Thirteen-year-old Emma Raithby is the eldest sibling of three, but through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Langley (BBBSL) program, she was able to find a Big Sister match for herself.
“I’m the eldest out of three kids and I needed someone I could hang out with and talk to,” said Raithby, who lives in Walnut Grove.
Two years ago, Raithby signed up with BBBSL and it took about three months to get paired with the perfect match – ‘Big’ sister Lee-Anne Kelleher.
Despite an almost 30-year age difference, the pair has discovered they share many similarities such as humour, enjoying walks, working on art projects, and much more.
For Kelleher, who lives in Langley, the BBBSL program has a special place in her heart, as her 22-year-old son had his own ‘Big’ brother from age eight to 18.
“I see the impact my son’s big brother had in his life and I always said if I have the time I’ll give back, and now my son is 22 so I’m trying to honour what I said I’d do and I’m loving it. I think I’m getting more out of it than Emma,” said Kelleher.
Years ago, Kelleher enrolled her son in the program because she became a single mother when her baby was 19 months old.
“I enrolled my son because he lost his dad at 19 months. I decided I wanted someone in his life who he could go to that had no connection to me,” explained Kelleher.
“Still to this day, my son is 22 and he’s been graduated from the program for four years and they still keep in contact.”
And now with time to dedicate to having a ‘Little,’ Kelleher said she’s been able to reconnect with a younger version of herself.
“It’s nice to see the world through a young girl’s eyes again. Emma’s getting me into hobbies again which is really nice. I can’t say there is anything I haven’t liked about the process so far. I’d highly recommend it. It was instrumental in my son’s life. As important as it is for a child to have a mentor, it’s just important for an adult to have someone.”
The sister duo recalled their first outing together – a day at the beach in White Rock – and acknowledged that getting to know one another can feel awkward at first.
“When we first started out, our first outing was a beach in White Rock, so getting her [Emma] to talk – she was really shy, but now she likes to talk,” Kelleher explained.
And sure enough, with time, Kelleher and Raithby have become close friends who enjoy scrap-booking, bowling, watching the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, and having friendly competitions. They aim to meet up once every week or two.
Finding a perfect match did take some time, as Raithby met with two other ‘Bigs’ before being paired with Kelleher.
“As soon as I met Lee-Anne I said ‘this is the one.’ With Lee-Anne, I trust her,” added Raithby.
Raithby and Kelleher agreed their favourite day together was spending the afternoon at PlayLand.
“Emma got me to face some of my fears. Emma has no fear so she dragged me around from ride to ride and I felt like a kid again. I’m teaching her a lot of things, but I’m learning so much as well,” said Kelleher.
Neither can imagine the friendship ending any time soon, and after Raithby graduates and ages out of the program, Kelleher said the friendship will simply “continue on.”
“In the beginning it was my pay it forward thing, but now I don’t want it to end. It starts out as a contract, but it becomes so much more. I can’t imagine my friendships with my girlfriends ending, and I can’t see this ending either,” she added.
To raise money for the BBBSL, the organization is hosting a brand new Great Gatsby themed gala called the Big Deal Charity Gala on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Ideally the gala aims to fundraise about $60,000 for the program.
“It’s a new fundraiser for our agency. It’s replacing the Bowl for Kids Sake event that we had been running for almost the last 30 years, so we’re excited to be trying something new,” said Roslyn Henderson, Big Brothers Big Sisters Langley’s executive director.
The gala includes food, entertainment, and a game show that is similar to the TV series Deal or No Deal, complete with prizes valued between $1,000-$3,000.
Big Deal Charity Gala is being held on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased online: https://langley.bigbrothersbigsisters.ca/event/big-deal-gala/
For more information call 604-530-5055.