GARDNER — When Coleen Davis first met her “Little Sister” Carrie, the first grader had trust issues.
She was smart and cheery, but needed regular reassurance that her “Big Sister” Davis would show up for lunch the next week.
Now, five years later, Carrie trusts that her Big Sister will always be there, and was recently elected to the student council at Saratoga School in Morris.
“I’m so proud of her,” Davis said. “In those five years, I hope I had a small part in her success.”
Davis, of Gardner, was recently named Big Sister of the Year in Illinois. The award is a point of pride for Davis, but she said that she isn’t in it for the accolades.
“Growing up, my father always taught us to give back to the community,” she said. “That’s something that really stuck with me.”
Davis, former executive director of the United Way of Grundy County and chief developer of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, was one of the first volunteers in the Lunch Buddies program, in which a mentor is paired with a child facing adversity.
According to Lisa Morel Las, CEO of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, the program benefits both kids and volunteers alike.
“It’s a very rewarding experience,” Las said. “Volunteers come to help a child, but in the end they end up helping each other.”
That’s a sentiment that rings true for Davis, too, and she urges others to become mentors.
“It only takes 30 minutes to change a child’s life,” Davis said.
Bigs of the Year are nominated from each county and chosen using performance-based criteria, such as demonstrating a significant impact for the Little.
This year, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White participated in the selection process.
“I’m really honored and humbled,” Davis said.
Pat Ferrell, of Peoria, was the Illinois Big Brother of the Year.
Though the award is a source of pride for Davis, she said the chance to spend time with Carrie is the most rewarding part of her experience.
“Carrie is just the brightest, sweetest, funniest little girl I’ve ever met,” Davis said.
“Carrie is the award.”