Making Time to be the Big Sister I Never Got to Be

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Today I met my Little Sister for the first time. She’s a 12-year-old at John Hopkins Middle School who likes cooking, watching TV and riding roller coasters. If today was any indication of what she’s like, then I have no doubt we’ll get along well. We played Mancala and another game that involved talking with each other about our favorite hobby, movie, ice cream flavor, etc.

I’ll meet with my Little Sis every week during the school year as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring program — something I’ve wanted to take part in for years. Volunteering used to be a big part of my life. In high school, I led the National Honor Society’s community service initiatives and took part in Student Council volunteer efforts. At Providence College, I helped set up the college’s first Relay for Life, did service work through Campus Ministry, and led several Habitat for Humanity trips to North Carolina and Baltimore.

When I graduated in May 2007 and moved from Massachusetts to Florida, I stopped volunteering. I had to find friends in a place where I didn’t know anyone, and I had to get settled in my apartment and used to my job.  I’ll start volunteering after I get situated, I used to tell myself. Many Saturdays, I would try to get up early to volunteer at one of the local Habitat for Humanity sites, but then I’d just turn off my alarm and fall back asleep. Lots of us do this. When we’re so busy, it’s much easier to put off something than to carve out time to do it. And when we do have free time, sometimes all we want to do is relax and spend time with ourselves, friends or family.

I’ve been thinking more lately about how much energy I put into work. In part, I put so much energy into it because I want to excel professionally and because I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I love. But I also realize that sometimes I put work ahead of friends — and very often ahead of myself. So, when my employer announced that it was going to start working with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the program. Finally, I thought, I can get back into volunteering and start spending time with kids again. (I used to babysit all the time, so I miss hanging out with little ones!)

Given how excited I am about doing this, I was surprised by the way some people reacted when I told them about it. My dad, not surprisingly, supported me wholeheartedly, as did many others. But a couple of people said something to the effect of, “Mallary, why are you doing this? You don’t have enough free time. You don’t even know this little girl. You need to do something for yourself.”

I know they just want what’s best for me, and that they want me to take care of myself. They’re familiar with my tendency to run on little sleep and overextend myself. But what I don’t think they understand is that by volunteering, I am doing something for myself. I’m helping myself feel more connected to the community, and I’m giving myself something to look forward to during the work day that doesn’t involve journalism. And hey, I’m an only child, so it’s kind of neat saying I have a “Little Sis.” In turn, I’m hopefully going to help a child in need by adding to her support network.

I’ve had so many great mentors throughout my life, so now it’s my turn to return the favor and be the Big Sis I never got to be.