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Consistency, Care, and Compassion: Vanessa’s Mentorship Story

Sharmaine Sun Stories February 22, 2024

Vanessa became a Little at 11, with middle school starting in full swing. “I guess there was just a lot of transition in my life, and I was rebelling and hanging around the wrong crowd so my mom was getting a lot of calls from school, and that was very unlike me. She wanted me to have a trusting adult.” That trusted adult was Erica.

At the start, Vanessa was decidedly unconvinced about the Match. “I gave it a shot because my Big seemed really cool, but I also felt like, ‘She’s not gonna understand me.’” These doubts didn’t last long, and Vanessa grew to see the many similarities and shared interests between Erica and herself, hidden just below the surface. “I have always loved reading but nobody in my family or my immediate circle had that same passion, and so I always felt like the outlier,” Vanessa says. She and Erica also bonded over their shared taste in music and love of Muse. “She provided a space where I could be myself and she tried her hardest to understand me. And I just think that’s what made me love her so much.” With Erica, she wasn’t the outlier anymore.

Erica’s warm, funny, outgoing nature and her dedication to their Match were the perfect catalysts for Vanessa to grow. “I definitely expanded my horizon with her because she introduced me to so many things that I never thought were possible,” Vanessa says. With Erica, Vanessa experienced firsts like going on her first hike and unlocking a lifelong hobby, going to her first concert to see Muse, and attending her first college tour. “She opened my mind up to the idea that this is a possibility for me,” she says. “There’s more out there. This is something I can do.” 

“She introduced me to so many things that I never thought were possible.”

Vanessa’s horizons opened even further after graduating from SF State with a degree in criminal justice, and her journey came full-circle. In a perfect combination of her love for social work and her sincere care for others, Vanessa became a Match Support Specialist (MSS) with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area in 2020. She had always thought that “it would be nice to be able to help foster those relationships for other kids and help support them.” And that’s exactly what she did. “I love being able to check in with people and hear how the Littles are doing, or hear some of the new things they’ve done with their Bigs, or how they’ve grown.” It reminds her fondly of her experience, something which she draws from often. 

Vanessa’s understanding and empathy for Littles and the struggles they face give her a unique ability to guide, encourage, and support Bigs. For Bigs who are nervous about the start of a Match, she shares her experience in the program, telling them that “‘This is also something that I did when I was younger. Just give it some time. Just be consistent. Show them that you’re still there, regardless of them trying to push you away.’” She knows that consistency is one of the most important things for Littles. After all, one of the things she appreciated most about Erica is that she “made sure to have that space for me, because I was going through a lot. Even through all of that, she still stuck it out with me and she never left me.” Vanessa encourages this same consistency in Bigs, even when things get hard, because she knows its impact firsthand. With her Alumni Little status to back it up, Bigs take her advice to heart and stand by their Littles.

After years of dedicated work as an MSS, Vanessa was promoted to Manager of MSS and is a true leader in our Agency. Empowered by her relationship with Erica, she has leaned into her innate care, consistency, accountability, and desire to help others grow to build an incredible team. She and her team are driving forces in advocating for our program and working to expand mentoring opportunities to more youth. “Being able to support the one positive adult relationship that a child might have is so empowering. It just reminds me why I do what I do,” Vanessa says.

“Being able to support the one positive adult relationship that a child might have is so empowering.”

To this day, Erica and Vanessa still catch up often. “I love her. She’s amazing. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for her and her support. She really did help me a lot,” Vanessa says. With Erica’s help and her own inner strength, Vanessa has grown from a bookish 11-year-old Little struggling with transition to a nonprofit professional, advocating for Bay Area youth. She fosters meaningful relationships for other children like her three younger sisters who have all been part of the program and loves watching her siblings and other Littles build lasting bonds with Bigs of their own. All along the way, Vanessa has thanked her own mentors—coworkers, managers, and of course, Erica. These mentors help remind her that “nothing is off the table. The possibilities are endless, you just have to work hard for them and let your work speak for itself.”

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