“WHEN ONE PERSON MENTORS, TWO LIVES ARE CHANGED”, an essay by Gail T., Big Sister

Fifty-seven years old, unhappily married, three grown daughters with families of their own, just laid off from my full-time job–that was my life in 2007.  Something was missing in my empty-nest.  My girlfriend suggested I become a mentor, so on January 12, 2008, I went to an informational night at the YWCA to learn more about the mentoring program[1] and meet some of the 13 and 14-year-old girls who were looking to be matched with mentors.

Across the table from me sat a beautiful strawberry-blonde haired girl with freckles who was very quiet.  After introductions and making collages about our future dreams, I immediately knew Shyanna Rose would be a perfect match for me because of her interest in art, fashion design, and birds.  After completing the application process and background check, I met with Shyanna and her grandmother and a mutual decision was made for us to be a “match.”  Little did I know then how Shyanna would be such an inspiration to me.

Gail and Shyanna for blog DEC52013Shyanna has undergone more obstacles in her young life than any other teenager I have known.  She was born on New Years Day in 1995 and is currently eighteen years of age.  Guardianship over Shyanna was legally granted to her grandmother when Shyanna was eight years old.  Shyanna lived with her grandmother, but still saw her mother, as well as her three half-brothers and half-sister.  Shyanna’s father is a Level III sex-offender who is not involved in Shyanna’s life.  When Shyanna was ten years old, her cousin whom she was very close with was killed in a hunting accident.  A year after that, her mother was found dead beside a railroad track.  She had been raped by multiple men and brutally beaten with a rock until she succumbed to her death.  A man was arrested and convicted of her murder shortly thereafter, however, it was later determined by DNA evidence after he spent two years in jail that he was the wrong person.  After he was released from jail, a televised broadcast was held in which members of the family, including Shyanna, were interviewed with a nationwide plea to find her mother’s murderer.  New information developed which led the police to arrest a new man.  This past spring, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated rape.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  Throughout this time period, I stayed in the background, watched Shyanna, and marveled at the courage and strength she portrayed throughout this traumatic period in her life.

If that was not enough for a young girl to endure, in July of 2010, Shyanna went into her grandmother’s bedroom to find her lying dead on the floor having suffered a heart attack.  Shortly thereafter, Shyanna’s aunt volunteered to have Shyanna live with her and her husband, and she was awarded legal guardianship over her.  So, Shyanna was again uprooted from her home in the city where she was free to walk to school, the library, the Y.W.C.A., and her girlfriend’s house, to live in a rural town thirty-five minutes away.  Her aunt and uncle have no children, so Shyanna had one month to adjust to life in the country, as well as going to a new high school for the first time where she did not know any other students.   Having attention deficit disorder, Shyanna has to work extra hard in school to maintain good grades.  She always tries her best.

Despite all the hardships Shyanna has been through, we have enjoyed so many good times together.  We have had overnight trips to my trailer at the beach where we have enjoyed campfires, walks on the beach, swimming, shell picking, playing Scrabble, feeding the birds and squirrels and doing crafts together.  Throughout the years and thanks to the mentoring program, we have seen Cirque de Soleil, A Christmas Carol, the Nutcracker, Ice Capades, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  She has done face-painting with me at my Church bazaar.  We have talked about her first boyfriend, her fears of learning to drive a car, and the advantages and disadvantages of her new life in the country.  Shyanna loves to read and encouraged me against my wishes to read about vampires in the “Twilight” series, as well as the post-apocalyptic world of Katniss in the “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.”  Naturally, we had to see the movies once we finished the books, as well as trying our hand at archery.  Our bond has grown from polite acquaintances to hugs and kisses as we depart from our visits with each other.  I am proud to say that Shyanna does not drink, smoke, or use drugs.  She is polite and so appreciative of the things we have done together, always saying thank you at the end of a visit.

Shyanna is absolutely the most resilient person I know…in order to help others recognize this, I applied for a $5,000 educational scholarship on behalf of Shyanna which is awarded every year from the Mass Mentoring Partnership Program and was so excited when she was chosen as one of the recipients.  Five minutes before Shyanna and I were ready to give our appreciation speeches to the crowd in the Red Sox VIP lounge in Boston, we learned that the Kelly family (who help sponsor this scholarship) decided to increase their award to $20,000. We both hugged each other and cried.  This award has made such a difference Gail and Shyanna at MMP eventin Shyanna’s life.  She was able to buy a laptop and printer, as well as travel with her classmates to England, Ireland and France, an opportunity I could never have afforded for her.

Fast forward to the present–Shyanna and I traveled to Providence, RI this past summer to visit the campuses at Johnson & WalesUniversity.  The excitement filled her veins when we visited the harbor campus on the coast of Narragansett Bay.  Presently, we await and hope Shyanna’s wish for early admission into the Culinary Arts Program will be granted.

Shyanna and I have derived so much from our relationship with each other, namely, companionship, comfort, similar interests, and a hug when we really need one from each other.  I am forty-three years older than Shyanna and am like a mother and grandmother to her.  Shyanna has come to gatherings with my family and always has a smile on and reminds me to appreciate the wonderful family I have.  She has urged me to look forward to a better future after going through a divorce, loss of my home, and the death of my mother who is buried in the same cemetery fifteen feet away from her mother.  When I think about how much I miss my mom who died at 88-years-old and my dad who died at 69-years-old, I can’t help but think of Shyanna and rejoice at how fortunate I was to have had the love and support of my parents for so many years.

When Shyanna Rose was born, her mother chose a beautiful Native American name for her which means “desert sun.”  She must have known that Shyanna would experience bleak and barren times in her life, but like the sun, her inner radiance, warmth and light would allow her to persevere. Her middle name, Rose, symbolizes happiness and love; both feelings I have been blessed with since the day this young girl entered my life.


[1]  Girls C.H.O.I.C.E (Choosing Hope, Opportunities, and Independence through Careers and Education) is an innovative program between Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Massachusetts and the Y.W.C.A. — its goal is to help at-risk girls get into college, work toward their aspirations, and become self-assured, healthy and financially independent young women.

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