Someone to hold your hand - figuratively or literally - can be a big boost when you're growing up.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska honored two outstanding hand-holders at a reception and annual meeting on Wednesday evening at the Douglas Island Pink and Chum Hatchery. Marcia Donnelly was honored as Juneau Big Sister of the Year, and Annalee McConnell was honored as Juneau School Mentor of the Year.
"We like to celebrate our volunteers and their matches," said Marc Wheeler, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters. "This was our chance to say 'Thank you,' and this was the first year we have recognized a School Mentor."
Donnelly has been a sales associate with Century 21 Totem Properties Inc. for more than four years. She was matched in 1997, Wheeler said. When asked how Marcia had changed her life, her little sister, Louisa, wrote that Donnelly is "Someone who is a best friend and more, a friend through everything; an example of what I would like to be in the future; someone to encourage you to shoot for your hopes and dreams."
Although Louisa, 18, graduated from high school this year, and their Big Sister relationship is officially over, she and Marcia are still "best friends," Wheeler said.
Louisa's mother, Diane, said she could "go on and on for quite some time" about how Marcia has helped. "All my three kids have been in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program," Diane said. "And all of them benefited greatly by the positive reinforcement. As a single Mom working full-time, I was not always there with the positive reinforcement. And through their teen years, it was really great to have someone else to reinforce what Mom has been trying to say."
"Marcia has been a pleasure in our lives," Diane added.
Annalee McConnell serves as Gov. Tony Knowles' Director of Management and Budget. "Annalee was our second school mentor ever and has been very consistent with David, her school buddy," Wheeler said. "Annalee shows that even if you have a very hectic schedule, you can spend an hour a week with a child." Annalee was matched with David three years and a half years ago when he was beginning second grade.
"It's a delight for me to see how David has grown and to help him learn to read," McConnell said on Thursday. "It provides me a dose of reality - that there is a world of children out there. When I am working to get money for education, it's just numbers."
As MCConnell recounted at Wednesday's reception, one of her "magic moments" with David occurred when he was in third grade: "When I went into class, his back was to me. His teacher said, 'Annalee is here,' and he said, 'Yippee!' Nobody says 'yippee' when I walk into finance committee meetings. He's a great kid, and I have really enjoyed the relationship."
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.