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Being a Big Brother or Big Sister is one of the most enjoyable things you’ll ever do. Not to mention, one of the most fulfilling. You have the opportunity to help shape a child’s future for the better by empowering them to achieve. And the best part is, it’s actually a lot of fun. You and your Little can share the kinds of activities you already like to do.

Play sports together. Go on a hike. Read books. Eat a pizza with extra anchovies. Or just give some advice and inspiration. Whatever it is you enjoy, odds are you’ll enjoy them even more with your Little—and you’ll be making a life-changing impact.

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Volunteering just a few hours a month with a child can start something amazing. So why not apply to be a Big today. There are kids out there ready to get started. Are you?

 

NJ Big of the Year

 

No distance is too far for N.J. Big Sister of The Year

Amanda Ballate selfie.jpg
Amanda Ballate, (right), has been selected to be the Big Sister of the Year from Big Brother Big Sister of New Jersey. Her little sister is Nia, (left), who says Ballate "is someone I can tell my problems to and feel safe when I am around her.'' Ballate, formerly of New Jersey, lives in Brooklyn but has continued to be a mentor to Nia for the past four years. (Big Brother Big Sister of Essex, Hudson and Union counties).
Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 05, 2016 at 7:00 AM, updated August 05, 2016 at 9:58 AM

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Amanda Ballate has some kind of commute, and it has nothing to do with her job as a real estate broker.

The two trains she catches from her Brooklyn apartment to Newark Penn Station bring her to a 14-year-old girl from Union.

The girl's name is Nia and Ballate is her mentor. But four years of spending time together has brought them closer and changed their relationship in ways they couldn't have imagined. The soon-to-be high school freshman hasn't been Ballate's mentee for a relatively long time.

"I've always told her that we are sisters, forever,'' Ballate said.

This is what happens when a Big Brothers Big Sisters match works out the way it's supposed to. The connection they have is a bond that began when the Newark-based chapter that covers Essex, Hudson and Union counties put these two together in 2012. This pairing, however, is special for Ballate's bi-state commitment to stay in Nia's life. Brooklyn is not exactly around the corner. Still, the distance is no deterrent to Ballate, who moved to the New York City borough two years ago from Edison, the central New Jersey community in which she was raised.

"Some people would have given up,'' Ballate said. "But for me, I'm never going to give up on this girl.''

Her sincerity jumped off the page in essays written by Ballate and Nia that were submitted to BBBS State Association of New Jersey. Every year, the organization looks to honor a Big Brother and Big Sister who exemplify what it means to be a mentor.

Last month, Ballate was named Big Sister of the Year, a title she graciously appreciates but doesn't revel in.

"I don't do it for fame,'' Ballate said. "I do it for Nia.'' The young girl realizes that, too, and said as much in her essay. "Spending time with her (Amanda) and her family helps me not miss mine so much and gives me hope,'' Nia wrote. "I love Amanda because she is easy to talk to, sweet and caring. She is someone I can tell my problems to and feel safe when I am around her. When it comes to Amanda, she is my 'go to' and constant.''

Everyone needs somebody in his or her corner. Nia has Ballate to look up to and to lean on, knowing that her big sister is going to be there through all of the uncertainties that life brings.

When the two were first matched, Nia, who has lived in several foster homes, had to move to another home before she could contact Ballate. She didn't have cell phone, but with help from the Newark Big Brothers and Big Sisters chapter, Ballate was able to find her again.

"For me, I'm going to find you through hell or high water,'' Ballate said. "I want her in my life.''

Now, that's a big sister if you ever met one. She's a rock, a protector and a caring soul.

"Amanda has been the anchor in the unsettled life of one child - a constant positive presence,'' said Joanna Jusis, a mentor manager for the local Big Brother Big Sister chapter. Nothing gets in Ballate's way, even though the times they see each other take planning. When Ballate arrives at Newark Penn Station, Nia is waiting for her with a caseworker, so they can turn around and head back to Brooklyn for the weekend. On other visits, Ballate will drive an hour from her parents' home in Hunterdon County, then scoop up Nia and return to Hunterdon County, where Nia is part of the family.

She calls Ballate's dad, "Daggy''; her mother is "Mummy." Ballate goes by "Burrito.'' Even the family dog, Boo-boo, gets some love. On outings, Ballate and Nia make the most of their time together. They've been to the zoo, the beach, parks and museums in New York, a memorable trip that was Nia's first time outside of New Jersey.

The quiet little girl that Ballate met is outgoing now, and watching Nia develop, Ballate said, has been an honor. She was in the audience at Nia's eighth-grade graduation in June and promises to be with her through high school, college and life.

This journey, on a smaller level, takes the 30-year-old Ballate back to her college days at the University of Pennsylvania. She was a big sister who tutored kids at a local school in Philadelphia, an experience she never forgot and wanted to replicate after graduation. Ballate is sold on the merits of mentorship.

"I had this nagging sense that you have to spread good in the world,'' she said. "If you have time and love to give, why not give it to a child who is looking for somebody who cares?'' Four hours a month is what the organization requires. Ballate does that in one weekend. The long commute has never fazed her, and having lost touch with Nia in the beginning didn't, either."I was going to do whatever it took,'' Ballate said. Whatever it took to let Nia know she has a sister who's not going anywhere.

Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or bcarter@starledger.com or nj.com/carter or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL

 

 

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