After two attempts at finding a mentor for her 13-year-old daughter, Shannon Linn was a bit cautious about a third try with the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters, a nationwide mentoring program for youth.
But that third time was the charm.
“When Jessie and Pam met, you could see the sparks fly,” Linn said.
In part, Linn said, because Pam Slomiany is no ordinary person.
Slomiany, 54, of Peters Township, has been employed by Big Brothers Big Sisters for seven years, working in local communities and schools to pair adult mentors with children and teens. In March 2015, she decided to become a big sister to Jessica Linn. Her work with the organization and her relationship with Jessica are why colleague Brandi Smith decided to nominate her for the Extraordinary People award.
“Once we heard about Pam and her work with Big Brothers Big Sisters and her relationship with Jessica, we thought she definitely put in the extra effort in mentoring this young girl and thought she was very deserving of the reward,” Smith said. “It would be so great for other kids to have the same type of experience that Jessica and Pam have.”
When Slomiany and Jessica are together, there’s never a dull moment. They do typical “sister” things together, like dinner dates, movie nights and mall shopping. But they also love to be spontaneous and active, going roller skating, ice skating and biking, and taking trips to Kennywood amusement park.
“She keeps me young,” Slomiany said of Jessica. “I’m an empty nester, so I always look forward to our times together. When we get together we never want the day to end.”
Slomiany took Jessica on a day trip to Lake Erie to swim and go paddle boarding.
“She makes me try new things,” Jessica said. “I ate a bunch of seaweed that day.”
One of their favorite things to do together is volunteer work. They often put together bags of food, toiletries and clothing to distribute to the homeless in Pittsburgh.
Linn said she’s seen a change in her daughter since she’s been spending time with Slomiany, including an improvement in her grades.
“I’ve seen her thrive in so many things, like grades, self-esteem and her interests,” Linn said. “She seems to have gotten her love for helping people from Pam.”
Slomiany worked as a teachers’ aide in the Peters Township School District for years before she started with Big Brothers Big Sisters. She went back to school to get an associate’s degree in social work. Soon after she was paired with Jessica, the Linn family “fell on hard times” and had to move, Slomiany said.
Linn said Jessica’s two younger siblings are also paired with a big brother and big sister through the program. Linn said all three of the “bigs” who work with her children have been “rocks in our lives,” and helped the family through rough times.
“If it weren’t for this program, I don’t know where we’d be,” Linn said. “It’s not just about going places and doing things. It’s stuff they don’t normally get to do or that people take for granted.”
Slomiany said the program has been “just as rewarding, if not more so,” to her as it has been to Jessica.
“She’s grown into a beautiful young woman since we met,” Slomiany said. “We’ve all become like a family.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh launched a campaign over the summer to recruit more mentors in the area, according to Smith. She said several children are on a waitlist to be matched with mentors, and Washington County is in need of 15 male mentors. For more information about the organization, contact Abbe Hulcher at 724-228-9195.
As part of the Extraordinary People award, Pam Slomiany will be given $500, underwritten by the Observer-Reporter and Range Resources, to donate to the charity of her choice. She has chosen Big Brothers Big Sisters as the recipient of the donation.