A Big Sister for a Big Achiever

After completing college, Katie wanted to make a difference in the life of a child.

That’s when she met Maya.

Through the United Way supported 4:1+1 mentoring program at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, Katie was matched with Maya from St. Louis, a 13-year-old at the time who sought an additional role model. The two found their interests to be similar and were given the opportunity to meet.

“I was drawn to Maya because she was a lot like me when I was her age. She appeared to be a tomboy and really liked sports,” the Oakville resident recalled. “We met and connected really well. She was super polite and very smart.”

Maya was also a little shy. So when the pair would get together, Katie made sure to plan interactive activities.

“We connected by doing things together—not just sitting and talking,” Big Sister Katie said.

They played laser tag, went rock climbing, attended sporting events and explored Six Flags. Over time, their bond began to grow as Katie learned more and more about her Little Sister Maya.

Although Katie may not be Maya’s sister in the traditional sense, her continuous care and support of Maya certainly merit familial status. In fact, Katie has played a critical role in getting Maya where she is today. It began when Maya, then in eighth grade, expressed her interest in attending Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS), a selective, private high school.

After taking the tour, Katie said Maya was “so jazzed. She loved it.”

Katie knew how adamant and determined Maya was to attend the school, and wanted to do everything in her power to make her Little Sister’s dreams achievable.

Several letters of recommendation, many interviews and an entrance exam later, Maya received a letter of acceptance from the school with a full-ride scholarship. More good news followed in the fall when Maya made the girls’ varsity basketball team.

Now a junior, 16-year-old Maya continues to juggle her schoolwork, basketball, soccer and other extracurricular activities. Although she is constantly on the go, she describes her experience as nothing short of great.

“I’m so proud of her,” Katie said of her Little Sister. “She’s not the same person I met four years ago.”

According to Katie, the once-shy and withdrawn teen has become quite open and strong-willed. With Maya’s effort and determination, Katie said there’s no doubt Maya will succeed in the future.

“I know she’s going to succeed. I’m just helping her get there,” the proud Big Sister said.

Liz Kleiner, Associate Director and Relationship Specialist of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, has been with Katie and Maya since the beginning of their journey four years ago.

“They’re the epitome of the kind of relationship we want to see happen in our program. Maya started out more quiet and shy, but looking back you can really see Maya blossom and open up to Katie. And Katie has been a super role model to Maya,” Liz said.

For Katie, being there to assist her Little Sister along the way is what Big Brothers Big Sisters is all about.

Because of United Way support, Maya has not only gained a Big Sister, but also a role model and close friend. This summer, the two plan on spending time exploring college options and volunteering.

“A few years ago I wanted to do something to give back, and now it’s turned into something totally different than what I thought it would be,” Katie said.

Throughout the years, Katie has also grown closer to Maya’s family. In fact, just two years ago, Katie’s husband became a Big Brother to Maya’s younger brother, Clayton.

“As busy as I am, I think to myself, had I been matched with someone else, would I have been able to stick with it? Maya is the reason I stick with it,” Katie said. “There’s something about her that puts me in a good mood and makes me want to be a better person.”

And there’s no denying the feeling for Maya is mutual.

“She’s like a real big sister to me,” Maya said with a smile. “We’re best friends.”

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri

Through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri’s 4:1+1 mentoring program, children and teens are surrounded by caring, supportive adults who inspire and show them anything is possible. They have received United Way funding since 1923.