Sometimes all it takes is a friend to change your life for the better.
At least that’s what Charity Garrison says about her mentor Candy Conway, who was recently named Texas’ Big Sister of the Year at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national donor and volunteer-supported youth mentoring organization that pairs children up to 18 with “bigs” who help them succeed in life. The award is based on quarterly interviews with match specialists at the organization who check in on big and little pairs to see how the relationship is progressing.
Garrison and Conway were paired eight years ago.
“At that time I was being bullied and didn’t really feel like going to school,” Garrison said. “She gave me inspiration to keep going.”
Conway, of Keller, said she became involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters after the organization’s Bowl for Kids’ Sake bowling event, where she was a sponsor for AT&T. She said the ideals of the organization “just clicked” with her and from there she became a part of the board as a spokesperson.
While on the board, Garrison’s school, John D. Spicer Elementary, had students in need of mentors, and Conway volunteered.
“We would have lunch together once a week at her school,” Conway said. “When I first met her she had difficulty making eye contact and she needed help with school, so I talked with her teachers and principals on the best way to help her.”
Garrison said her mother put her in the program because she thought it would be nice to have someone to spend time with.
Conway would help Garrison with school work by taking turns with her reading Black Beauty, and spend time together going out to eat.
“We have hit almost every restaurant up 377,” Conway said. “The very first time I took her she just poured over the menu for so long, trying to choose carefully. It took her a long time before she adjusted to knowing this wouldn’t just be a one time thing - it was such a unique experience for her.”
Throughout the years, the two have shared many traditions and grown closer, but Garrison said she would never forget spending time with Conway every Christmas.
“I remember the first Christmas we had together she brought over this wonderful tree for our family, because we weren’t able to get one,” Garrison said. “She really is just such a blessing and really touched my family’s heart by doing that.”
But as the years flew by and Garrison got closer to 18, the year children leave the program, she said she worried about what would happen next. Garrison will attend West Texas A&M in the fall, the first person in her family to go to college.
“The thing is, I was worried about [not seeing her], so I talked to her and she said she’d still support me,” Garrison said.
Conway said she has enjoyed seeing Garrison grow from a shy girl to an AP student and member of the Haltom High School band.
“It’s hard for me not to cry, I get so proud of her,” Conway said. “On the board for Big Brothers Big Sisters you see all these statistics about children with positive mentors advancing through school and life, but to watch it up close and personal is an amazing transformation. I told her, ‘No, Charity. You are forever for me.’ I will keep her like she is my own.”