If not for the pandemic, the deep bond of friendship that has developed between Newmarket resident Rachel Pavan and her Little Sister, Hailie Lind, might not have happened as quickly.
Since being matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel/York, the Big Sister and her Little Sister haven't been able to spend much time together in person due to pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.
"We've created such a great relationship just looking at each other from a phone screen, a video call," said Pavan. "What I really love about my match and our connection is that we don't necessarily even plan activities. . . we just talk. We jump on a call for the hour and we just talk the entire time."
Sometimes they talk about their pets (Hailie has cats and turtles and Pavan, a new puppy) and "silly stuff" and sometimes the conversation turns toward "society and more mature things," Hailie, 14, said.
"We have conversations about different areas of life. . . and we challenge each other to think in different ways and really be the best versions of ourselves," said Pavan.
Though, as soon as it's safe to do, they both are looking forward to heading to the nearest Mandarin buffet restaurant — where Hailie said she can eat "A LOT."
Pavan said there is no one else she'd rather do that with than her Little Sister — and that she can't see her life without Hailie in it anymore.
As a caseworker for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel/ York, it's Pavan's job to match mentors with a child or youth.
A 2021 Mentor Canada study found that mentored youth were twice as likely to have completed high school and 95 per cent more likely to pursue further education after high school. Youth with access to a mentor are also more likely to report positive mental health — something that's more important than ever during the pandemic.
She never expected to match herself with a young girl but that is exactly what happened almost two years ago.
During her virtual interview with Hailie, Pavan realized almost immediately how easy it was to talk to her and that they shared similar interests.
"I sat there and just thought, 'Oh my goodness, we would get along so well.'"
The more she spoke with Hailie, the more she came to know how funny and laid-back she was and the more excited Pavan got — something she tried hard to mask.
"I was being professional but at the same time I was thinking, 'I think we'd have so much fun together!' All those thoughts of when I'm making those matches, I said 'I would have matched her with me.'"
A staff member who is also an active mentor is not typical practice, said Katie Lowes, program manager Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel/York, but Pavan asked if she could be Hailie's Big Sister and they've been together ever since.
"Here we are, over a year later in the midst of a pandemic, and Rachel and her Little are still going strong! Since Rachel obviously can’t monitor her own match, I have the pleasure of meeting with her and her Little Sister to check in and provide support when needed. The two are such an amazing pair! They have developed a relationship that is so organic and easy and it’s been a joy for me to be a small part of it," said Lowes in an email.
Pavan said she has got just as much out of the match as Hailie. When something important happens in her life, Hailie is one of the first people she wants to tell.
"For myself, as much as I am the mentor and Big Sister in this program, my Little Sister is my friend. She's someone that I will let know when something happens in my life. . . she's one of those top people that has become someone that I want to share good news with."
Hailie is an only child and "definitely" thinks of Pavan as a big sister and a friend. She loves the fact that Pavan doesn't judge — not even silently, she said, and how "chill" she is.
A few years ago if someone wasn't available to make the weekly in-person meeting, rescheduling for the following week would have been the only option. It wouldn't have occurred to anyone to say, 'Let's jump on a Zoom call,'" said Pavan, but the pandemic has changed the way a lot of things are done.
In between lockdowns and distancing, the two managed to catch a movie and go to Crock A Doodle — a paint your own pottery place in Aurora — but most of their time together has been virtual, allowing them to really get to know one another.
When the pandemic started, Hailie wasn't able to see her friends and even with her family around she started to feel a bit lonesome. Talking to Pavan every week made her less lonely and "definitely made me happier," she said.
Hailie said the two share "kind of like the same vibe" and she's positive the two will be friends and sisters for many years to come.
Pavan recalls telling Hailie they were approaching the one-year mark of being matched. It felt strange to say that, she said, because she no longer sees their relationship as being part of a program. She just sees Hailie as her little sister.