Sometimes the connection between a Big Buddy and a Little Buddy is palpable even from their first meeting. Such is the case with mentor Julie and her Little Buddy Esther, now 11 years old. When they were matched two years ago, Esther was a shy 4th grader. Slight in build and with a hushed voice, she appeared fragile. . However, with a beautiful smile that seemed to take up most of her face, one could see a strong spirit – just one in need of extra support. Luckily, she was blessed with parents who recognized that need and came to the Buddy Program in hopes of finding that support. Her father Felipe recounted that his father left when he was 8 years old and how he remembers sitting atop his roof looking out into the street, watching for his dad to return. When he never did, he vowed to himself to be a great father to his future children.
Julie came to the Buddy Program looking to make a meaningful connection with a young girl. Similarly soft-spoken and gentle in spirit, she made an immediate connection with Esther and her family. She describes the relationship she has formed with the family as “natural” and said, “Esther’s family opened their arms and embraced me.” Though her focus is on one-on-one time with Esther getting together to play tennis, bake, garden and play board games, Julie has spent some holidays with the family – Christmas Eve dinner one year – and sharing a blanket to watch 4th of July fireworks. She laughs remembering how she once asked Esther’s mother Paola how to make Spanish rice and instead of dictating a recipe, Paola took her into the kitchen and showed her how to prepare it right then and there.
Both Julie and Esther’s parents note the dramatic change in Esther over the past two years since she became Buddies with Julie. Felipe sees the “great impact” the relationship with Julie has had on his eldest daughter, so much so that he signed up Esther’s younger sister for the Buddy Program as well. Julie says that she has seen Esther “move through a period of anxiety and uncertainty” and “grow into a balanced, happy, and engaged” Honor Roll student who now shines on stage and travels out-of-state as an advanced-level performer with the local Folklorico Dance group. She marvels at Esther’s newfound confidence and recognizes that the relationship has challenged her to move out of her comfort zone, too. Julie says that she is grateful for the quiet, steady support that she has felt from Paola. Likewise, Esther’s family credits Julie for helping Esther to blossom. When asked what she likes best about Julie, Esther replied, without hesitation, “Julie is the best Big Buddy because she is like a fallen angel.” It is clearly mutual admiration, as Julie is quick to point out that she really considers herself to be the lucky one–to have formed this relationship with Esther and with her family that she is certain will last a lifetime.