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A place to belong, for big and little 

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.

BIG AND LITTLE: Nossaman (right) and her "little," Amaaria. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • BIG AND LITTLE: Nossaman (right) and her "little," Amaaria.

There was a moment when Sherry Nossaman knew she'd made the right choice to take on her 10-year-old "little sister" Amaaria through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas. Back in October 2014, having persevered through a long vetting and rigorous background check process, Nossaman was nervously trying to plan their first outing together. Nossaman called up Amaaria and asked if she'd like to go to the playground in Riverfront Park in Little Rock and then get something to eat.

"Her first comment was, 'Well, that depends. Are you actually going to play on the playground with me or just watch me?' " Nossaman recalled with a chuckle. "I thought that was an intelligent question. It made me like her spunk from the beginning."

A 52-year old mother to three boys and a recent grandmother, Nossaman said she felt her wish to play with children wasn't over as her youngest neared the time when he would head off to college. With her grandchild too young to really enjoy the playground yet, a friend recommended Nossaman look into Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.

"I knew about the program through her and how good it was for everybody involved," she said, "so I had a feeling that once my kids were grown and gone, that would be something I would want to do. When my last child left for college, that was the perfect time for me to sign up."

Nossaman said the training and vetting process involved helped her to become more comfortable with the idea of being a mentor to a child. During interviews, she was asked about her reasons for wanting to join the program, and answered questions about what her responses might be to a series of real-life crises that could arise while hanging out with her "little."

"They're kind of getting a feel for your responses to things that really could happen as you spend time with your little," she said.

Nossaman said the training she received included a number of strict guidelines, such as having no sleepovers at the big's house for a year, seeking parental approval for all outings, and the like. The booklet given to her by Big Brothers Big Sisters also makes helpful recommendations on activities, including going on as many free or low-cost outings as you can, to keep children from feeling like their time with their big brother or sister is an extravagance their family can't afford.

When she signed up, Nossaman had requested a young little sister, because she believed there would be more activities they could potentially do together. She soon found that there's a real need for bigs for older littles such as Amaaria. "Everybody asks for the younger ones," Nossaman said.

Tonya Meeks-Fitzgerald is Amaaria's mother. A single mom raising three kids, she's had all three of her children in Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"I had my oldest daughter in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program," she said. "I really did enjoy the program because at the time, she was an only child. She always hung out with me and her grandmother all the time, and I just wanted kind of an outside influence."

"It kind of opens them up to meet new people, and there are some things that their Big Brothers and Big Sisters do that I don't do," she said. "I don't hike, I don't do other things. So it's a way to give them things that I wouldn't be able to give to them."

Now 11 and paired with Nossaman for the past 14 months, Amaaria says she loves their outings. Together, they've climbed Pinnacle Mountain, gone swimming, played miniature golf, gone out to movies and restaurants, and visited almost every public park in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

"I just wanted somebody to hang out with," Amaaria said. "My sister wouldn't hang out with me, so my momma decided to get me a big sister. ... It feels good to have somebody to hang out with. I don't have to sit around in my house and just do nothing all the time."

As a mother, Nossaman knows the big impact a little attention and time from an outside source can have on a child's life. She said she hopes her time with Amaaria builds the girl's self-esteem, and teaches her to work hard to realize her dreams.

"It allows that child to have some one-on-one time, and reinforces what the parents are probably telling them: that they're special, they're talented, they have gifts that we're seeing come out as they get older, and if they work hard, they can improve their life and make it really outstanding," Nossaman said. "There's been a couple times when I've seen her get that little glimmer in her eye and realize: 'Wow! I did do good!' You could see that little spark."

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas has offices in North Little Rock, Conway and Russellville. For more information on how to contribute or to be a Big Brother or Big Sister, call 501-374-6661 or visit its website, bbbsca.org.

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