Family ties created through Big Brothers Big Sisters program

The Guidance Center in DuBois has been affiliated with the national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization since 1990, with the program having been in place in Elk County since 2001. One successful match, who have been together for eight or nine years, are Mary Meyer of St. Marys and Molly Zemla of Kersey. Mary is employed through the Advancement Office of the Elk County Catholic School System (ECCSS), while Molly is currently a junior at St. Marys Area High School. The two first met when Molly was entering third grade. Zemla explained that her school counselor first told her about the program, and after talking it over with her mother she decided to give it a try. Meyer felt compelled to help others after watching the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. "It was right after 9/11 and of course I was like everybody else, I was so distraught with the world and I thought, 'what can I do to help?' Over the course of that six months, I kind of said to myself, 'maybe there's just one person somewhere that I can help,'" Meyer said. Shortly after that, she heard about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program."I thought, 'you know, maybe that's what I'm meant to do,'" Meyer said. While the pair are now as close as real sisters, they still joke about their first meeting. They explained that when individuals are matched up through the program, they get together for an initial meeting, go out together one time and then make the decision of whether or not they want to stay matched. Zemla explained that when she heard she would be matched with a 'big sister' she was expecting someone in their teens. She also noted that she was worried about fitting in with her match and tried to make herself appear older. "I had this little makeup kit and I was like, 'I want them to think I'm older than I am,' so I thought of like a teenager, you know, and I wanted to just fit in with this teenager, so I actually did my makeup and everything [that day]," Zemla said. Meyer still laughs when she recalls Zemla's reaction when she walked into the meeting. "I walk through the door and Molly's like, 'she doesn't look like a teenager to me,'" Meyer said. "She shared that with me, though, on the first time we were together. She said, 'I thought I was going to be with a teenager.' So I said, 'Molly, well you think about it and if you think this wouldn't work, it's not going to hurt my feelings.' So then she called me a couple days later and she said, 'I got to thinking, teenagers are bad drivers and if I were with a teenager maybe I'd be in a car wreck, so I think I'll go with you.'" After that, the pair would get together once about every three weeks, often going to Meyer's house to hang out. "When we first met, we used to go to parks and we went swimming. Molly had lots of dolls, and so she would come to my house and we would sew doll clothes, and we would bake cookies," Meyer said. The duo would also plan parties for occasions such as Halloween or Christmas. "One time we had a spa party at my house and she invited three or four friends," Meyer added. "That was one of the big things that we did. Then at Christmastime we would go on a 'shop-til-you-drop' trip to DuBois." "We still do that," Zemla noted. Over the years, their busy schedules have resulted in their get-togethers becoming less frequent, and now they only have time to hang out once every four to six weeks. "That's because we're both extremely busy," Zemla said. "It was always based on my schedule back then because I was working full-time, so it was when I could fit it in," Meyer said. "Now it's just the reverse. Now it's Molly's schedule."In addition to the workload associated with her high school courses, Zemla participates in three extracurricular activities, which also take up a lot of her time."There are lots of times where I'm at school until 8 or 9 p.m.," Zemla said. Just as their get-togethers have become less frequent, the types of activities they participate in have also changed over the years. "As Molly got older, I think probably going into eighth grade, she was like, 'some of these things I don't really do anymore, Mary.' So that's when we kind of thought going out to dinner together and just doing more of that type of thing worked better," Meyer said. Over the years, Meyer and Zemla have also found that they prefer interacting one-on-one, rather than participating in group activities. Because of this, the pair have not taken part in many of the events held by Big Brothers Big Sisters. "I do know they have some nice group activities, but that just didn't work for us," Meyer said.In addition to spending time together, over the years Meyer has also served as a source of support and encouragement for Zemla.