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As a Big Sister I’m saving the world one child at a time

Lorrie Sullenberger

As a child with an alcoholic father, instability and unpredictability were woven into the fabric of my life. I still remember the moment I realized things could be different. As a young woman, I was spending a holiday with another family. Throughout the evening, I noticed how the father displayed warmth and affection for his children. I noticed how the mother was supportive and flexible as her daughter forged her own way in life. At the end of the gathering, the father made a special father/daughter lunch date for the following week. My eyes opened and I realized there were other options for how the rest of my life, and my relationships in life, could go.

As a young person I sought out strong role models in my life and eventually I was able to move myself away from the chaos and uncertainty in my life. And in my mid-20s, I decided to become a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, the nation’s largest donor- and volunteer-supported mentoring network. I know children are resilient, but when instability is all you know, it is hard to break away from it, and not let the cycle continue. I felt I had something valuable to share, and I wanted to help a child who might be headed down that path to rise above it and thrive.

Big Brothers Big Sisters matched me with a 4-year-old girl named Sara. She was precocious and we hit it off from the start. We began our relationship with Friday night dinners, and quickly moved to other everyday activities, focusing on having fun together. I didn’t always recognize at the time that the “fun” was actually laying a solid foundation for Sara to build on. She herself had a lot of chaos in her own home life, with a father in prison, and a mother suffering the repercussions of a traumatic brain injury. Sara and I forged what has turned out to be a 30-year friendship based on mutual respect and unconditional love. She was able to break her own cycle of dysfunction, and she is now a mother of four. We just had her oldest son with us for vacation after Christmas. Jacob is a fine young man, and it is so very gratifying to know that I was able to help his mother from a very young age; and as he grows up in the stable home Sara and her husband are able to provide, I see that when you break the cycle of dysfunction for one person it can affect many generations down the line.

After my husband, Sully Sullenberger, successfully landed a jetliner with 155 passengers and crew on New York’s frigid Hudson River, we received many touching and meaningful letters. One that stood out for me was written by a Holocaust survivor. He watched the plane glide onto the river that January day and immediately thought, “to save one life is to save the world.” Big Brothers Big Sisters is indeed a huge organization. But what the dedicated people involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters are actually doing is helping one child at a time. Just one child and one mentor is all it takes to make a difference for generations to come.

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