De Bowman never had any intention of becoming a Big Sister. She enjoyed her time mentoring local students through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Reading program, helping children in their classrooms for an hour or two a week. The mom of boys, De found that she connected better with male students.
But all of that changed the day she met 7-year-old Christina.
“I remember her teacher taking me aside before I ever met with her and explaining to me that Christina was very shy and that I would have to keep the door open while we met or else Christina might get upset and uncomfortable,” De explains.
“When I met her, there was an immediate connection. We actually shut the door the first day, and Christina was perfectly fine! We’ve been together ever since.”
Christina, the survivor of brain cancer, had severe medical issues when De first began mentoring her at her elementary school. She struggled with seizures, migraines and had difficulty walking. Within a year, De agreed to be Christina’s Big Sister. That was nine years ago.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network that matches adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country, developing positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people. Locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters is funded by Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County.
“We are so very grateful for the incredible financial and programmatic support Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County provides Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Judi Miller, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters for St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee Counties.
“Their help allows us to match wonderful mentors, like De, who make such an tremendous difference in the lives of our children. Last year, thanks to CSC and other funders, Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Lucie, Indian River & Okeechobee was able to serve over 1,600 children.”
De explains: “I have seen Christina grow from that shy little girl into a confident, smart, incredible young woman. She plays volleyball, she’s a cheerleader, she has performed in shows at her school and excels academically. She still struggles with some medical issues and has had so many surgeries that I’ve lost count, but she is so strong, and you never see her complain about any of it.
“She’s such a blessing, and I am so lucky to have her in my life.”
De’s commitment to Christina and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program caught the attention of leaders in Tallahassee, who named De “Big of the Year” for the State of Florida.
“It is such an honor and it is so exciting! As far as my commitment is concerned – what I get out of being a Big Sister far outweighs what I put into it. It is so worth any and all of the time I spend. I call it my “Christina fix”. Doesn’t matter how bad of a day I’ve had, all I have to do is spend some time with her and everything is ok again.”
De went to Tallahassee last month to receive her award as part of January’s National Mentoring Month. Christina was with De when she was given her plaque.
Says Miller: “While mentors share their gifts of time, talent and caring, no one can fail to understand the impact “Littles” have on their “Bigs” as well.”
De most certainly agrees. “I can’t imagine my life without her. I’ll be at Christina’s high school graduation. I’ll be at her college graduation, and I’ll be at her wedding. She’s a part of my family, and I’m so grateful for that.”
For more information on the programs supported and services provided by the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County, visit cscslc.org or call 772-408-1100.
This story is contributed by a member of the Treasure Coast community and is neither endorsed nor affiliated with TCPalm.com