If you met Anita today, you would discover a 21-year-old, rising graphic design and illustration student with a solid job and her own apartment, raising her son Emaurie as a single mother. If you had met her two years ago, you would have a met a young girl, scared and living in a shelter. Having spent her life moving from foster home to foster home after moving to America from Africa at 7 years old, Anita had no family and nowhere to turn, until a friendly face connected her with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters match specialist Diane originally worked at the mothers’ shelter where Anita was living. When Diane began working for Big Brothers Big Sisters, she immediately reached out to Anita. “She thought that as a young, single mother I could use someone to help guide me,” Anita says, “and she asked if I would be interested.”
Diane soon paired Anita with Viktoria. At first Anita was a bit skeptical of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She viewed the organization as a mentoring outlet for young children and thought as a teenager she was a too old for the program to help her. Anita was also very nervous to meet Viktoria for the first time. “I wondered if she would be understanding,” remembers Anita. “I was ashamed of my situation—being young and having a child of my own.” Anita was also concerned that because they came from very different backgrounds that they would not be able to relate, but “Diane told me to give it time and get to know her.”
Anita soon learned that they were, in fact, not so different after all. She says that Viktoria, her twin sister and parents came to America from Russia when she was young. Her family had very little money and struggled to survive. Viktoria worked very hard to make a living and find a better life. “She always tells me how to apply this to my situation,” Anita says.
Diane regularly checked in with Anita and Viktoria to be sure the relationship was mutually rewarding. Viktoria has opened Anita up to new experiences, and the pair has been able to share their respective cultures and explore new things. The first time we went out together was for Thai food. Anita says, “I didn’t know what to order, but Victoria recommended Pad Thai. I fell in love with Thai food and now sometimes secretly go out and buy myself a little Thai dinner!”
Anita and Viktoria not only like to go out to dinner together, but they have also seen Broadway shows and have gone ice skating. “When we went ice skating, I brought my son and Viktoria brought her daughter,” remembers Anita. “I didn’t know how to skate, but she coached me until I got it.”
Anita appreciated that Viktoria did not judge, pity or reprimand her for her past decisions. “Viktoria acted like herself and always showed respect for my situation. She never gave the impression that she was trying to make me feel better. She will just bluntly tell me how she feels—like a friend. Like she’ll say ‘you’re doing this wrong or you’re doing this right.’ She’s been very honest with her situation and mine.”
Viktoria has been an important sounding board for Anita as she matures. She regularly checks in on Anita and Emaurie and is always looking for activities they can all do together. “She’s a Big Sister to me and to my son. She is now helping me as he goes through his different developmental stages. She’s really become a support system and life coach.”
When Anita began looking for a job, Viktoria helped her research potential employers. She told Anita what to expect on the interviews, how to dress and even acted as a test interviewer to give Anita practice answering tough questions.
Thanks to this preparation, Anita landed an internship at a fashion firm as a graphic designer. “Viktoria really gave me the resources to succeed,” Anita says, “and this motivates me to succeed even more.”
Anita currently attends Community College, and when she graduates, wants to find a job or internship at a magazine—as long as she’s focused on art. “For someone that is young and doesn’t have a positive influence in his or her life, Big Brothers Big Sisters is the best program,” Anita says. “Finding someone who can help you succeed within your life is the most rewarding thing.”
“Without Viktoria in my life, I would probably be in a shelter,” Anita speculates. “I needed a job to be able to get this apartment, and Viktoria helped me do that—now I live on my own.”
“I wanted to do better for myself, and to be a better person in society,” Anita adds. “Not so much for me, but for my son.”