‘Big’ and ‘Little’ make a difference for each other

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County match Starr Pinkos, 66, and 13-year-old Cassie Call spend time together. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2019 10:40:19 PM
Modified: 12/5/2019 10:40:08 PM

GREENFIELD — Sixty-six-year-old Starr Pinkos decided to become a “big sister” because she wanted to make a difference in a young girl’s life, but little did she know her little sister would make such a difference in hers.

“I got involved after meeting the current and previous executive directors,” Pinkos said, referring to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County. “I was a teacher for 34 years, so I believed I had something to offer.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County Development Director Ericka Almeida said the organization matched Pinkos and eighth-grader Cassie Call, 13, because the staff also thought Pinkos would be good for her “little,” as the program calls the younger of the matches.

“I was a little nervous, because my mom had been admitted to the hospital when we started getting together,” Pinkos said. “We didn’t have a diagnosis at first, but eventually I was told she had to go to a nursing home. She had vascular dementia. I knew it was going to take a lot of my time, energy and emotions.”

Pinkos said she had learned that Cassie was close to her grandparents — she would talk about them often — so she knew that, at least to some extent, she would understand.

“Every time we got together after I told her about my mom, she’d ask how she was doing,” Pinkos said. “It was six months before my mom passed and Cassie was there once a week — something to look forward to. She helped me as much as I was helping her. Maybe more at that time.”

Pinkos said she and Cassie would meet weekly through her mother’s illness.

“I see her two to three hours a week,” Pinkos said. “And during that time, it took my mind off of things.”

Pinkos said the two would go out to dinner, go to the movies, play games, go bowling and more. She would also help Cassie with her homework when she needed it.

“We’d do some group activities, like go to the library for Teen Movie Night or attend Art Club,” Pinkos said. “Eventually though, Cassie asked if we could just hang out, instead of being so busy.”

Pinkos said she took her to group activities because after Cassie’s mother moved away — her father is raising her in Greenfield — her father was concerned his daughter needed to socialize more.

“He wanted to expand her world,” she said. “I think that has happened.”

Pinkos said one day after her mother died, Cassie spotted a balloon floating above and asked if the balloon would ever reach heaven.

“I told her the air pressure would make it pop before it did, but that led to a discussion about what heaven is and what people believe about it,” Pinkos said. “I told her I believe that heaven is happiness. She said that means her grandparents are driving around in their car or sitting on their front porch, and she asked what my mom would do.”

Pinkos said Cassie asked to go to Olive Garden over the summer, so she surprised her by taking her to dinner and then on a back-to-school trip to buy new clothes. She said Cassie knew that Pinkos’ father lives near the mall in Holyoke, so he told her they should stop and visit him.

“He gave her a tour of the house,” Pinkos said. “It’s amazing how this program extends far beyond just the matches. It touches a lot of people’s lives.”

Pinkos said her father gave Cassie some money for school supplies, and without being asked to, Cassie wrote him a thank-you note.

Almeida said since Pinkos and Cassie were matched, the youngster has been happy, her grades have improved and so has her attendance.

“These relationships are so good for both members of the match,” Almeida said. “This was Cassie’s second match, but this one has proved to be perfect, like so many of our matches are.”

Cassie’s father Michael Call said his daughter enjoys the program and looks forward to seeing Pinkos every week.

“When Cassie needs academic help, she knows to use Starr as a resource,” he said. “Starr has been helpful to me in understanding Cassie’s academic needs.”

He said Pinkos is not only a mentor to his daughter, but helps him out in a lot of ways, including understanding a 13-year-old girl.

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County

Almeida said children who participate in the program and are matched with a mentor are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 52 percent less likely to skip school and 33 percent less likely to hit someone.

She said 78 percent of the children in the program report increased academic performance and 80 percent report improved peer relationships. Eighty-five percent report increased self-confidence.

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters statistics, mentored youth are 75 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 55 percent are more likely to go to college.

“We provide ongoing volunteer mentor support through our monthly BIG’s Only meetings, case management provided by our professional trauma-informed staff and always on-call staff,” Almeida said.

She said outings, free events and discounts are available to matches 24 hours a day though the resources tab at: bbbs-fc.org. Child development information and community health and welfare resources can also be found on the website.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.

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