Around 15 years ago, it was suggested to Susan Doherty that she might want to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but with running a full-time business and raising two kids at home, she didn’t know if she would have the time.
Then she saw the 5-year-old girl she would be matched with, sitting on a couch with her brother and sisters in their great-grandmother’s house.
"I just fell in love with her when I first saw her," Doherty said. "She was this little dark haired, dark complected, big brown eyes - she pretty much melted my heart."
It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. The girl, Raeven Blackbull, is now 20-years-old and living on her own in another state, but she and Doherty maintain contact through Facebook.
Doherty remembers that in the beginning Blackbull was shy.
"She didn’t talk very much, but as we got into the relationship, she got more outgoing and she did better in school as she got older," Doherty said.
In the early days of their BBBS match-up, Doherty would take Blackbull to do things like get ice cream, go to circus and watch sporting events. As the girl got older and comfortable staying at Doherty’s house, she would have her over for the holidays and family gatherings.
"She just fell in like she was part of our family," Doherty said. "I saw her come out of her shell and grow into a beautiful young lady who had confidence," Doherty said.
Blackbull got into theater in high school and earned a theater scholarship to Cowley College. After graduating from Cowley, she was living in Wichita, working at a couple of jobs and last fall, she joined the Air Force. Currently, the 20-year-old is stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi where she is training to become a weather specialist.
"She got to be so self-motivated," Doherty said. "I saw her go from being a follower to a leader. I would hope that I had some influence on that."
Debi Clark, director of BBBS in Sumner and Cowley counties, said, "I think Susan has been an encouraging and steadfast big sister that Raeven knows she can always count on all through her life."
Doherty said her relationship with Blackbull has evolved from that of being a mentor to a friend. The big-little match-up "wasn’t only good for her. It was good for me too."