Big Brothers Big Sisters & NAZ Scholar Match Highlight

“I’m going to do one with cherries,” declared Malayah as she explored the art table, crafting magnets from quarter-sized glass beads and decorative paper. “This one looks like my grandmother’s wallpaper,” laughed Leila as she sifted through the colorful pile. Match Night at Big Brothers Big Sisters gave Leila, an airline stewardess, and Malayah, a twelve-year-old NAZ scholar, another chance to bond. Although the match is still young – only five months in the making –the two chatted like old friends. And with the school year starting only a few days before, there was plenty to discuss. 

Malayah recalled that before school began she felt anxious about going back to middle school. How would it be different? Maybe her friends had moved out of the neighborhood or switched schools. But the same kids showed up to class. “That must have been a relief,” said Leila. Leila talked about her travels, showing her recent pictures of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. She comments on Malayah’s matching clothes and shoes; they both prefer Nikes. 

For Leila, connecting with youth is familiar and rewarding. She worked in schools in college access programs both in Minneapolis and New York City, managing mentor relationships from behind the scenes. “In New York, (managing) was like I was mentoring forty kids. Then I would watch the (mentor) relationships and think, ‘I wish I could just be a mentor to one girl, that would be really fun.’” Even after a job transition to the airlines, Leila still wanted to make a difference as a mentor. “As a flight attendant, I was helping people get to their destination. Now as a Big Sister, I can do that with Malayah.” 

When Leila first met Malayah, her mother explained how she wanted her to find a Big Sister to do the activities she couldn’t due to her health problems. Although Malayah has three older siblings, they are all busy and working. During their early meetings, Malayah was quiet and reserved. “But around the fifth activity,” said Leila, “a skating event at the Xcel Energy Center, we drove to St. Paul and she talked the whole way. She can be a little shy, but eventually, she came out of her shell. I was shy when I was a kid, so I think that’s why the match works. She’s gotten a lot more comfortable and I can see that shell melting away.”

“I like that we both get to do things we’ve never done before,” said Malayah. “Big Brother Big Sisters even got us tickets for the Vikings game.” To date, they’ve attended a concert at Lake Harriet, walked around Minnehaha Falls, went to an art event at an Uptown printer, and kayaked on Bde Maka Ska lake, just to name a few. 

Leila remembers their first event together. “At our first meeting, we walked the Stone Arch bridge then stopped at the Guthrie Theater and looked at the view. It was cold so we got hot chocolate in the coffee shop. She said, ‘Wow I’ve never been in a coffee shop before.’ As she opens up, it opens up the world for her. And as she gets older, she can take advantage of unfamiliar opportunities. Now it’s been modeled, so she doesn’t have to hold herself back.” 

Leila believes that showing interest in Malayah’s opinions and likes is reassuring and can help her realize she is important. “I think it’s helping her growth and confidence.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities and the Northside Achievement Zone are partnering together to impact young scholars in North Minneapolis. Community-based mentoring is offered to scholars (Littles) ages 8 to 13 years old. Caring adult mentors (Bigs) are matched with a Little and spend time out in the community doing activities they both enjoy. The program asks for a one-year commitment from both scholar’s family and the volunteer. The mentor and mentee meet two to four times per month. Enroll your scholar into Big Brother Big Sisters today!

Want to become a Big to a NAZ scholar? Begin your journey today! Click here.

 For more photos, click here: Leila & Malayah.