EL PASO, Texas - For 2nd Lt. Laura James, her first year in the Army has been meaningful not only for herself but to Morehead Middle School student Stephanie Garcia as well.
James and Garcia have a special relationship only a handful of people in El Paso could understand - they are each other’s “big” and “little.” James is involved in the Military Mentorship Program, part of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program in El Paso. James, who previously lived in California, said she desired to be a mentor for years.
“I wanted to do it back in Los Angeles, but I didn’t have a car, and it’s one of those programs you spend a lot of time with your little (sister),” James said.
The BBBS’ Military Mentorship Program was designed to increase the involvement of service members and military children, according to Beth Senger, founder of BBBS of El Paso and an Air Force veteran. Senger said she believes the program provides a support system for military families as they are going through life’s challenges.
“Military mentors bring something special: the ability to be resilient, face challenges, and to understand what it means to just get the job done,” Senger said. “I think when you’re working with kids who come from different walks of life, that confidence and competence every military member carries with them is a really great example for the kids.
“It’s proven to help kids with academics and to have a positive emotional and behavioral impact,” she added. “I really think the element that makes the Big Brothers and Big Sisters mentoring model so special is its emphasis on friendship and really just being there to have fun together and have someone to talk to.”
Having fun and talking are two traits of the BBBS model that James and Garcia seem to have mastered. The big and little talk with each other about different activities they can do in El Paso, such as ice skating, followed by a few slices of pizza for lunch.
Both claimed it has been awhile since they have skated, especially for the second lieutenant. They held each other’s hand as they took turns leading the other on the slippery ice, which James said was symbolic of the relationship they share.
“I think it’s good not only for the kids, but for the mentors as well,” said James, a communications officer for 212th Fires Brigade, 1st Armored Division. “I think we learn a lot from each other. As adults, we go so fast all the time that we don’t stop and think - to take a step back and do something fun.”
Garcia described her big sister as “fun to be around with, cool and funny,” but the relationship between the officer and 12-year-old is rare.
Only 28 active military members have been involved in the Military Mentorship Program, since the federal government funded the program a year ago. BBBS hopes to increase involvement in January for the new quarter.
With only a short time until then, Senger wants people to know the importance of mentoring.
“My personal philosophy is the more positive supports you can put in a child’s life, the better,” said Senger.
For more information on how to become a volunteer for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, please contact 915-544-4203.