Shawna’s parents divorced when she was five. Her mother Kim was doing her best, caring for Shawna and her brother, going to school—working long hours while she earned her teaching certificate. Kim had many sleepless nights worrying about what she could do for her kids while she was studying and working to earn a living for the family.
Kim had heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters—a specialized program that provided a professionally supported one-to- one relationship with a caring adult mentor. One of Kim’s concerns was inviting another woman, a complete stranger, into Shawna’s life. How would she know that Shawna would be safe? In the long term, would Shawna’s natural affection for her change? Would a mentor take her place as a mother? Her kids needed to be around people who would care deeply for them— listen and help them through the difficult years ahead. After her first meeting in her home with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kim was greatly relieved. She knew her kids would be safe because of the ways BBBS specialists screened all potential volunteers. The volunteer’s role was thoroughly explained. The mentor wasn’t there to take the place of the parent. Mentors are expected to offer emotional support, guidance and to be a positive role model.
When Kim asked Shawna if she’d like to have a Big Sister to go on outings and hang out, Shawna didn’t hesitate to say yes. Steve, the enrollment specialist at the Big Brothers Big Sisters, matched Shawna with Kathi on September 7, 1992. Big Sister Kathi had been through rough years in her life. She decided the best way to cope with her pain and loneliness was to reach out, give back and apply her energies in a positive direction.
“Shawna gives me a fresh perspective to life,” was the comment Kathi made about the match in its early stages. They enjoyed watching movies together, sang all kinds of songs, baked cookies and cakes and played outside with Kathi’s hound dog Sam. Their favorite activity was cross-stitching. The idea of making a nice warm blanket to keep out the cold happened quite naturally. Their friendship was expressed well in a simple statement by Shawna to a BBBS support specialist. She said she “felt happier and more excited!”
Kathi and Shawna’s relationship continued to thrive and blossom in the months and years to follow. In May of 1993, they were named the “Match of the Month” for Big Brothers Big Sisters and their picture appeared in the agency newsletter. Their prize was dinner for two at the Sizzler, an outing they will always remember. Not long afterward they were awarded the high honor of “Match of the Year.” After being matched for approximately three years, Kathi went through a divorce. Her children were grown and no longer living at home. That Christmas could have been the most lonesome holiday ever for Kathi. She just couldn’t conjure up any Christmas spirit and had no desire to put up her Christmas tree. Shawna wouldn’t accept that excuse. She asked Kathi where she kept her tree, immediately dug it out of the closet, laid the parts on the living room floor and showed Kathi how she could put it up all by herself. That Christmas turned out to be more memorable than many holidays before Kathi met Shawna. The following spring Kathi taught Shawna how to ride a bike, a major milestone.
Now, twenty-six years later, Shawna looks back and talks about her relationship with Kathi as something that was “meant to happen,” mainly because they still keep in touch, plan visits with each other’s family and love every minute. She proudly talks about Kathi and her Mom Kim having grown very close over the years. Kim is deeply grateful for Kathi’s devotion to her daughter and her decision to be present throughout Shawna’s life— birthdays, helping with school projects, setting goals, developing good friendships, successes, fears, and dealing with disappointments—for all the ways Kathi stood by them through the ups and downs of her family’s experience. The framed “Memories” collage Shawna spent many hours making as a birthday gift is now and will always be hanging on Kathi’s front room wall. It portrays Shawna and Kathi’s life together—moving images of how their relationship developed and still thrives. A piece of the blanket they cross-stiched together when Shawna was a little girl adds another element of warmth to the stories told in each picture.
When Shawna attended high school, she and Kathi didn’t see each for over two years. Kathi moved to Las Vegas and Kim had taken her family to Scotts Bluff, Nebraska for a teaching job. Before the end of her senior year Shawna called Kathi to invite her to her graduation. Kathi immediately booked plane tickets and traveled from Las Vegas to Scotts Bluff for the biggest event in Shawna’s life.
After Shawna graduated from high school, Kim decided to move the family from Scotts Bluff to Tooele, Utah. Shawna has thrived in Utah, working her way up to Assistant Manager of a Walmart Supercenter in Salt Lake City. A recent Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraising event called Bowl For Kids Sake gave Shawna an opportunity to give back to the cause that has made such an impact on her life. She and the other store managers decided to encourage their associates to volunteer their time on a Saturday to raise money Big Brothers Big Sisters. The Walmart foundation offers a program called “Volunteerism Always Pays” (VAP), providing funding to non-profit organizations their associates choose to support. The collective hours they donate are applied directly to help more children in the community be matched with a caring mentor.
Kathi and Shawna’s mutual admiration has spread to nearly every member of their respective famil Shawna met her husband Sean at work over eight years ago. For Shawna and Sean’s wedding, Kathi hosted a brunch for the entire wedding party at her home and helped with many of the advance arrangements. The wedding was a grand celebration. Kathi’s son and daughter came from Logan, Utah and Denver, Colorado, and with all the extended family, honored Shawna’s and Sean’s marriage. This is the way both families continue see their relationships- natural and familiar.
Shawna and Kim came to Las Vegas when Kathi married Gene eighteen years ago and Gene is now a loving grandfather figure to Evan, Shawna and Sean’s precocious boy everyone loves to spoil. Shawna smiles as she talks about their family trip to Las Vegas to see Kathi and Gene. She pulls out her cell phone and clicks on a video clip of Gene pulling Evan in his stroller behind his motorized wheelchair, his cane the connecting link― a simple but perfect picture of caring relationships growing across generations. Shawna and Kathi’s match over 26 years ago was just the beginning of a beautiful story.