When Anjana Gupta met her little, she had no idea the ways it would change her life.
“I’ve watched this little girl grow into a preteen,” says Anjana, a 36-year-old dentist from St. Joseph. “It’s been both terrifying and so great.”
Anjana is a volunteer with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass, an organization that pairs volunteers, called “bigs,” with at-risk youth, “littles,” in order to foster positive one-on-one relationships between the children and the volunteers.
Paired together three years ago, Anjana met her little after a social worker suggested that her little participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, as she was the daughter of a single mother who was supportive of the program.
For Anjana’s part, she had wanted to participate in the program for years, and was thrilled to be paired with her little.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters was something I always wanted to do, but I knew it was a pretty big commitment,” Anjana says. “So, I waited until it was a good time in my life, I was settled into what I was doing, I had a good work schedule, so I could dedicate the 10 to 20 hours a month needed to participate.”
The workers at Big Brothers Big Sisters work to pair volunteers with littles based on personality, and as both Anjana and her little are outgoing people, Anjana feels that they were well matched from the start.
“Our relationship was easy-peasy from the very beginning,” Anjana says. “She’s just a really great kid.”
Despite this, Anjana says that she had to work hard to build trust in her relationship with her little. She says she has spent countless hours with her little, whether by attending her school events or just going shopping and talking.
Because of the work and the time put into their relationship, Anjana said that she feels personally rewarded when her little shares big moments with her. One of the most memorable of these experiences was when her little and her little’s mother attended Anjana’s recent wedding.
“I have always said that I get just as much from this program as she does,” Anjana says. “It’s the most rewarding thing ever to watch her grow up and make good decisions, like seeing her grades improve. A child that goes through what she went through emotionally is a crossroads about what kind of life they are going to lead. And right now, she is succeeding. I’m really proud of her.”
While stories like Anjana’s may inspire people who contact the holiday giving bug to volunteer, Anjana warns that while she calls her decision to join Big Brothers Big Sisters one of the best decisions of her life, people should go into the process looking to make a year-round commitment.
“It’s a time commitment and an emotional commitment. For me, it was like having a child of my own,” she says. “Once you are in it, you can’t back out. This child needs you now. For me, once I was committed, there was no way I could turn my back on a child that needs me.”
How to give:
To donate or volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berrien and Cass, visit: bbbsofbc.org.
Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios