Siblings by Choice Changing Lives, One Little Brother & Sister at a Time



Soul Sisters

Karen Topolinski has been on the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board for six years, but it wasn’t until she became a Big Sister herself that she experienced the true depth of the program’s impact. “When my children were in high school and college, I was always busy travelling to their sports games,” she recalled, “but about two years ago, they graduated and moved away. I knew that becoming a Big Sister took a lot of commitment, which is why I had never done it before; I just felt it was time to get involved.”

Karen was matched with Alyssa Thomas, now a ninth grader at Carman-Ainsworth High School. “She filled a void in my life,” Karen said, “and I thought that I could fill a void in hers.” Alyssa says that Karen did just that. “I was looking for someone to spend time with me,” she said, “someone I could look up to as a sister.” With shared interests and hobbies, including sports and reading, Karen and Alyssa have become very close over the past two years. They go out to eat (particularly at Mario’s, Alyssa’s top pick), browse at Barnes & Noble – “our favorite place!” laughed Karen – or just hang out. “Sometimes Alyssa comes over to my house and I help her with homework and cook dinner,” said Karen, who not only takes sisterly pride in Alyssa’s high grades and honors, but is also preparing her for college admission in the not-so-distant future. “She’s going to the best college we can get her into,” Karen insisted, “on scholarship!” It’s clear upon meeting the “sisters” that Alyssa has benefitted from Karen’s encouragement, but Karen says that the relationship has been important to her as well. It has also renewed her commitment to fundraising for the organization. “It’s great because I’ve had the opportunity to experience how much good comes of the program, for both Bigs and Littles!” she said, “and that makes me want to keep the good going!”

Brothers are the Best

For boys growing up in challenging situations, a male role model can be life-changing. Allison Hester – a Big Brother – knows this from experience, having been a Little Brother himself during his youth. “When I was a child, I had a mentor whom I thought the world of and still do,” he remembers. “As a young man growing up in the inner city, Brad taught me that I had options for achieving my goals and living the type of lifestyle I wanted to live. I wanted to offer that same type of encouragement to a young man, myself.”

Al signed up and was matched with D’Monte Johnson, a shy and reserved young man of 14 who’d been through a lot. “I met D’Monte almost five years ago now,” Al recalled. “We were sitting in the living room at his grandmother’s home. At first, I couldn’t get him to open up.” With a sudden flash of inspiration, Al took D’Monte to a basketball court so they could play. “He did win the game,” Al admits reluctantly, “but it was only because I was wearing dress slacks and dress shoes! He might dispute this to no end, but there is some truth to it!” After this ice-breaker, Al and D’Monte became very close. “After our basketball game the first day, it was hard to get him to be quiet!” Al said. “Ali helped me make sense of what was going on in my life,” D’Monte says. “We are from the same background. Allison grew up in the exact same neighborhood as me in similar situations. Having him in my life showed me that I can make something out of myself.”

With someone to take interest in him and encourage him, D’Monte – now 19 and flourishing at Mott Community College – grew into a dynamic young man. “I can’t begin to tell you how proud of D’Monte I am!” Al said. “I mentioned how shy he was the day we first met; but I have seen him work a room like he was an entertainer. He was always kind and considerate – his grandmother saw to that – but now he is well rounded in so many facets of his young life that it’s hard to believe he is merely 19.” Last year, with D’Monte busy in his senior year of high school and preparing for college, Al asked to be matched with a new Little. “D’Monte and I still keep in touch,” Al said, “and when I was having trouble connecting with my new Little, I asked D’Monte to join us on several occasions for a bite to eat, basketball or some putt-putt golf. Each time he was right there.” Al says that while his relationship with his new Little has grown, D’Monte will always be special to him. “D’Monte was always eager for our next outing and called me to let me know it,” he remembered fondly, “and we just have so much in common.” Al’s pride in D’Monte goes beyond that of a big brother. “This is probably the closest I will ever get to having a son, and I can only hope I left some type of imprint on D’Monte.” It’s clear that Al has made a life-changing impact on his little brother, as D’Monte cannot say enough about him. “Ali is not only my mentor but a friend,” he said, “He is a support system, a cheerleader, like family to me and most of all an inspiration. I am thankful to have been matched with such a caring, motivating, inspirational and friendly mentor like him. I appreciate him so much and I think Big Brothers Big Sisters played a role in keeping me on the right track.” ♦


Photography by Mike Naddeo



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