Nontraditional Path, Big Impact
Chrystal Pearson’s story. She is 33.
As told to Chris Bavender
I think I have always wanted to help other people. I’ve always wanted to make a difference. Looking back, I would say that I had a good childhood. I knew my parents loved me, and I had everything I needed.
My dad was in construction for a really long time, which is rough because it’s not consistent, especially here in Muncie. We’d have a really bad winter and jobs would get canceled. My mom worked second shift at Lifetouch. She would cook dinner for us every day before she left for work.
My sister and I would stay home alone in the afternoon until my dad got home.
I think I would have benefitted from having someone outside of my family to show me the ropes, to mentor me.
We weren’t in poverty, but we were definitely a paycheck-to-paycheck family. My parents didn’t go to college. My dad didn’t graduate from high school. For some reason, though, it was always ingrained in me that I was going to go to college.
I always wanted to be a person who changes people’s lives. For me, the people who did that growing up were teachers. Those were my role models. I think that is why I first majored in elementary education.
I had a third grade teacher, Mrs. King. I remember she taught me multiplication. And she just made it fun. Everything we learned in that class had some kind of song. When I was in high school, I was in National Honor Society. For our induction we were allowed to bring our favorite teacher. I brought Mrs. King.
It was expected that I go to college so I did. What was unexpected was getting pregnant and having a daughter at the age of 19. I was a sophomore.
I had a very nontraditional path.
I remember sitting at my computer, and my husband was in bed exhausted from working his two jobs, and I had the baby in the bouncy seat, but she was screaming, and I had my foot on the seat, just bouncing it at 2 AM trying to get the kid to sleep so I could get my paper done. My second daughter came right before my senior year. But God, those were good days. Those two little girls! I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. And now we have three girls.
It took me six years to graduate from college. I switched majors to social work.
My senior year I was looking for a practicum site. I knew I wanted to work with children and my advisor recommended Big Brothers Big Sisters. I absolutely loved it! I met so many great kids, families and volunteers and was immediately impressed with the work the organization did for kids in Muncie. One of the staff members moved to another state and I was able to interview for the position of Enrollment Coordinator. I was ecstatic when they offered me the position. I started the Monday after graduation.
I believe all kids have potential and the ability to be successful—they just need a hand-up. Someone who can show them the possibilities and encourage them to make good decisions to stay on the right path.
You know, I remember a mom—she was just in tears—and I think she was enrolling two little girls. We like the parent to come in just by themselves, we really want to get to know them and what they want for their children. To talk with that mom and to hear her story, she said, “I just want my daughters to know there is more to life than what I have shown them.” And I thought that was a really powerful moment.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of success stories.
One day a Little Sister—who is now in her 30s—reached out to us because she wanted us to know she and her Big Sister were still seeing each other. We invited them into the office and they shared story after story about their match, from their early days, to more recent events like the Big attending the Little’s wedding and being a part of her children’s lives. They had truly become family to each other. We sat in a room with them as they laughed and cried reminiscing on all the memories they shared. And let me tell you, we were a part of the laughter and tears, too.
When I was in the Enrollment position, I interviewed a boy who had been on the waiting list for a while—which, unfortunately, is not atypical—and during this reassessment all of his preferences had changed. He’d gone from video games and comic books to football and baseball. He was a sweet kid, kind of quiet, and was often bullied by his brother. We were able to match him with a great volunteer and were excited to see the relationship develop.
A couple of months in the Big Brother said the Little Brother wasn’t actually very interested in sports and seemed to want to spend all their time doing less-active, indoor activities. We realized he must have told us these new activity interests in an attempt to get matched—and it worked! Smart kid.
We asked the Big Brother what he wanted to do since they really didn’t have much in common. He said he was going to keep at it.
As the match progressed, they started going to the YMCA to work out and play ball and the volunteer was ecstatic his Little was really showing interest in going. He took what he described as a “couch potato” and introduced him to new activities, and he really enjoyed it. The match ended up lasting for more than five years until the child graduated from high school. He ended up a varsity wrestler and was voted prom king his senior year. Now, he’s in college doing well and they still are a part of each other’s lives.
Big Brothers Big Sisters helps build self-confidence and empowers kids to create goals and strive to complete them. Volunteers don’t do anything extraordinary; they just give their time to a kid to show them they are important. And it only takes one hour a week.Most people have someone from their childhood they can pinpoint as an influential person in their life. I love that our volunteers are typically that person for our kids.
I can relate to some of our clients—the kids alone after school, the young moms, a working family balancing budgets and schedules.
I can relate and I can help.
So can you.
Chrystal Pearson is the former executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware County. She currently works as the Development Communications Coordinator for the Academy of Model Aeronautics Foundation.
Chris Bavender is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer. A Muncie native, she is a proud Ball State alum. Follow her on Twitter at @crbavender and Instagram @chris_bavender
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The Facing Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. The organization’s model to share stories and raise awareness is in cities across the United States focused on topics such as poverty, sex trafficking, mental health, immigration, and more. Facing Project stories are compiled into books and on the web for a community resource, used to inspire art, photography, monologues and—most importantly—community-wide awareness, dialogue, action, and change toward a more understanding and empathetic society.
This story originally appeared in Mentoring in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware County in Muncie, Indiana.