After Spring Break, TaMarah and I kept having scheduling conflicts (who knew a six year old had such a social scene?). Four phone calls and a three emails later, TaMarah’s mom and I decided that I would take TaMarah to her school carnival. Tickets in hand, we walked into the school and TaMarah’s jaw dropped—a moon bounce, cotton candy, ice cream, face painting, Wii, games galore in the gym, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To say TaMarah was excited would have been an understatement. Not long after getting there, we had run into all her best friends and their parents. All night, we scurried around making sure we hit all the hot spots (some multiple times).

Three hours of fun and we were worn out, so we headed home. I walked her in and I started chatting with her mom about her upcoming wedding. We talked for about 40 minutes about the decorations, her dress, and all that jazz. As I got in the car to leave, I came to a realization that big sibs is more than just hanging out with your little sib once a week. It is about truly becoming part of their lives, building a relationship with them and their family.

With my sorority big sis weekend coming up, I found it really difficult to schedule a time to hang out with TaMarah this week. I even contemplated skipping a week, but then I reminded myself I had a commitment to Madison House and TaMarah and I needed to honor it. Since I was short on time, I decided to take her out to dinner. Chili’s had always been one of my favorite places as a child. Getting to coloring at the table—who wouldn’t LOVE this?

This was TaMarah’s response: “I don’t like that place.”

“Are you sure? They have chicken fingers. Don’t you like those?”

“Yea I guess.”

Kids’ ability to reject anything foreign will never cease to perplex me. When we got there we livened up the whole place, skipping to the restroom, entertaining our waitress, and coloring (of course). And who would’ve thought…she ate all of her chicken fingers.

Since we finished dinner early, we went to her school to play on the playground. We ran around and she showed me all her “tricks.” She is quite the little monkey. After letting out some energy, we went back to her house and I promised to see her next week.

With February 14th around the corner, we had to celebrate. TaMarah is at the age where Valentine’s Day is like Halloween filled with sweets, presents, and even secret admirers. Decorating cookies and making lovebugs—a perfect plan.

love bug

Since I ran out of time to get icing and sprinkles, we stopped by Kroger. Who would’ve thought self-checkout would be the highlight of the day?

As we headed back to the car, she grabbed my hand and said, “I missed you, Berkley.”

“Missed you too, TaMarah. Luckily, we get to hang out every week now.”

Our cookies were filled with hearts, princess sprinkles, x’s and o’s, and enough sugar to make anyone bounce off the wall with energy. Well that’s probably an understatement. After we made our craft and colored for a while TaMarah did somersaults on the couch between each gluing.


With our extra time, she painted my nails…only to be surprised by the rental company and potential new residents. Let me tell you they were impressed by my manicure of about 15 colors.  Even though we just hung out at my apartment and were interrupted, TaMarah and I had fun hanging out, probably partly because of our sugar highs!

When I came back to school after break, I was suddenly bombarded with rush, new classes, buying books, seeing friends I missed over break, and basically getting back into the swing of things. I am sad to say that one of the last things I got around to was seeing TaMarah. I don’t know why this was—maybe it was the idea of having to plan an event and entertain a six year old for an extended period of time, maybe I thought it would be awkward after a break of sparse communication, honestly I don’t know.

However, once I got my life in order, I called her mom and set up a time to hang out. We decided on a weekday after school. It seemed like a great plan until I remembered the timing pitfalls of riding the school bus. After playing hairstylist for 30 minutes with her friends at her apartment building, twin preschoolers, she finally arrived home. Immediately when she saw me, she sprinted from the bus screaming my name. That was a GREAT feeling! I had missed her too!

For the day I had planned for us to see Chronicles of Narnia. I remembered loving when my mom read the books to me as a child; however, TaMarah was not quite as excited. Dragons, sea urchins, and weird beasts…What was I thinking? Let’s just say we didn’t make it to the end of the movie. Instead of watching the end (it was too scary!), we went to get hot cocoa and warm up. Sitting at the coffee house was simple, unplanned, and easy.  Sometimes you can’t plan everything exactly within a schedule, but it always works out in the end. TaMarah helps me realize this every time I get to hang out with her—her ceaseless joy and enthusiasm are a welcome respite to my college life and hectic scheduling.

Anne Scharff Bacon graduated in 1991 with a major in psychology and a minor in history. She served as volunteer director for the Arts Council of Fairfax County before returning to school to get her master’s degree in public policy from the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke. Since then, she has been involved in economic, workforce and social policy issues in North Carolina. She has worked in the Governor’s Office, Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Human Services and (now) as senior director for workforce development at the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.

The first time I met Joy,* she sang to me.

Lean on me.  When you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…

She had just gone on a field trip with her class to sing this song, and now I was being serenaded by a six-year-old with a big, semi-toothless grin.

It was a great omen.  For the next three years, we would carve pumpkins together, go to Madison House Big/Little Sibling parties, play with her sister and friends on the playground, hang out with my dorm-mates and apartment-mates, celebrate birthdays, make brownies, take lots of pictures, etc.  She came home with me to Reston, VA one weekend in the summer, and Joy loved it when I took her to visit the National Zoo.

We had a lot of fun, but I also learned a lot from the experience.  Namely, how naïve I was about the world, and that it’s a lot more dangerous than I thought.

When I started to walk home to my dorm from Joy’s home one fall evening, as the sun was starting to set, a police car slowed beside me, and the window rolled down.  “Ma’am, do you realize why there are bars on the windows around here?  You should not be walking around this area by yourself.”

When she was about nine, her mother was shot and killed.  I tried to be as supportive as I could, but what could I say that would help?  This was her mother.

