Every year, Big Brothers Big Sisters recognizes those outstanding volunteers who have gone above and beyond as mentors. The Bigs and Littles of the Year winners are announced on Thank Your Mentor Day, part of National Mentoring Month.
Megan McCann and Marlee who have been matched for the last five (5) years. Megan has demonstrated a true dedication to her Little Sister, Marlee, guiding her through some of life’s most difficult challenges.
Justin Moran and Ethan have been matched for over nine (9) years. Justin has consistently gone above and beyond for his Little Brother, Ethan, showing a true commitment to their relationship and helping him grow into a confident and successful young man.
These are their remarkable stories.
Megan McCann and Marlee
Matched since 2017
Marlee, the middle child of five siblings, had a difficult home life. By the age of eight when she came to Big Brothers Big Sisters, she had witnessed abuse, the incarceration of both her parents, and eventually the death of her father and deportation of her mother. She and her siblings were placed in her grandmother’s custody, who, on the recommendation of her social worker, enrolled Marlee in Big Brothers Big Sisters. hoping that Marlee would find a stable role model and trusted friend who could –as Marlee now recalls– “get her out of her shell”.
Megan signed up to volunteer as a Big Sister after she graduated college and had moved back home to the Inland Empire. She reasoned, “part of my degree was in social justice, and it made me want to be involved with my community. I always wished I had someone a little older than me who I could talk to, and get advice, so yeah, I signed up and it was the best decision I ever made.”
The match was perfect! “When we met…we clicked quickly. We’re so similar in a lot of ways. We have a lot of the same interests, same quirks” Megan recounts. “Like me, at first [Marlee] was shy, but once we got to know each other, you couldn’t get us to shut up” (they both giggle as she says this).
Everything was progressing well. Both Big and Little were getting to know each other and enjoying their outings together. But all that was about to change.
One day, their Match Support Specialist received a call from Marlee informing the agency that her grandmother had passed away and she –and her siblings– had been placed in foster care.
Separated from her siblings and placed with a foster family an hour away from everything and everyone she knew, Marlee began to struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. But Megan was there for her every step of the way. Often driving to Wildomar to go on outings, texting and talking on the phone, and “journaling” to one another while they were apart. These seemingly small efforts made a huge difference for Marlee, reminding her that no matter how dark life seemed, she could count on her Big Sister to be there for her.
“I’ll be involved in Marlee’s life as long as she wants me to be.” Megan said, adding “I know she’s gone through a lot, and is going through a lot, and it’s those times that I want to be there for her.”
Marlee agreed, saying “I feel there has been a lot that’s gone on that is really difficult to talk about. At first it was hard for me to talk to anyone about stuff like that, but with [Megan] it has been a little bit easier.”
Megan continued, “we, for sure, have seen each other cry a couple times” (they both giggle knowingly).
Six months later, Marlee was placed with her uncle, Randy, who with Megan’s help, kept Marlee in our program. When asked about his reasons for coming back, he said, “Marlee has told me all about Megan. I can’t take that away from her. I met Megan and she is who I want Marlee to see as her role model.”
Megan was–unsurprisingly–ready to pick up where they left off. “All I care about when it comes to Marlee is what is best for her and what she wants” she said. “It’s important to have people in your life who can listen…to be completely unbiased…I’d like to think I can be that person for Marlee…and also to just have fun!”
Today, Marlee is excelling academically and is excited about what her future holds. She is making friends and getting out of her comfort zone by trying out for her school’s volleyball team.
Marlee, with a maturity that far surpasses her age (13) and a joy that transcends her circumstances added “I have learned to communicate more. I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t naturally advocate for myself, and [Megan] has taught me to speak up for what I need, what I want.”
These are powerful words that speak to the impact of mentoring. Yet, while we celebrate and are inspired by this remarkable story, the key to the success of mentorship is surprisingly simple.
What does it take to be a great mentor? Megan summed it up best:
“I would tell other people who want to become Bigs, that it’s okay to be imperfect. I was so worried about messing up in the beginning. About doing the wrong thing. Picking out something that she didn’t like. But what you realize is that you’re both just people…and truly, just showing up, just showing up and being consistent is the biggest part of it. And it goes both ways,” she pauses to take in the profound statement adding “the fact is, Marlee is one of the only people who has been in my life over the last five and a half years, and I’m so grateful for her.”
To take the first step to becoming a Big, visit iebigs.org.volunteer.