In 2010, I decided to sign up to be a Big. It was something I'd thought about doing many times after seeing the Big Brothers Big Sisters billboard during my daily commute from my apartment to my office downtown.
Looking back, I am so glad I decided to fill out that application to be a Big. I had no idea that I would meet the most amazing little girl and that we would build an unbreakable bond.
I remember meeting Armani and her mom, Felica, for the first time at their home. I was so nervous and excited and left my apartment extra early to give myself plenty of time, but I ended up getting lost and arriving almost 20 minutes late. I felt terrible about it, but Felica and Armani were so sweet and opened the door with smiles and open arms. This is how they greeted me from that day forward — warm and welcoming.
At that first meeting, Armani told me how much she enjoyed her dolls. She told me the name of every single one of her friends at school and told me she'd like to get pizza and ice cream together soon. We both agreed that there was a long list of fun things we could do, and we made plans the following week.
Armani and I continued to get together every week for the next 8 years. We tried to cover as much ground in Kansas City as we possibly could. We visited all of the museums that piqued her interest, and we tried as many local restaurants with different genres of food as we possibly could. We would stroll around local parks, work on homework at coffee shops, or even go to Costco just for the pizza and free samples. We also spent a lot of time at home making crafts, baking cookies, or playing in the snow. We even made a dollhouse together!
Some of our best moments were just our conversations in the car in between these activities, sharing our highs and lows of the week and talking about our goals and our lives. These simple conversations are what really strengthened our bond. We were always there for one another. I can't put an exact date on it, but there was a point that we both knew this was not just a "Match" anymore — we were going to be in each others' lives forever.
We were there for each other's big life moments. She traveled to come to my wedding, and a few years later was overjoyed at the news that I was having a baby. She was so sweet to my daughter, and I loved watching them interact. I got to watch Armani evolve from an adorable, shy elementary school girl, to a middle schooler who loved to read, to a beautiful and confident high school senior ready to chase her dreams and go to college. I was so proud of the woman she was becoming.
On March 5, 2018, I texted Armani to ask for her schedule so that we could do her senior photos. I did not hear back right away, which was unusual, but I wasn't concerned. About an hour later, her aunt called me with the news that would crush me. Armani had been shot a few hours ago, and she did not survive. I was overcome with a grief I had never experienced.
She was 17.
After that day, Armani's mom knew that we needed to channel some of our grief into action to celebrate the life of her precious daughter. Together, we found ways to remember Armani and honor the loving and kind person she was. We set up a school supply donation drive for Armani's former elementary/middle school, and we organized senior send-off bags for the college bound seniors at Big Brothers Big Sisters. We would even just leave happy notes around town on park benches or taped to light poles for unsuspecting people who may need a smile.
Together, we'll never stop finding ways to celebrate Armani's life.
Becoming a Big was life changing for me. Armani taught me so much. I often think about what waves she would be making now as a 20 year-old college student. I think about how my daughter would grow to love her as much as I did. I am so grateful for Big Brothers Big Sisters; not only did I get Armani as my Little, but today I have an unbreakable bond with Felica, too.