I wish I could have been there for Joy to lean on me more, but she moved during my fourth year.  We kept writing for a while.  When I drove from Fairfax to Portsmouth, VA to visit her at her new home as planned, she wasn’t there.  We lost touch.

I wish I could see Joy now.  (She’s now 29.)  She had a special spark, and I figure if anyone had the spunk to avoid becoming another statistic, it would be her.  She would be the one that others would lean on.

*Name changed.

Apple picking is the perfect fall activity. Up on Carter’s Mountain, the brisk breeze and the changing leaves almost seem to envelop you. When I heard about Big Siblings going apple picking, I immediately told TaMarah that we HAD to go. Driving for about 20 minutes was like a lifetime for a 6 year old, prompting many “are we there yet?”s.  But once we started picking apples, TaMarah proudly proclaimed that it was “all worth it.”

We skipped around hand-in-hand picking delicious apples, and jumping to reach the best ones.  Happening upon rotten, bug-infested apples, in synchrony we exclaimed “ewwww” and bent down to get a better view, then promptly jumping backward in disgust. We decided that we should avoid all apples that had bugs—such a great life lesson.

After TaMarah was worn out from apple picking, she hopped on my back and we (I) trudged up the hill. After only a few dropped flip-flops, we made it to the apple donuts that Madison House provided. Let’s just say that we got our fill—or maybe more. On sugar highs, we scampered to the wooden apple and stuck our heads in the hole pretending to be the caterpillar and snapping photos.

When we tired of that, we went to the pumpkin patch and TaMarah decided it would be a good idea to use the pumpkins as a balance beam. Holding on to my arm, she teetered over the lines of pumpkins. After the whirlwind of activity, we quenched our thirst with some apple cider, and then decided to head back home, while blasting none other than Hannah Montana.

Check out our latest post below, written by UVA grad, Brian Yacker. Brian graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce at UVA in 1988. He went on to study law at Indiana University, School of Law in 1989. Currently, Brian lives in Long Beach, California and is a partner at Windes & McClaughry, and specializes in exempt organization law. While an undergrad, Brian served in the Big Sibling program with Madison House for all four years. Look out for more alumni stories coming soon!

While I was on the Grounds as an undergrad way back when, I volunteered with Madison House the entire time. From my first year when I volunteered as a Big Brother through my fourth year when I was still a Big Brother and also a Big Brother Program Director, I immensely benefitted from my experiences volunteering at Madison House.

As a Big Brother, I was matched with the same Little Brother all four years that I participated in the program. His name was John and I believe he was 8 years young when we were first matched. John was rather reserved at first around me, but when he got comfortable with me, he became a real motor mouth. John did not know his Dad, he and his many siblings were being raised by his Mom.

I had a wonderful four years with John, pretty much seeing him once a week, even during the high-stress times of finals, job interviewing, or Commerce School presentations. Some of our favorite activities were bowling, throwing a football in the park near his apartment, attending Hoos’ sporting events, shooting hoops, walking around the Corner or the mall, and listening to music (I exposed John to heavy metal and he exposed me to rap).

I am certain that I would not be the person I am today if not for the opportunity to interact with John while I was a student at the finest university in America.

Hanging out with TaMarah is like second nature; now I just pick her up and we head off for our weekly adventures. For our second outing, we decided to hang out at my apartment. I had gotten brownie mix and watercolors, thinking that this would definitely entertain us for three hours. However, I soon learned that the attention span of a six-year old was about 10 minutes.

Like any smart girl, TaMarah asked if she could paint while I baked the brownies for her.  Painting pictures of all our favorite things like butterflies, flowers, and horses occupied us for a bit, but the next thing I knew, she was scurrying off to my room to find some more entertainment… now what were we going to do?  Eyeing my nails, I suggested painting our nails. WOW—that a success.  OF COURSE she wanted to paint her nails, but only if she could paint hers by herself.  The end result: every nail a different color and nail polish all over her hands and feet.

After painting my nails (and hands) orange and pink, we went back to our original icebreaker: Hannah Montana.  We attempted to learn the Hoedown Throwdown from YouTube. Sadly, I don’t think we did it justice. I was rapidly running out of things to do and TaMarah was on a sugar-high from her brownie. Luckily, Photobooth came to the rescue.  As we sat at my computer pretending to be zombies, riding a rollercoaster, and morphing our faces, I realized this year was going to be a whirlwind with TaMarah, definitely filled with attitude (direct quote: “don’t call me chica, call me gurl) and of course, laughter.

roller coaster

Today was my first day as a Big Sibling. The hardest part was the initial meeting. Driving to TaMarah’s house, all I knew was her mother’s voice and that her favorite color was pink. In training, we had heard a range of anecdotes, so I didn’t know what to expect in the least.

As I walked up to her door, a six-year old glued to her mom’s side greeted me. As I began to introduce myself, she hid her face from me. I could tell she was nervous—if only she knew I was just as nervous as her. Luckily, as her mom bragged about how she had received an award at school for being the “most respectful,” she opened up, and begged her mom and I to play with her outside. Within minutes of my arrival, we had whipped out the hula-hoop, jump rope, and drawn hopscotch. I knew that the seemingly shy girl was in fact rambunctious.

After hitting it off on our first meeting, I decided to take her to the Mid-Autumn Carnival. Our first time, just us two, was made easier with a little help from Hannah Montana. Blasting “Party in the USA,” we moved right passed the initial awkwardness.

face paint

At the carnival, we got tattoos and played games. I think that the people running the dunking booth were thoroughly soaked after we left. (Not being able to hit the target hard enough, TaMarah took matters into her own hands, and ran up and hit the target making the dunkee fall in the water.) After an afternoon at the carnival, TaMarah was wiped out and pleaded for a piggyback ride back to the car. Walking down the corner with her on my back, I knew that we were going to get along great.

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