Unlikely Friends Consider Themselves SiblingsMar 10, 2016 10:53AM ● By Bryan Scott
By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
Taylorsville - Growing up the only child with a single dad, Destiny Smith said she always wanted a sibling, but that dream didn’t become a reality until her senior year of high school.
“I had cousins, and I was close with them, but I saw how they were together, and I longed for that,” Smith said.
Smith, 18, said she was sitting in class at Taylorsville High School last year when she learned how she might be able to get a sibling-type connection through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah, an organization whose purpose is to facilitate one-to-one relationships for children.
Shortly thereafter, Smith was meeting with a mentoring specialist with the organization who matched her with a fourth grade student at Vista Elementary.
Smith said she admits being worried about meeting her “little brother” Eric Lindsey, 10, for the first time at his school, but said it worked out because he was just as worried as her. Eric, who’s autistic, didn’t say a word to her during the first meeting, she said.
“I was so uncomfortable, but I kept having to think, ‘I’m the adult here,’” Smith said. “We spent a very awkward hour together that day, but even without talking we had this weird connection.”
It wasn’t an easy process, but slowly they came to deeply care about each other. Smith said most of the time she is content “staying in a cave a day,” and Eric is the same way, but she knew if they could get past their shyness, they could have a powerful relationship.
Each Monday after her school got out, Smith would travel to Vista Elementary to spend the last hour of Eric’s school with him. She began to figure out his likes and dislikes and “forced a connection” out of him, she said.
With his speech impediment and learning disability, many people have a hard time understanding Eric, but Smith continued to talk with him until she could understand him, according to Ruth Galvez, mentoring specialist.
“I’m really impressed with her for taking the extra time to work with him even with his speech impediment,” Galvez said. “It’s hard for most people to figure out what he is staying, but she understands him.”
Eric’s teacher originally warned Smith that math was Eric’s worst subject, telling her it would be above his head, Galvez said. One year later, it is his strongest subject because Smith helped him to believe that he could learn the material.
Smith said she tries to help Eric avoid being too hard on himself. Sometimes he’ll try to write at the same speed as the other kids in his class, but he’ll end up accidentally writing the same letter over and over again.
“He gets frustrated and that’s his biggest struggle,” Smith said.
After Smith became familiar with Eric’s struggles and strengths, she came up with a system that aids his learning style, Galvez said. She does a series of routine exercises with him using a two-subject notebook. One half of the notebook is used for his favorite subject – math, the other for his least favorite subject – English.
They’ve bonded so well that Galvez wants to make a short video clip about them for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and she nominated Smith for the school-based Big Sister of the Year award.
“She’s really just gone above and beyond by creating this for him. I’m impressed with her for taking the extra time to do that,” Galvez said. “They bond. He’s so happy to see her, and she’s overjoyed to see him. It’s really a two-way street.”
Smith said she starts to miss Eric when she doesn’t get to see him. One time she didn’t see him for two weeks because of conflicting schedules, and it brought her to tears.
Each participant in the program signs a year contract, Galvez said. Months after Smith’s contract was up, she continues to spend an hour with Eric each Monday.
“I think a lot of mentors stop going after a year because it gets to be the same thing every Monday and people get tired of it, but I go because I am still learning new things from Eric,” Smith said.
Smith graduated high school and spends most of her time working at a local coffee shop to save up for college.
She plans to move to Provo to attend college next year, but while she’s excited for the new adventure, she said it’s hard to think about it because she won’t get to see Eric.
“I try not to think too much about it,” she said. “I just think about how right now he makes me laugh and copies my every move.”