Lean on Me

When times get tough, Jennifer and Starr lean on each other. Jennifer was facing her second year of successful treatment for early stage cancer.  Though grueling, the process did not stunt her desire to connect with people, and the idea of a Little Sister was exciting. She had no idea what they would do together, what they would talk about or even, as Jennifer joked, if she would be “cool” enough.

“The only clear certainty was my desire to somehow be a part of something bigger than my own limited world,” Jennifer said.

Starrkieshea (or Starr, for short) was waiting outside when they first met. Her grandmother introduced her to Starr’s brothers and sister.  The kids showed Jennifer their awards and drawings, and Starr showed her the room she shared with her older sister. They made arrangements to go out to lunch the following weekend. Little did they know it would be the start of a beautiful nine year sisterhood.

In the early years of their friendship, they spent their time going to the park, festivals, plays and taking walks together. They ate pizza and talked. They were beginning to build a deeper connection. They learned about each other’s families and often spent time blending them together. Everyone seemed to fit together like a perfect puzzle. And as time went by, it was becoming clearer how much they had in common.

“We both keep our emotions close to our chests.  We like to observe people and situations.  We like to think about things.  We often roll our eyes at the same situations. We’re a good match.” Jennifer said. Starr has gone from the kid who embraced Dora the Explorer, boxed mac and cheese and Hannah Montana, into a texting teenager who’s trying Indian food and testing out vegetarianism. More recently, the two have discussed college and Starr’s future.

By her own choice, Starr gets up at 4 a.m. to take a long bus ride to Deerfield Beach High School because she wanted to be a part of their magnate program.  She also stays late most days to practice for the school’s color guard of which she is a member.  She goes home, studies and maintains an honor roll status. Sleep has become a virtual stranger.

“Jen helped me become the person who I am today, and I can’t put into words how much I truly appreciate her for always being there for me. Jen is more than my Big Sister, she’s my best friend. I can come to her for anything and talk about anything with her knowing that she won’t judge me and gives me great advice,” Starr said.

This past September Starr’s grandmother Gloria suddenly passed away just a day after being released from the hospital.  Starr lost a devoted mother figure who never ceased to fight for the grandkids she was raising as her own.  Her passing has left a void that potentially could have derailed Starr’s efforts to achieve.  But Starr has stood strong, unshaken, like her grandmother would have expected. Starr’s Aunt Gloria has now taken over at the helm. It is a difficult, painful transition. Fortunately, the family is committed to each other. “She has given just as much, if not more, to me.  Being a part of her life has certainly enhanced mine. Watching her grow up into an inquisitive, confident young woman is uplifting. She inspires me. She is a concrete, shining example of hope. I am privileged to be a part of her life,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer was nominated for Big Sister of the Year 2015

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