When Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer Jessica Crossman, 28, brought up a trip to an Edinboro farm with her “little” Araja Robinson, 13, Robinson’s face lit up.
Details of the trip–a new group of baby calves, Robinson’s first raw milk experience–emerged.
“It was gross,” Robinson said of the raw milk. “It tasted all creamy.”
“She was so out of her element. It was funny,” said Crossman.
And there have been other trips, too. Robinson’s favorite was a day at Splash Lagoon spent mainly in the wave pool. The two also attend church picnics, spend afternoons at Crossman’s parents’ house in Edinboro and bake cookies together.
Their relationship, which started on Jan. 20 through Big Brothers Big Sisters, a program run by Family Services of NW PA, has blossomed into a deep friendship in just six short months.
“It’s not a chore to hang out with Araja,” said Crossman. “We have a good time. I eat more ice cream than I would otherwise.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters matches adults with youth ages six through 18, in hopes the relationship will have a positive impact on the child’s development.
Crossman, who currently works at Family Services of NW PA and previously held a role working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, said she was inspired to get involved by the enthusiasm of the “littles.”
Volunteers spend time with their “littles” at least once or twice a month. Volunteers, who must be at least 19 years old, commit to a minimum of a year with the program.
Crossman and Robinson see each other once a week and sometimes, multiple times a week.
“Initially I was concerned about the time commitment,” said Crossman. “The time commitment is still the hardest thing. I don’t have a hard time spending time with Araja.”
Because Robinson is older than a lot of youth in the program, Crossman said they often just “hang out” and attend family events or go to the YMCA.
For Robinson, the hanging out time is much-needed one-on-one time with a role model.
“With my mom, because she has four kids, she can’t just give her attention to one of them. Jess is here to replace that, so it’s fun,” said Robinson.
Robinson said her mother advocated for her to get a “big” because she wanted one when she was a child.
“She said I’m lucky to have one and I’m lucky to have Jess,” said Robinson.
Since their relationship began, Crossman has noticed significant improvements in the way Robinson reacts to other people.
“You fight less,” Crossman said to Robinson.
“Yeah, a little bit. And I’m starting to open up more,” Robinson replied.
“I would agree with that. You express yourself really well, you always have, but you’ve been able to do that with less hostility. I suspect you’ll have fewer problems in school this year because you’re able to express yourself without getting mad,” said Crossman.
Robinson’s mother has also noticed an improvement in her daughter’s grades since she started spending time with Crossman, said Erik Perrino, a marketing and public relations consultant at Family Services of NW PA.
“This program inspires a lot these kinds of bonds, but it’s only been six months,” said Perrino. “They bonded at day one.”
Perrino credits Grossman’s regular involvement in Robinson’s life with their success, but Crossman maintains that it was just a good match.
“They had Araja in mind for me,” Crossman said.
Robinson also said the match was a perfect one.
“When I first met her, I wasn’t sure I wanted a ‘big’ yet,” said Robinson. “But once it started, I loved it.”
How you can get involved:
About 100 boys and 20 girls are currently on Family Services of NW PA’s waitlist to receive “bigs” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Learn more about the program at www.fsnwpa.org/bbbs.php.
Correction: A previous version of this post identified Jessica Crossman as Jessica Grossman.