages. Each year, we would make a bucket list of the things we wanted to do or try. We also scrolled through Pinterest looking for craft ideas. Some we nailed, but others we had good laughs at because they were definite fails. Some of the activities were so simple and involved things I took for granted – such as carving a pumpkin.
Celebrating birthdays was fun, too, and I have to admit I went overboard a few times. One time I brought in a balloon artist to make balloons for her whole classroom, and another time I brought in a police K-9 for a demonstration and belly rubs. One year she asked for a pony to come to class, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
When my “Little” entered middle school, she decided to take band and was interested in playing the clarinet. Guess who had a clarinet collecting dust on the top of her closet shelf? I was more than happy to donate the instrument and enjoyed sitting through the Christmas and spring middle school band concerts knowing my old instrument was being put to use.
Actor Will Smith put his own twist on Horace Mann’s quote; Smith said, “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.”
While my life was certainly enriched because of Big Brothers Big Sisters, I can only hope that I made the lives of my “Littles” better. Going into the experience, I knew it was easy to do something for, and make a difference in, the lives of children that were a part of my family. But I wondered how it would be doing things with and for kids I didn’t even know. As it turns out, it was easier than I thought. It was more rewarding than I expected. And best of all, it inspired me to open my heart and home to something even bigger: foster children.