Interview conducted by Emma Silber
“Love doesn’t explain the feelings I have for this Wonder Woman! She is my hero, my guidance, my mentor, my mother, my sister, my everything!”
“Without getting too emotional … I feel like I would’ve ended up being such a different human being, and not in a good way, [if it weren’t for my sister],” exclaimed Syvonne Collins (nee Baron), a former Little Sister in the JCS Big Brother Big Sister Program (BBBS), teary-eyed as she recounted the impactful, close relationship that was formed with her Big Sister, Debbie Levy.
Syvonne Collins was just 10 years old when her single dad of four introduced her to the Jewish Community Services Big Brother Big Sister Program. Syvonne was paired with Debbie Levy. They both had similar backgrounds, being raised by single fathers who never remarried. Fortunately, Debbie was there for Syvonne when she felt motherless or needed female guidance.
Now, with a five-year-old son and one-and-a-half year old twins (1 boy and 1 girl), Syvonne reflects on this life-changing experience and how it shaped her into the person she is today.
When asked what the most memorable experience was as a part of the Big Brother Big Sister Program, Syvonne explained how special it made her feel to be featured in the Big Brother Big Sister League brochure. The professional photographs are a keepsake that she still has saved today.
During the BBBS Program, Debbie planned a variety of fun excursions for the pair including eating out at nice restaurants, going to the aquarium, and hosting sleepovers. “We become so close,” Syvonne said as she shared how she even used to hang out with Debbie’s boyfriend, now her husband. Syvonne felt as though she was truly a part of the family.
The relationship only grew stronger as time went on. “Because I had a lot of struggles with my mom growing up… my sister was actually the one who came with me to get my wedding dress. She bought my wedding dress for me. And this is someone who didn’t need to sign up to do any of this.” Not only did Debbie speak at Syvonne’s wedding, but she was also in the room 5 years ago when Syvonne gave birth to her beautiful baby boy. Debbie, a mother figure to Syvonne, advocated for her and made sure the doctors were taking great care of her throughout the whole process. As a testament to how close the sisters truly are, Syvonne’s children are named after Debbie’s family members – Nathan Ian after Debbie’s mother, Ida, as well as Nora Finley and Nolan Finn after Debbie’s father, Frank. Debbie and her husband are “Nana” and “Pop Pop” to Syvonne’s little ones.
Through the happy and the sad, Debbie and Syvonne have always been each other’s support team, along with a shoulder to cry on for one another. Since Syvonne worked as a hairdresser before becoming a stay-at-home mom, she frequently visited Debbie’s Dad, Frank, to cut his hair. One day, while on her way to give him a haircut, Syvonne found out that he had unfortunately passed away. Syvonne was able to be by Debbie’s side during this heart-wrenching moment and be her support as she grieved the loss of her beloved father.
Syvonne says the BBBS program was truly a “beneficial life-altering experience.” As a recommendation to others who would like to become a Big, Syvonne notes:
“It definitely takes a special person to fit those shoes. You have to devote your time and remember as an adult these kids are not getting something at home or they’re not getting the emotional feelings of what big brothers and big sisters give.”
Syvonne also mentioned that open communication between the Little’s guardian(s) and Big is key to a successful pairing. “Patience is important. You have to take your time and realize that it’s not personal if they’re not into it or approachable at first. You’re still a stranger. But if you can do all of that, if you can get past that, just like any new relationship… then it’s great for both parties.” While it took some time to get close to her Big Sister at first, Debbie never gave up. An initial devotion of one day per week in the program turned into a lifelong bond.
For more information on the JCS Jewish Big Brother Big Sister program, visit https://jcsbalt.org/be-a-big/.
Emma Silber is a Communications Specialist at Jewish Community Services.
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.