September is Big Brother, Big Sister month across Canada. Seventeen years ago, this organization changed my life.

I was a university student balancing a full course load with a part-time job and a long distance boyfriend. Life was sweet. I had it all and was smart enough to know it, so I decided to give back.

I contacted the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in my hometown. I knew I could work with children because really, I was one (and still am).  This was something I could do.

The three-hour intake assessment was like an informal job interview. I underwent police checks and discussed difficult topics. It was an intense process but it only confirmed what I already knew: becoming a Big Sister wasn’t a glorified baby sitting position. This was truly about making a connection with a child who simply needs a friend.

Within 30 minutes of the interviewer leaving my home, he called me back. He had two children on the wait list and he wanted me to choose. It was a bit like finding a litter of kittens and trying to pick just one. He read me two bios. The one that got me like a kick in my heart was a five-year-old girl named Morgan who liked to play Barbies, dress up, ballet dance and read Robert Munsch books. Who in their right mind doesn’t enjoy these things? She was a mini-me. I was hooked before I ever laid eyes on my Little Sister.

We met on Valentine’s Day. Morgan hid behind the couch in her Mom’s basement apartment, but one Disney movie and several Barbie outfit changes later, were best friends. Morgan’s mother was a devoted single mom who worked full-time and wanted me to help build her daughter’s self-esteem and give her another adult to talk too. What an honour.

Every other weekend, for a few hours, Morgan and I packed in as much quality time as we could muster. There were picnics and park-a-thons, where we’d visit as many jungle gyms as we could in a day. I kept purple sunglasses in my car just for her for our road trips. We went from crayons in colouring books to painting our fingernails, and we talked about life stuff. We skated at Maple Leaf Gardens, dressed up for the theatre and conquered roller coasters together. But the good times were the little things, like going to her school and reading to her class so she could show off her Big Sister, as well as Halloween and birthday parties, Christmas surprises and matching hair cuts or being there for her Confirmation and handing her the cross my grandmother once gave to me.

We were often mistaken as real sisters because we looked alike. The truth is, we became sisters. Through the years, our story continued. Morgan led me down the aisle when I married my boyfriend, and she skipped her senior exams to be at my bedside when I was fighting for my life. I was there for her Mom’s wedding and to say goodbye to her Oma.

Now my Little Sister is a wife and mother, with a little girl of her own.  We live provinces apart. Months go between words but that’s okay, because she has the self-esteem to be proud of herself.

Without a doubt, being a Big Sister made me a better person. Morgan was worth it.