Where am I?

Big Sister Interview - Corinne Taff

Corinne Taff, chairperson of the Department of Interdiscipilary Studies and Professor, shares her experice as a Big Sister.

Why do you mentor?

I met Jada when she was six, and I was 26.  At the time, I didn't really have children in my life, and I liked the idea of having a kid to hang out with and do fun things.  I also liked the idea of doing volunteer work that was about building an ongoing relationship with one person instead of more anonymous kinds of helping others that don't really involve a true relationship.  Jada and I have been through a whole lot together over the past ten years, and we've both grown and changed a lot.  It's been hard many times, but we have something authentic.  Both her mother and father have told me I am a part of their family, and I consider Jada a part of mine.  When you get to that point, it really doesn't feel like "volunteer work" anymore--it's just a bond you keep alive like any other.


What have you learned from your little?

I've learned how precarious our good fortune can be.  Jada has lost a lot during our time together, and I've seen how easily good people can be set back by misfortune.  It has given me much, much more empathy for those who struggle.  But I've also learned how to keep laughing--because Jada never stops laughing--through just about anything. 


Jada has also been good practice for me, sometimes, as a parent.  There have been a lot of situations that Jada and I have faced together, from questions about school issues to values to her mother's death to relationships to thinking about her future, that showed me the depth of what I know about the world.  Sometimes I find myself saying things to Jada that sound so much wiser than I knew I had in me!  Unbelievably, she (almost) never seems to mind hearing what I have to say.  Last year for Christmas, Jada asked me to write her a book of advice.  That was about the most flattering thing anyone has ever asked of me.  Jada helps me figure out what I know about the world.  I think that helps me both for myself and for my daughter, who is five.  Hopefully when my daughter is older, I'll have figured it all out already!


I have also learned from Jada all about pop music that as an old lady I'd never know otherwise and a whole bunch of weird Facebook lingo and creative spelling!


How do you work Jada into your schedule?

That has gotten a lot tougher since we don't live near one another anymore, and I am much busier professionally and with my own family.  But I try to just include her on family outings or on everyday errands and things whenever possible.  It doesn't have to be a "big deal" kind of outing every time.  I also try to make sure to have something she and I can do alone, even if it is just lunch, so that we have time to talk.  Now that she's older, we can also communicate via Facebook and text messages, which helps a lot when we can't see each other in person.  There are times when I see Jada a lot and then times when we don't see each other quite as regularly.  Because we've been matched so long, she knows that if some time passes without our seeing each other in person, it doesn't mean I'm not thinking of her.  Her mom was always really good about making sure Jada understood how busy my life was, and Jada has always been very understanding about that.  Her dad has been the same.


What impact does this relationship have on society? You? Jada?

I think for Jada I am a trusted person to give advice and to help her uphold certain standards for herself.  Jada has a pride about herself that is going to be very valuable to her future.  I think I help her see that value in herself and keep it at the forefront of her thoughts. 


For me, if I may answer very honestly, it gives me the sense of humility and a reminder of the importance of community.  Especially after the sudden death of her mother, people told me very often how wonderful it was that I was there for Jada and her family.  After a while, I almost got annoyed with this comment, even though I knew it was well-intentioned.  I never once felt that I was doing as much as I could have for Jada or her siblings, and I was always aware of how much more I could have done--not just for her but for her family and her community.  I began to feel like if what I was doing for Jada was really so exceptional, then we as a society must consider it really quite normal to neglect the needs of children--especially those without access to the fullest resources of our nation.  My feeling was that no adult with any kind of heart could have neglected Jada during that time, and I really struggled with whether I was doing enough or even what the right thing to do was.  I still struggle with that.  I was just there for her--in a way that was really just a drop in the bucket toward what she fully needed--because that's what any adult would do for any child in crisis.  But the fact that it seemed to impress people so much actually really disappointed and discouraged me.  We should all be there--whether through political action, other forms of volunteer work, or direct care--for those struggling the hardest in our communities.  So maybe BBBS provides a model for the kind of community-building toward which we should all aspire.  Jada's and my lives are intertwined; I am responsible to her because she is my "little sister," and she gives back to me what a little sister gives an older one.  I assume this will be a life-long mutual commitment.  But am I doing enough?  I really can't answer that.


Would you recommend BBBS to others and why?

I always recommend it to others, especially college students.  It's the kind of volunteer work that you can do on a flexible schedule, often in ways that overlap with things you were doing anyway.  You don't need a lot of money or expertise to have fun with a kid.  It's fun, and you get to bring your personality and creativity to it.


What are some of the most interesting things you’ve done together?

Hmm.  Jada was flower girl in my wedding.  We have been just about everywhere in St. Louis, from the circus to Cardinals games to the Science Center to conservation areas to the Christmas Around Campus event at Fontbonne.  We have had massages and pedicures together, done volunteer work at a food bank, gone bowling and shopping and mini-golfing and just about anything else you can imagine.  We are going camping for the first time in a couple of weeks.  Thanks to Jada, for better or worse, I have also seen every single High School Musical movie ever made.  She also made me go see the Justin Bieber movie on its opening weekend, and I've teased her that if she ever needs proof that I care about her, that is it!!


How long have you been a Big Sister?

Jada and I met on April 16, 2002.  I had another Little Sister before her for a few months, but she moved out of town shortly after we were matched.


What changes have you seen in Jada? Yourself?

It's hard to say what has changed in us because of our relationship.  I've known Jada from the ages of 6 to 16, so pretty much everything has changed with her except that she has really never stopped glowing and laughing throughout that time.  She has gotten more and more beautiful, too--she is one of the most photogenic people I have ever met!  Jada has been through so much since we've been together, but she is incredibly resilient.  Her core spirit really hasn't changed in that time.  As for me, I think I've changed too, just by getting older and going through many life changes as well.  But Jada has mostly helped me keep in touch with the playful and fun side of myself that can get lost in the busy rush of life with family and career. 


Anything else you would like to say?

I'd be happy to talk to anyone in the Fontbonne community who is thinking about volunteering for BBBS.  BBBS does a great job supporting our relationship when we need it, and they are very sensitive about how they match bigs and littles, as well.  Jada and I have been together a long time, but many other matches last for shorter periods of time and are still very worthwhile.