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Big Brothers Big Sisters participants celebrate nearly 11 years of friendship during National Mentoring Month

By Michael Knox, Independent Tribune  Jan 19, 2017   — Haleigh Solochier and Jennifer Collins may not be sisters, but they might as well be. The two have known each other ever since Solochier was 6 and Collins was 22, when they were connected through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte.

Solochier, now 17, of Concord, met Collins, 32, of Mooresville, back in March 21, 2006, and will celebrate 11 years of friendship this March.

The two first met when Solochier was a young child, but over the years the relationship has evolved since the days Collins was “just” a mentor to Solochier.

“It’s more of a friend relationship, in that she knows she can come to me with anything,” Collins said.

Collins has been there for Solochier’s first date, her first boyfriend and her first breakup. And Solochier was there at Collins’ wedding and later, when she divorced, Solochier was there for Collins as well.

The two have even gone on a road trip to Wilmington, when Solochier wanted to check out UNC Wilmington to see about going to school to study occupational therapy before looking at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences.

And though Solochier will technically age out of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program when she turns 18 on April 21, the two have formed a bond that goes beyond the program.

“I’m still going to see her and I try to update her with my life as much as I can,” Solochier said. “I love hanging out with her.”

Connie Mueller Rheinecker, area director of Cabarrus County at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, said January is National Mentoring Month, and the relationship between Solochier and Collins a perfect example of how the Big Brothers Big Sisters program works.

“That’s what we hope to have, is to connect two people so that the child is supported and helped to grow and develop in a positive way,” Rheinecker said. “And then their relationship develops strong enough so they continue on for the rest of their life. That’s really the goal, to have someone there consistency.”

Mentoring

The consistency Collins has provided Solochier developed thanks to the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff who matched the two. When a child gets enrolled in the program they are a “little” and go through an evaluation process. Potential mentors, or “bigs,” go through the same process, and staff work to find the best matches, hoping to create a friendship.

Solochier was 6 when she got enrolled in the program, because her brother had just had brain surgery for a cyst on his brain and Solochier’s mother needed to focus on Solochier’s brother at times, leading to the need for a mentor.

Collins, whose brother had seizures when she was younger, still remembers the first time she met Solochier in 2006 and the similarities the two already had.

“Her family was like mine … a middle class family that had a younger sibling that had medical issues, so I was kind of drawn to her,” Collins said. “And she was shy so that made me even more drawn to her because, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get her out of this box, she’s not going to be shy anymore.’”

The two would go to the movies together and have sleepovers and grew as friends over time after that first encounter.

“She was very warm hearted and she was really accepting and she welcomed me with open arms so I guess that’s what drew me to her,” Solochier said.

Collins did indeed help Solochier with her shyness as well. Collins is a natural talker and whenever she would talk to someone new she made sure she included Solochier in the conversation, pushing her to come out of her shell now.

“I do not consider myself a shy person,” Solochier said. “I will go up to people randomly, just have conversations with them. I’ve opened up so much.”

The friendship has grown that Solochier wants Collins to attend her graduation ceremony when she graduates Northwest Cabarrus High School in June and Solochier is already thinking about the day she gets married and Collins is there for her.

“She is extremely important to me,” Solochier said. “I don’t just look at her as my ‘big.’”

Long term relationship

Solochier and Collins are about to celebrate 11 years of being paired together, with their 11th anniversary in April. But the relationship is a rarity Rheinecker said, showing the bond the two created. Rheinecker said the average match length for a big and a little in Cabarrus County is about three years.

And the need for more mentors is important, Rheinecker said, highlighting the fact that January is National Mentoring Month and how they served 143 kids in fiscal year 2015/2016 and have already served 150 kids in fiscal year 2016/2017, which runs from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

Rheinecker said there is actually more than 4,000 children in Cabarrus County that have been identified as needing mentors through the Kids Plus program. With providing mentors, Big Brothers Big Sisters also provides events for bigs and littles, and those events need funding.

This Saturday, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cabarrus County will be holding a fundraiser with Foster’s Grille at Concord Mills from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with Foster’s Grille donating 20 percent of proceeds from sales to Big Brothers Big Sisters for Cabarrus County program. The restaurant is located at 8520 Pit Stop Court NW, Suite 10, Concord and in order for Big Brothers Big Sisters to get the proceeds; patrons must specifically say 20 percent of their sale needs to go to the organization.

The funding will go toward helping organize events for bigs and littles, like those that Solochier and Collins attended that help bring the two together.

“We have a really great bond,” Solochier said. “I’ve never had any issues with being able to express myself to her and I feel extremely comfortable talking to her.”
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