SRU student named Big Sister of the Year by helping Canton child thrive
Jasmine Clark, a Slippery Rock University junior recreational therapy major, was named Big Sister of the Year by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Summit, Medina and Stark Counties.
Jan. 10, 2022
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — When Jasmine Clark was going away to college, a child that she had been mentoring in her hometown of Canton, Ohio, was making a transition of her own to middle school. Clark, who is now a junior recreational therapy major at Slippery Rock University, is glad she continued the relationship through Big Brothers Big Sisters in Ohio despite having to make the nearly two-hour drive twice a month.
"I didn't want her going through that change without someone who has supported her," said Clark, who was first matched with her mentee when Clark was a high school sophomore and her "little" was a second grader. "I didn't think that was fair to her to lose that support and have to start a new relationship with another mentor."
Others have taken notice of Clark's volunteer work, not only her commitment to her mentee and frequent trips from Slippery Rock to Canton, but what she means to the program and her community. Clark was named the 2021 Big Sister of the Year by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Summit, Medina and Stark Counties. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national nonprofit organization that facilitates one-to-one mentoring relationships for children facing adversity.
"I am extremely pleased with Jasmine and the work that she is doing in her community," said Kyle Putinski, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sister of Summit, Medina and Stark Counties. "Jasmine exemplifies the values of Slippery Rock University and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is an asset to our community."
"(This program) has been a really good fit for me," Clark said. "I love working with children, and making a lasting impact on the child's life and creating a lasting bond has meant a lot to me."
Clark was admittedly shy when she was matched with her "little sister" in 2017, but together they've both developed during the last five years.
"She was a very little girl and I really had to step up and put myself out there to connect with her," Clark said. "It was definitely a challenge for me, but it helped me start to open up with own my peers and making friends. I've been mentoring her, but, in a way, she's also mentoring me by (giving me the benefits) of what I give to her."
Clark picks up her "little sister" twice a month and they enjoy activities together, such as going to restaurants, bowling, visiting a trampoline park or playing laser tag, anything that her mentee would not otherwise have the opportunity to do. Many of the children enrolled in Big Brothers Big Sisters come from single-parent families, they might not have siblings or they might face adversity, such as socio-economic disadvantages, they might have a disability or they might have encountered bullying at school.
"Over the years, I've noticed her change," said Clark of her "little sister" who is now 12. "She opens up a lot more. We have fantastic conversations, and she has the tools to interact with her peers in a healthy way. And when people aren't being nice to her, she knows what to do about it. I usually tell her to, first off, treat people the way that you want to be treated, but also, if someone's being mean to you, it's OK to walk away from that friendship and that you deserve to be treated better."
Although Clark's "little sister" will eventually age out of the program when she's 18, participants are encouraged to continue their friendships.
"I plan to have a lifelong friendship with her," Clark said. "I think that she is becoming such a smart and strong woman, and I just can't wait to see where she goes in life."
As for herself, Clark plans to become a recreational therapist and she said this experience will benefit her career.
"People who need recreational therapy are facing some type of adversity and my experience (as a Big Sister) has taught me how to be more compassionate and how to validate someone's feelings, which is very important," Clark said.
Clark encourages other people to become "bigs," as she has helped recruit others into the program.
"It's a program that works, it's meaningful for everyone involved and there is always a need for 'bigs,'" Clarks said. "People should absolutely consider this because it really impacts a child's life."
More information about Big Brothers Big Sisters is available online at www.bbbs.org.
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