A very important rolePublished 10:43am Monday, December 28, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Life, it has been said, doesn’t always turn out the way one plans.
Sometimes, however, that can mean finding a road one was meant to be on all along.
It could be said such was the case for Big Brothers Big Sisters case manager, Sue Armstrong.
Last week, as the official end of 2009 nears, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass announced a milestone: 100 mentors in just one year.
Those mentors are people like Armstrong, who have dedicated themselves to children through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, giving them a chance they might not otherwise have had.
“It goes back to when I was a teenager,” Armstrong said, sitting in her office on a day she was supposed to be on vacation. She was in the day before as well, she said.
Raised in Dowagiac, Armstrong said she’d heard about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program through someone she knew who was a Big Brother back when she was a teenager.
It stuck in her head. Studying elementary education at college, Central Michigan University, Armstrong said she’d found a program being held there as well but she had no transportation, so she was unable to participate.
It wasn’t until years later, when she and her husband moved to Niles. He worked second shift. She didn’t know anyone.
“I didn’t really know anybody here,” she said “I’d always wanted to do it.”
Big Brothers was already instituted in Niles. A Big Sisters program was added in 1974.
It was 1975 when Armstrong was assigned to her “Little.”
“That was how I got started,” she said. “And my ‘Little Sister’ is in her 40s today.”
For some children, the greatest gift they can receive, Armstrong said, is consistency.
That’s what “Big Brothers” and “Big Sisters” do for their “Littles.”
The Niles chapter currently promotes a lunch buddy program and once a week, every week, members of the community in the role of “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” show up at their “Little’s” school, sit down together, talk about what’s going on in the “Little’s” day, in his or her week, at home, at school and everything in between.
“As a big,” Armstrong said. “Obviously you’re a role model. Sometimes the most important thing that you offer them is the consistency. There’s a smile waiting for them. You might be the only adult that does that for them.”
For her part, Armstrong took her “Little Sister” grocery shopping armed with a calculator and an opportunity to learn how to find the best deal, to save money, to shop wisely and subsequently honed a few mathematical skills.
Little moments. Simple and of the utmost impact all at the same time.
Kind of like Armstrong’s passion for the program.
A year after she became involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, Armstrong was encouraged to get more involved, to promote the organization more. About a year after that, she was taking the place of the organization’s former case manager.
She’s been at it ever since.
She works tirelessly to facilitate matches within the organization. And her advice is key – because it’s not just coming from behind a desk.
It’s coming from a wealth of experience.
“I always tell them (‘Bigs’), your ‘Littles’ are like sponges, they soak up everything. Even things they hear about you from the outside… So you have to pay attention,” she said.
Taking the title of role model to heart, is evident when it comes to Armstrong and the work that she continues to do each and every day. Work she’d originally, never seen herself doing.
“When I look back, it just happened,” she said. Carrying a degree in elementary education, Armstrong had a different career in mind for quite some time.
“I wanted to be a teacher since the fourth grade,” she said. “It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
In that respect, Armstrong hoped to work with disadvantaged kids, children she found “eager to learn” and “eager to absorb.”
Ultimately, that’s what she found. Children eager to do more than just learn and absorb – but to connect.
Connection, is something Armstrong has gotten and given through the organization as well.
“I’ve met so many people, it’s been amazing,” she said. “I don’t even know if I could say … I don’t think there are words to describe it.”
One year – 100 mentors. For Armstrong, that’s 100 connections forged, 100 lives changed for the better, 100 reasons she’s in her office on her vacation.
“I think I’ll always try to have something here, I hope,” she said. “Some connection here, helping in any way that I could. It’s a good program. I believe in it.”
For that reason, this year, 100 children, with the help of 100 “Big Brothers” and “Big Sisters” believe in themselves a little bit more.