Little Sister Laila and Big Sister Katie have been matched for nearly a decade. They first met on Laila’s eighth birthday and have been constant presences in each other’s lives. Big Sister Katie was named a godparent at her Little Sister’s Quinceañera. Little Sister Laila danced the hula at her Big Sister’s wedding, threw her a baby shower, and visited her in the hospital after she gave birth.
Katie volunteered to be a Big because she had a healthy, supportive childhood. “I grew up in an environment comprised of family, solid friendships and supportive mentors, all of whom helped shape me into who I am today,” she says. Katie recognized that she was lucky to have grown up in such a nurturing environment, and she wanted to give back.
At first, Katie and Laila bonded over little adventures like hiking and beach cleanups, and also mellow activities like baking and going out to eat. “I started as a little girl always wanting to go eat burgers and then shave ice all the time,” Laila says, but now she’s “a young lady that can just talk to my sister about boys and sister things.”
In the almost 10 years they have been matched, Laila has had to overcome a lot, Katie says. “Each step along the way, we’ve stayed close and she has always been open and honest with everything going on. I have seen her face many obstacles in life.”
In her teen years, Laila wrestled with self-esteem issues. She was bullied and she began doing poorly in her classes. She started hanging out with the wrong crowd. She refused to give up on herself, though, and Katie helped her through her toughest times. “I think a sister is a woman that’s always there for you and lifting you up at your lowest,” Laila says. Knowing she had to make the decisions that would lead to a positive future, Little Sister Laila moved to Oahu to participate in the Hawaii National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe program. Youth ChalleNGe is an intense, 17-and-a-half-month program for at-risk youth. “She has had to make the hard choice of actively changing friends so she can surround herself with positive influences,” Katie says. When Laila earned her diploma last May, two people were permitted to fly to Oahu to attend the graduation ceremony. Laila’s mom, of course, made the trip. So did her Big Sister.