Sandy Tsang recalled feeling both excited and nervous at her first meeting with 11-year-old Vivian in August 2019. The meeting, through Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of New York City, was one step in the process of determining whether they would make a good mentor-mentee pairing.
“Vivian had the opportunity to say no to me,” Tsang explained to BKReader, about her anxiety at their first meeting.
Vivian and her parent said yes to the pairing. The two, both from Brooklyn, quickly built a rapport over their shared Chinese-American heritage as first-generation Americans.
For more than a century, BBBS of NYC has been matching young people with adults in the largest mentoring program in the nation. Pairings are based on factors that include common interests and goals. All the parties involved—program manager, parent, child and mentor—must agree to move forward.
For Asia Pacific American Heritage Month, the organization is celebrating “the rich culture, history, and traditions that the Asian American and Pacific Islanders add to our City.” BBBS is highlighting the “bigs” and “littles” of Asian heritage in its mentorship program.
Tsang signed up for the program with the aim of helping her mentee to see new opportunities in life, grow as an individual, and become who she wants to be. Tsang, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said she was not necessarily looking for a Chinese-American little sister.
“But I think it was nicely matched because I’m able to communicate with her parent,” she added. Tsang is well-positioned to help facilitate the assimilation process.
The big sister has attended parent-teacher conferences at Vivian’s school to translate for her little sister’s parent and to keep track of Vivian’s progress.
“It’s nice to have Sandy as my big sister,” Vivian told BKReader.
The fifth grader said her mom signed her up for the program to “have fun and learn things.”
Tsang wants Vivian to discover who she is and to feel comfortable with what she wants to do.
“I give her just a nudge, here and there,” she explained. “I provide support in walking Vivian through different options. She finds information before making any decisions.”
Right now, Vivian has an interest in exploring a veterinary career. “That’s one of my options,” she stated.
Tsang has also been working on helping Vivian to overcome her shyness “at her own pace.” For example, during a trip to Shake Shack, Vivian was too shy to place her menu order. Tsang built up Vivian’s confidence and encouraged her to order meals for both of them at their next lunch meeting at Dave & Buster’s.
“She’s coming out of her shell a lot,” Tsang said. “I am really proud of her. Vivian reminds me of when I was a kid.”
During their first year together, Vivian has blossomed. “She’s willing to try things and explore, even though she might be uncomfortable at first. Vivian is willing to take a risk and to figure things out on her own,” the big sister said glowingly.
The relationship has also been rewarding for Tsang, who has three older sisters in her family and always wanted a little sister in her life. It aligns with her passion for working with families and children, which Tsang envisions doing in her career as a psychologist.
Their bond continues to get strong despite the COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandate. The pair has replaced weekly phone-checks and visits with virtual hangouts.
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