Change is near for big sisters and their littles at PCHS
A one-year commitment — that’s all Big Brothers Big Sisters requires of its volunteers.
But for Kristen Robinson and Marie Backer, that first year was just the beginning. That was clear even back then. Shortly after meeting her little sister, Sandra Sanchez, nine years ago, Robinson knew they were going to be in each other’s lives for a long time. Backer, who was paired up with her little sister, Yesenia Ledezma, a year later, recalls a similar feeling.
"We clicked and we knew we wanted to go through this journey together," Robinson said.
That journey at last has brought them here, to the end of Sanchez and Ledezma’s senior year at Park City High School. Finally, after nearly a decade with their big sisters, they will head their separate ways, off to college and into the next phase of their lives.
It is a bittersweet time for all four of them. Sanchez and Ledezma, best friends since before kindergarten, have come to rely on their big sisters, who they now consider part of their families. For Robinson and Backer, it’s been in many ways like watching their own children grow — nerve-wracking but exhilarating.
But things will soon change.
"I can’t believe she’s all grown up, but she is," Backer said of Ledezma. "It’s been wonderful to see her come into her own as a person and gain self-confidence. I think she’s ready to go out and do anything in the world. I’ve been able to watch her become that kind of a person and it’s been a thrill."
The relationships Robinson and Backer have had with their little sisters have morphed over the years. What started as mentoring elementary-aged children soon turned into helping teenagers navigate the mystery of adolescence. And that, in turn, became something else entirely as Ledezma and Sanchez grew into young adults.
As their little sisters have grown up, Robinson and Backer have straddled the line between parent and pal.
"We’ve had frank and honest conversations about making good choices," Robinson said. "And she’s made those very good choices in difficult times. Being there and watching her navigate through this whole high school experience has been an interesting thing."
Sanchez and Ledezma say they were happy to have the guidance. They knew they could always count on their big sisters to be there, and to provide honest, unbiased advice during difficult times. Often, it was easier to turn to their big sisters than their peers or parents.
"It’s like having another friend, but a friend who looks out for you and who’s there whenever you need them," Ledezma said. "They can help you with anything. So it’s a lot more than an older person giving advice to a younger person. We’ve built a relationship that I appreciate."
Backer and Robinson have also become close with their little sisters’s families. Though Ledezma’s mother doesn’t speak any English, she understands that, like her, Backer wants the best for her daughter. And Robinson has become a regular at Sanchez family gatherings.
"Every birthday, every celebration that they have, I’m included," Robinson said. "And when I go to her house, her mom has some tamales or tortillas that she’s prepared for me. They treat me so well."
Backer credits Big Brothers Big Sisters with the longevity of the relationships. When she first signed up to be a big sister, the organization spent nearly two hours trying to match her up with a child whose personality would mesh with hers. Eight years later, it’s clear Big Brothers Big Sisters got it right.
"It was a pleasure the whole way," she said.
But with Ledezma and Sanchez now 18 and soon off to college, their official involvement in Big Brothers Big Sisters is over. And everything, they know, is about to change. But for them and their big sisters, one thing will remain constant.
"I always had that thought that I will always have her with me no matter what," Sanchez said. "Wherever I am, I’ll still have her number and I’ll be able to stay in touch. I’ll still have that connection with her."
For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit bbbsu.org.
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.