CAMDEN — It takes exactly two spins around in an office chair for Kylee, 10, to get over being shy. “I love doing this,” she says, whipping around in her little leggings and neon sneakers.
“She makes me dizzy.” Behind her sitting at her office desk is her friend and mentor, Jessica Fossett, who is the school-based manager of Big Brothers Big Sister of Mid Maine.
It took Jessica about a year in her role at BBBS to consider becoming a “Big,” the term for a Big Sister to an elementary and middle-school aged “Little.”
When BBBS first matched them up, Kylee admitted, "I was a little nervous."
Jessica said, "I was a little nervous, too. Like ‘Will she like me? Will she pick me?’"
"I knew," Kylee answered.
Jessica added, "When I called her mom up to make the first plan to hang out together, Kylee's mom said, 'Welcome to the family.’"
The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine has always been pretty straightforward: “to provide children in Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Somerset and Waldo vounties facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported 1-to-1 relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”
Jessica runs the after-school program at BBBS Mid-Maine. Her role is to pair high school and college students with elementary and middle school students from Knox, Lincoln and part of Waldo counties. They all get together an hour a day a week at various schools and get to know each other better over board games and snacks.This is only one of BBBS Mid-Maine programs. All told, there are approximately 100 matches in the Midcoast.
For Kylee, who has an older brother but no sisters, BBBS filled a real need: “I wanted a big sister really bad and I have for a long time, so I asked my mom and she signed me up. Then [BBBS] chose Jess and we pretty much like to do the same things."
We take a walk around Camden as Kylee comfortably chatters away. We walk by the bare bushes lining the corner of Main Street and Atlantic Avenue by the library, where dozens of birds are nestled inside, tweeting away like a real-life Twitter. When I comment on that, Kylee shoots me a joke.
“Why did the birds get in trouble? Because they were tweeting too much on their phones,” she says.
"It took me about a year working at BBBS, before I realized I really wanted to become a ‘Big’ myself,” said Jessica. “I have brothers and was the youngest and nobody showed me how to wear makeup. Nobody did those things I think every girl should have. It's really rewarding to feel like someone is looking up to you...."
Hearing that, Kylee stands on her tiptoes and tries to look directly up to Jessica. "Literally and figuratively..." Jessica continues laughing. "I think it's really great to have a little friend. Kylee and I are so similar, we're both so sassy. She's worse than me if you can believe that. And we both like really goofy humor and I love that we can laugh about things together. She even makes up her own jokes."
"Why was the playing card laughing?" Kylee breaks in. "Because it was the Joker!"
They’ve only been matched a few months, but meet up about once or twice a week and like to go shopping, swimming, and anything to do with fitness.
"We go to the library and usually we try to find books on how to do stuff," said Kylee. "We were thinking about if we had our own restaurant, what would it be?"
They came up with the idea of an animal-themed restaurant one day after having lunch at Bricks and drawing with crayons on the place mats.
"Everything would be about animals, even like the food. My aunt makes this kitty litterbox cake, and it was really good," said Kylee, implying of course, that it would be on the menu.
“I looked at the menu we drew and we had Meow-tain Dew listed under drinks,” added Jessica.
When asked what she likes most about being Jessica’s Little, Kylee answers, “I look forward to seeing her and playing games. I can't wait ‘til the spring so we can do more outdoor things.” They’re both looking forward to camping this summer.
“It's cool to show her new things,” said Jessica. “I play ice hockey in the women's league, so at her birthday party, I got Kylee and her friends to play with one of my hockey sticks and a ball. I just like giving her a chance to try new things.”
As we make our way down to the harbor, Kylee spies the ducks and gets excited about one in particular, a white duck with the pouffy mullet.
"I'm going to name this one, Bob," Kylee says.
Jessica elaborates on the topic we were just discussing. “I like to show her I'm proud of her. Recently, she got to go skiing go on the chairlift for the first time. I remember I was always scared of that when I was a kid so I told her I was so proud of her.”
Even though they’ve only been friends for a few months, Jessica and Kylee have forged a bond they both hope will last a lifetime. “BBBS asks for a year commitment from the Bigs, but the positive impact will last forever. Like I tell Kylee, I hope I can go to her wedding someday."
Kylee looks up at her and smiles.
To learn how to become a Big or to volunteer for their Bowl For Kids’ Sake Fundraiser, visit: Big Brothers Big Sisters Mid-Maine.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com