Four years of Big Brothers Big Sisters at CHA

By: Matthew Aguilar, Chicago Housing Authority

When CHA began participating in the workplace mentoring program “Big Sisters Big Sisters” in 2016, it was under the leadership of CEO Eugene E. Jones Jr.

Jones had taken part in the program earlier in life, and it had a positive impact. So he thought it would have the same effect on CHA employees.

Four years later, Jones’ intuitions were right.

CHA mentors (or “Bigs”) Angela Brooks and Jordan Townes have been regular participants since the inception of the program. Thursday, they attended the Smyth Elementary School graduation of their proteges (or “Littles”), whom they began mentoring four years ago when they were younger.

Brooks said: “Thursday, June 20th was a bittersweet day as I attended the eighth grade graduation of my Little Rahshaurie, who I was matched with 4 years ago. She transferred to Smyth in the middle of the school year and Big Brothers Big Sisters gave her the opportunity to get to know some of the kids, but more importantly gave me the chance to know her. Often, we think about what we can do for our mentees, but in this case, she probably gave me just as much. I was like how in the world do I match with a shy, introverted kid who is as stubborn as me?

“She absolutely HATED to speak in front of people. We would have mini battles on Mondays if we had to do any type of presentation to the group and 90 percent of the time I ended up doing it, as she just didn’t like speaking in public. We literally talked about this almost every other week for four years. Last week, I was brought to tears as a student on the program wasn’t there and she was asked to introduce the speaker. Seeing her come out of her shell and stand confident while speaking to others reminded me why this program is so important.

“It was wonderful being able to meet her parents and grandparents and get a glimpse into her life outside of school. I have a feeling - though she has formally graduated and won’t be participating - that I have a little sister for life and look forward to continuing to be a part of her village as she continues to grow into an amazing young woman.”

Townes said: "My “Little,” David, and I have been in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for four years. It was incredible watching his growth over the years. Watching our relationship culminate to graduation from eighth grade was especially fulfilling.

“When I met David he was a great kid that wanted attention. At times he would interrupt the class by cracking jokes at inappropriate times to get that attention. As he grew in this program, we started to see him becoming mature, being patient in asking questions, and courteous to others. You could vividly see how he gained the respect of his peers. I’m sure the program assisted him in that process, but it was also gratifying to meet his family at the graduation ceremony. And it assured me that he has a great support system that will carry him far in life. David is also one of the highest achievers in his class and has already taken High School courses. I would not be telling the whole truth if I didn’t mention that this relationship helped my growth in understanding our youth and what our kids are challenged with day-to-day.

“David will be attending Lyons Township and I do expect him to do GREAT things, and our mentor/mentee relationship to continue.”

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