Mentoring builds relationships

  • During the Big Brothers Big Sisters Christmas Party at the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center in December, Sallie Sompayrac watches Emily Barnes plays air hockey with her Little. Photo by Samantha Sinclair
    During the Big Brothers Big Sisters Christmas Party at the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center in December, Sallie Sompayrac watches Emily Barnes plays air hockey with her Little. Photo by Samantha Sinclair
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    Peachtree - Sallie Sompayrac and Emily Barnes were one of the first matches for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County nearly 10 years ago.
    Today, although Barnes is a senior at Tri-County Early College High School, they are still matched, the longest-lasting one in the county. Through the school-based program, their match would have ended when Barnes reached fifth grade, but Sompayrac continued by altering it to a community-based match.
    “The bond was made,” Sompayrac said. “I felt strongly whether or not I was technically her Big Sister, I would still be in her life.”
    Most of the 92 matches in Cherokee County are school-based, in which the Big visits with their Little for one hour a week at the child’s school. They often work on schoolwork or play games.
    When the match was changed to being community-based, the two often went to bookstores, where Sompayrac would purchase books for Barnes.

Someone to listen
    They were matched after Barnes wrote a letter to Santa asking for someone to listen. Barnes was the child of a single mother who was working a lot to support the family. Then Barnes’ baby brother died shortly after her mother gave birth to him.
    “I felt like I needed more support,” Barnes said, admitting she initially envisioned that support in the form of a robot.
    The organization formed in late 2010. The two were matched in early 2011 by program coordinator Barbara Gabriel.
    “She probably couldn’t have made a more perfect match,” Sompayrac said.
    She thinks they were matched because they both had suffered loss. Her son committed suicide in 2004.
    “One of my goals was to help others so this didn’t happen to other kids,” Sompayrac said.
    She finally got the opportunity to fully engage in the goal shortly after moving to Cherokee County in 2010. She helped the new organization sell hot chocolate during the Christmas parade before being matched.
    The two bonded early, and Barnes became possessive of Sompayrac.
    “Once you get a Big, it’s more of a proud situation,” Barnes said. “You have someone there for you.”

Changing her life
    She believes Sompayrac and the organization changed her life. Before Big Brothers Big Sisters, she didn’t think she’d amount to much. She was in danger of failing her End of Grade exams and depressed from the loss of her brother.
    “I feel like I have a better perspective on life,” Barnes said. “Through Big Brothers, I found if you work hard enough, your dreams can come true.”
    Sompayrac said mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters is rewarding in many ways.
    “It teaches you about relationships,” she said.
    In fact, Sompayrac has even built a relationship with Barnes’ mother, seeing her perspective change so she is following dreams.
    It has also inspired her to be a substitute teacher. She is in the process of doing so at The Learning Center charter school in Murphy.
    However, Sompayrac thinks the biggest gift is mentoring keeps her young.
    Sompayrac also has served on the organization’s advisory board off and on since 2011. She said the organization has grown a lot since they first started and are in need of more mentors, especially male mentors for boys. Gloria Dockery, the organization’s program coordinator, said at least 60 more children could be served if they had the volunteers.
    Sompayrac is pleased with Barnes and the growth she has seen in her over the years.
    “She’s grown up to be quite the young woman,” she said. “I’m very proud of her.”

Giving back
    Barnes is already giving back to the organization as a Big.
    “I knew I’d want to be a Big, I just didn’t know I’d do it this soon,” Barnes said.
    She knew of a child who was in the program, but because of moves and other issues didn’t have a steady Big. Even though she was preparing to graduate, she wanted to help the child, especially since they already had a relationship.
    Sompayrac offered to officially take over the match when Barnes goes to college. Barnes plans to still act as the child’s Big Sister, too.
    “I was so happy she decided to give back,” Sompayrac said.
    Barnes said Sompayrac has shown her different things she can do in situations with her Little. Plus, whenever Barnes needs advice on how to deal with situations with her Little, Sompayrac is there to help.
    No matter where she continues her education – she hopes to major in zoology or wildlife biology and become a wildlife rehabilitator – she thinks she will continue to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. For details, contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cherokee County at 361-0989 or cherokee@bbbswnc.org.