Regina Morris, left, hugs her Big Sister, Carrie Stambaugh, who was recently honored with the national 2015 Big Sister of the Year award
Being a sister is something that came naturally to Carrie Stambaugh.
After all, growing up with five siblings makes one somewhat of an expert on the subject.
So when she decided to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America — a program that matches adult mentors with children ages 6-18 — while in college, it seemed a natural fit.
“I have five biological sisters, so being a Big Sister is something I thought I could do,” Stambaugh said. “I had been doing it my whole life.”
In 2006, Stambaugh, then 23, moved to the Tri-State and joined the local chapter. She was matched with her Little Sister, Regina Morris, who was 9 years old at the time.
Fast-forward nine years and the two have formed an inseparable bond, earning the two national attention as Stambaugh was honored recently with the national 2015 Big Sister of the Year award at a conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It was a distinction that came as a shock to both Big and Little.
Stambaugh, who is on the board of directors, was asked to bring Morris to a meeting to feature all the matches that were aging out of the program, since Morris was 18.
“The next thing you know, there’s a giant cake that says I’m the Big Sister of the Year,” she said. “I was really surprised. I was really shocked and humbled.”
“The only thing I remember was just looking at each other and then we started crying,” Morris said.
But that’s OK. The two have already made nearly a decade’s worth of memories and have no intention of quitting.
Forming a bond
When Stambaugh and Morris were matched as Big and Little, both were living in Ironton. Only a couple of blocks away from each other, in fact.
Morris was 9 years old and being raised by her grandmother, who enrolled her into the program when she was 6 years old.
“I’m a big sister myself to two younger siblings and I’m a little sister to an older brother,” Morris said. “But I can’t talk to him about things I want to know. It would be awkward. At that age I was curious about a lot of things girls went through and he couldn’t help me with that. I was kind of lonely at a certain point because I always wanted that older sister, so I could be like, ‘I need your help. I need your advice.’”
Stambaugh and Morris met through local BBBS group functions several times before the two spent time one-on-one.
Their first outing alone to Pizza Hut was hard for them both.
“This very shy, quite little girl sat in the back seat of my car crying,” Stambaugh said. “What do I do with this little girl who is obviously very scared? We had some dinner and talked.”
Morris remembers that day, as well.
“It was just me and my grandma all the time and nobody else,” she said. “That was the first time I left for a couple of hours without her being there.”
From there, the pair saw each other a couple of times a month and got to know each other better. They did art projects, had picnics at the park, went to the movies.
“It’s a big leap to have a perfect stranger say, ‘Hi, I’m your Big Sister,’” Stambaugh said. “Gradually we found out we had a lot more in common. Our personalities really were compatible. I saw this girl who acted shy, but wasn’t really shy underneath.”
From the beginning Stambaugh said it was important to her that Morris always consider herself Stambaugh’s actual little sister. That was especially important when she met her future husband, Carl, and moved to Ashland.
“It was really kind of scary for Regina because she was afraid I was going to abandoned her, that I wasn’t capable of loving her and my husband at the same time,” Stambaugh said. “Almost immediately it was important to me that Carl spend time with us as well.”
It was another good match. Morris enjoyed visiting Carl at his fire station in Ashland. The three would go camping — a first for the young girl. Morris and Carl threw the football around or played basketball.
When the couple was married, there were nine bridesmaids, Morris being one of them.
“He gave me a father figure,” Morris said. “I don’t have my father. … It was easy to open up to him. He gave me advice on stuff, like boys.”
And on holidays, Morris and her grandmother are always invited to celebrate with the Stambaughs.
“I never imagined that we would get so close and that we would feel so much like family, and I really feel like we’re family,” Stambaugh said.
Making a lasting difference
This May, Morris, now 18, graduated from Ironton High School and was accepted to Wright State University in Dayton where she plans to major in psychology and minor in vocal performance with the goal of becoming a music therapist.
Graduation day was emotional.
“I cried on the way home,” Stambaugh said. “I was just so proud. She worked so hard and I’m incredibly happy for her. She got a surprise scholarship that we didn’t know she was getting. … It was a good day, a really good day.”
Since Morris is 18, she is technically aged out of the BBBS program, but with Stambaugh getting the Big Sister of the Year award, the two have made a year-long commitment to represent the organization with the goal of bringing attention to the need of mentors.
“It has changed my life,” Stambaugh said. “It has helped me to become a better person. When you’re mentoring a kid and they are looking to you for advice and guidance, you want to be the best version of yourself that you can be. You don’t want to disappoint them.”
Right now, there is a waiting list for children in the BBBS of the Tri-State’s service area, which covers Lawrence County, Cabell and Wayne counties in West Virginia and Boyd and Greenup counties in Kentucky.
Through the community-based program, mentors spend time with children one-on-one. The time involved is three to four hours twice a month. Volunteers are asked to commit for at least one year.
“A lot of people say they don’t have time to do it,” Stambaugh said. “You spend three to four hours a month on your cell phone wasting time playing Clash of Clans or checking your Facebook page. It’s as easy as going to breakfast on a Saturday and taking a walk in the park. Or going to a ballgame in the afternoon. You find that it really isn’t a lot of time. And the more time you spend, the more time you want to spend with them.”
There is also a school-based program in which mentors visit their Little Sister or Little Brother’s school for one hour per week during the school day. Time spent at the school can be assisting with academics, playing basketball, doing crafts, reading or eating lunch together.
BBBS’s biggest appeal, Stambaugh said, is for male mentor volunteers.
“A lot of the kids are raised in single parent homes and particularly with boys,” Stambaugh said. “There are a lot of boys who live in single parent homes and are being raised by women and don’t have strong male figures in their lives.”
Stambaugh said the board of directors’ goal this year is to eliminate the waiting list and add 50 more new matches.
“It’s all about the future of that child. Changing their life forever,” she said.