When I came to work for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, I contemplated which program I could support as a volunteer. Would I spend an hour a week having lunch with a Little Sister at school or weekends heading to Skyzone to burn off energy with a young girl in need of a positive female role model? Would I join a group, a good social opportunity for myself and a match in Friend 2 Friend? I debated, seriously and for a long time. Which program would allow me to have the most impact and feel that I was truly making a difference in an individual’s life?
Then, I came across the wait list for the Friend 2 Friend Community Program and saw a former Ramah camper on the list. I immediately found the answer. I would coordinate with the Friend 2 Friend program and work as hard as possible to be matched with Melissa. Melissa and I had spent many summers together at camp, where I served as staff for over a decade. Summer after summer, I watched her grow up.
Friend 2 Friend serves adults with varying disabilities such as cognitive and developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, mild mental illness, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Traumatic Brain Injury. In the Community program, Friends get together from once to a few times per month and spend time doing activities they mutually enjoy: sharing a meal, visiting a museum, seeing a baseball game, bowling.
Eventually, Melissa and I were matched. At our first Friend 2 Friend meeting, she came running down the hall screaming “Lee, you’re my sister, my twin sister!” I knew our time together would be special. Without a doubt, I had made the right decision.
Melissa and I have done a few activities since being matched in the program. We’ve enjoyed going for manicures, eating healthy foods and enjoying the occasional dessert. We even danced up at storm at the Friend 2 Friend Chanukah Party.
This month, though, we decided to do something different: An evening of cooking dinner at my house, taking the dog for a walk and painting our nails. We were not going out to do activities, rather staying in and laying low.
In the car ride home from my office, we talked a lot about her recent trip to Israel with her Ramah friends, the weather and all her new lip glosses. I learned about upcoming birthdays, more about her sister’s wedding and events at her group home. And then, there was silence. At first it was a bit awkward. Was I supposed to ask more questions? I had spent the last 20 minutes asking questions with Melissa answering them. So we sat in silence as we drove. While the silence felt awkward to me, it was clear that Melissa was fine. Truthfully, she does not have the social awareness to associate silence with “awkward.” (I could write a whole other blog post about how a little bit more silence in our lives may be a good thing.) She sat there smiling, watching the cars go by and taking in everything on the roads.
Once we got home, we discussed our dinner plans. It was going to be a healthy dinner of chicken fajitas with lots of vegetables. (Melissa pointed out that is must be healthy as there was broccoli in it.) She continued to tell me about all the new, healthy foods she was eating and about all the good food she ate in Israel. And, as we finished eating, we found ourselves in silence again. This time, with the Beach Boy’s, her favorite band, playing in the background. This time the silence was less awkward.
Just as I realized that sometimes it is actually about sitting there and being with each other and not having to say a word, Melissa began to sing along, at the top of her lungs, with the Beach Boys.
– Leora Kimmel Greene, Development Officer