Here are this year's four finalists for Big Sister & Little Sister of the Year! The winning Big Sister and Little Sister of the Year will be announced in April.
Tiffany Willis & Jada
Tiffany and Jada have been matched for over 3 years. Tiffany is a first-generation college student who now has her doctorate degree. She is a Child Psychologist at Children's Mercy and has committed her life to helping others navigate a path through trauma. Her Little, Jada, has certainly not been exempt from trauma herself. Tiffany has been a gentle guide, walking alongside her and using both mundane and significant moments to teach and challenge.
Here are just a few examples: Tiffany introduced Jada to the owner of Ruby Jean's Juicery so that she could see a person of color transforming the community through his work. She also brought her to the 103.3 radio station so she could witness people using their voices to make an impact. Finally, she took her to a TedTalk so that she could see people using their stories as a weapon to overcome.
Tiffany also nominated Jada to participate in the Girls on the Rise scholarship program, an opportunity through BBBS for 11th grade Little Sisters to receive funds to go on college visits. In addition to Girls on the Rise, Jada successfully completed an internship through BBBSKC at Perspective Consulting, where she learned the ropes in marketing. After finishing the internship, Jada presented some of her work on race and relationships to the staff of BBBSKC.
“There aren’t enough words in the world to describe my Big Sister Tiffany,” said Little Sister Jada. “I don't think of Tiffany as a sister from the BBBS program because she is my real sister in my heart. I say this because a real sister cares about the real you and things like school and your feelings. Ever since Tiffany has been in my life, I’ve seen a big amount of growth and change. My sister has been with me through the struggle and has helped me take the steps to overcome them.”
Brandi Cornett & Serenity
Brandi and Serenity have been matched for over 3 years. Brandi is always there for Serenity to support her when she is struggling. Serenity, her sister, and mother were all in a car accident three years ago. Serenity’s mother passed, her sister is now wheelchair bound, and she lost the use of her left arm due to the accident. This experience greatly impacted Serenity emotionally and physically, but through it all, Brandi has been by her side. Although things can get tough, Serenity has said that she knows Brandi is there for her, is her go-to person, and the best advice giver that only wants to help Serenity make good decisions and help her succeed. Both Serenity and her aunt have said that Brandi allows Serenity to be her own person and accepts Serenity for who she is.
If Serenity has problems with friends or things at school, Brandi helps her work through it and gives great advice about the emotions that Serenity is going through and how to deal with them in a safe way. Brandi also gives Serenity advice about how to handle anxiety. Brandi has shared with Serenity that she has anxiety too, and that it’s okay, and has taught Serenity some healthy ways to deal with her anxiety. Overall, Brandi is driven by her desire to help Serenity reach her full potential. It is said that adversity and hardships will either break you or make you, and this Match is stronger today because of the hardships that they have taken on together.
“Brandi sees Serenity for exactly who she is,” said Serenity’s guardian. “Serenity is quirky and likes to do out-of-the-box things, and Brandi embraces that and allows Serenity to be herself while she is with her. We are blessed to have her in our lives.”
“Brandi is always there for me!” said Little Sister Serenity. “She supports me through everything. She gives great advice and is easy to talk to. I’m different from other people, but Brandi treats me like I’m normal and treats me like I should be treated. She’s my go-to person for advice and is an inspiration to me to work toward having a better future because I know that she wants that for me.”
Julie Leone & Karma
Julie and Karma have been matched for over 3 years. Karma and Julie have a strong friendship and special bond. When Karma lost her mother in a car accident and became wheelchair-bound, Julie was always there for Karma to listen when Karma needed her. Julie has gone the extra mile to make accommodations that guarantee that Karma is safe and comfortable. These accommodations include driving a vehicle that accommodates Karma’s needs, learning the proper way to transfer Karma in and out of a vehicle, and brainstorming ways to modify the entrance of her home so that Karma can come over to visit.
During their Match, Karma has become more open in her communication and has also become more independent — she even started her first job recently! Karma is interested in interior design and has established a plan for after high school with Julie’s advice and help. Through it all, Karma has grown to be confident, kind, resilient, and humble. Julie sees Karma for who she is and all her potential. Julie never brags or complains about the “extra” work that goes into having match activities. She does those things because she truly cares for Karma and wants Karma to never feel different. Julie wants to encourage Karma to live without limits, without fear, and to have fun and dream big.
“Julie goes above and beyond in so many ways to make accommodations for Karma and never makes Karma feel like she is different than anyone else,” said Karma’s guardian. “Karma was hospitalized for three months, and Julie would always show up with a Coke and a snack of Karma’s choice and they would talk and watch Netflix. Karma’s confidence has grown since being matched with Julie — she’s able to express herself more and joke around, and she’s encouraged and excited about her future and career.”
“Julie has an amazing, incredible, and kind soul,” said Little Sister Karma. “She has made each day I’m with her so much better. She has been with me through the ups and downs and never ran away. I will never be able to thank her enough.”
Mary Beth Stuart & SaDerra
Mary Beth and SaDerra have been matched for 5 years. Mary Beth stands out among other Big Sisters in her initiative and in her fierce loyalty to her Little Sister SaDerra. Mary Beth pours into SaDerra and invests in her life as if she were her actual sister, advocating and fighting for her. Mary Beth has helped SaDerra to see the world from the perspective of someone who is going to conquer the world and make a difference in it. SaDerra loves Mary Beth, and often speaks of the ways that Mary Beth has helped her to grow in confidence, perseverance, and courage.
One lesson that Mary Beth has passed on to SaDerra is the idea that fear kills opportunity. Through their Match, SaDerra has grown in confidence and in her willingness to try new things and not be afraid of a challenge. Mary Beth has also been instrumental in connecting SaDerra’s family with the resources needed to overcome barriers and has been a consistent source of support as they work to get assistance for SaDerra to attend summer camp, get a heart screening, and participate in many other programs that she may not have gotten a chance to be a part of otherwise. Mary Beth values SaDerra’s education and makes it clear that her education comes first with fun to surely follow.
“This has been such a positive experience for my daughter and our family as a whole,” said SaDerra’s mother. “Mary Beth is nothing short of amazing, and we want to tell the world about her. Mary Beth and SaDerra’s bond is matchless, and they’re sure to be lifelong friends.”
“Ever since we’ve met, Mary Beth has been such a delight to me and my family,” said SaDerra. “She’s always there when I need her, and she treats me as if I were her actual sister. It’s amazing to have a person that you have so much in common with, a person you can tell anything, a person that you can look up to, and a person that’s just there for you through thick and thin. Words can’t even explain how great Mary Beth is.”