Pheonix & Sue
Pheonix was eight years old and a third-grader when he was matched with his Big Sister, Sue, through the School-Based program. Sue agreed to commit an hour a week to mentor him and began meeting with her Little during lunch and eecess each Wednesday.
Reflecting on the beginning of their relationship, Pheonix says that he was initially hesitant because he wasn’t very trusting toward other people. He was in foster care at the time and had experienced loss and instability in his life. However, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to try something new, and Sue was there every week to eat lunch, do activities and talk.
“Wednesdays became the day I could look forward to because there was someone there who would enjoy doing what I enjoyed and who didn’t judge me,” says Pheonix. “I can tell you that when I first met Sue, I had a lack of sharing with people. I didn’t want to be around anyone; I wanted to be by myself and do my own thing. Now, when I think about the people I care about, Sue comes to mind first.”
Pheonix and Sue shared weekly visits at school for three years. When Pheonix finished fifth grade, they decided to transition to the Community-Based program to do activities outside of the school setting. Pheonix was living with his father at the time, who appreciated the consistent relationship Pheonix shared with Sue and was supportive of the opportunity for Pheonix to get out and do things in the community.
Throughout middle and high school, Pheonix and Sue explored many interests and experiences, including remote control boats on Nequasset Lake, cooking meals in the microwave (as Pheonix wasn’t permitted to use the stove and was often home alone at mealtimes), and running together. The duo participated in at least a half dozen 5K races including “The Murph” five-mile trail run in Bath and the “Insane Inflatable Race” in Portland. They also spent time taking photos. They would go to places like Reid State Park, climb on the rocks, take pictures, and then edit them on Sue’s computer.
“Pheonix has a creative way of thinking about things. He learns by doing things. He is very ambitious in what he wants to accomplish. He has ideas about what he wants to do and figures out what he needs and how to execute it.”
For the past few years, Pheonix has lived with his mother. He graduated from high school in the summer and is working and considering his career path. He and Sue continue to meet regularly.
These days, they eat ice cream, talk, laugh, reflect on the past and talk about the future.
Sue says, “We talk about what is going on in his life and help him get clear in his thinking. My question a lot recently has been, ‘Okay, so what is your plan? I understand what you’ve said and the frustrations you have, but what is your plan moving forward? What actions are you going to take?’”
Pheonix says that having Sue’s perspective helps him better understand other people’s ideas and accept their opinions. “Sue has been there long enough in my life to help me form the idea that it’s okay to fail and pick myself back up. She encourages me and helps me come up with ideas about how to improve my situation.”
Likewise, Sue says she has learned from Pheonix persistence and resilience, “About not getting discouraged or wallowing in self-pity. I have often said to myself, if Pheonix can go through what he’s been through and still be hopeful and resilient, I can do that, too.”
Sue identifies the role and value of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in their mentoring connection. “I’ve appreciated having staff there for support, encouragement, and reminding me that all I need to do is show up and be there. The training and education that BBBS did was really helpful, and knowing that there were resources to help me learn what I needed to know has been great.”
After ten years of friendship, Pheonix says: “We’ve done a lot of stuff that I don’t think I would have ever gotten the chance to experience if it wasn’t for Sue. I’ve learned a lot.“
This December, Sue and Pheonix will be honored with the Big and Little of the Year Award at BBBS’ Empower Potential Celebration and Awards.