Celtics honor Big Sister as a "Hero Among Us"

The Boston Celtics' Heroes Among Us program honors individuals who have made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others. Tonight, they will honor Big Sister Association of Greater Boston mentor Ana Leon. The following blog post about Ana is reprinted courtesy of Big Sister.

Hero Among Us_Nomination_BigSisterA strong mentoring relationship doesn’t just help the Little Sister ; it transforms everyone involved. Over their six years together, Big Sister Ana and Little Sister Sally have surmounted significant challenges and celebrated major milestones together.

Ana was a busy Boston University student when she first met Sally. “She was shy, definitely shy,” laughs Ana recalling Sally’s monosyllabic answers and the awkwardness of being introduced to her family with a social worker and translator in tow. Sally agreed, “I didn’t feel comfortable or know how to
start a conversation. It was awkward for me.”

Still, Ana was persistent. She arranged frequent visits with Sally and planned a wide variety of activities to help Sally come out of her shell. Ana, like Sally, is a first generation Chinese-American. She joked that when she first learned about Sally’s background and interests, it was like looking in a mirror. It didn’t take long for the pair to bond over their commonalities and build a genuine friendship.

Ana and Sally enjoy exploring the city on adventures together: ice skating, sailing, attending parades, and painting with water colors at Boston Public Garden. They have a healthy appreciation for low-key fun, as well, enjoying making meals, dessert dates, or any opportunity to relax together. Their
shared cultural heritage has inspired some outings as well: they have celebrated Chinese New Year and attended the Dragon Boat Festival on the Charles River together.

As their relationship developed, Ana found ways to guide Sally in more influential ways. Ana has consistently advocated for Sally’s education. The
pair faced one of their first challenges together when Sally was in 7th grade. Sally applied for The SteppingStone Academy, a rigorous academic program that helps students gain admission to Boston’s top tier high schools. When she wasn’t accepted, her confidence plummeted. Sally recalled, “When I didn’t get in, I thought ‘Maybe I’m horrible. I’m not smart,’ but Ana was there to listen to me. She told me that there would be more opportunities open for me. That it wasn’t the end of the world.”

After this setback, Ana helped Sally navigate her class schedule and the school selection process. By the time she entered high school, both Sally’s grades
and her attitude toward school had improved. “Sally really opened up and matured,” said Ana, “She gained a new sense of confidence about herself.”

While Sally grew into an intellectually curious high school student, Ana
underwent changes of her own. She graduated from college and began a career
as a nonprofit professional, dedicated to serving the Boston community.

The pair’s complete transformation was most apparent at last year’s Big Sister Association Appreciation Breakfast. Sally, the shy, monosyllabic girl who once struggled with speech and language, stood on a stage in a crowded room, eloquently sharing the substantial impact her Big Sister had on her life. Ana, the
mentor who once felt awkward with her Little Sister, was celebrated for her wisdom and leadership that day.

When Sally wanted to explore her college career options, she knew that Ana would be the perfect guide. Ana said, “We dove into the college and scholarship researching process, and it has been an interesting learning experience!” Ana also connected Sally with a summer volunteer position at her office, Community Servings, a nonprofit that delivers free meals to people ill with AIDS. Sally was able to leverage this professional experience to land a part-time job at the
radiology department of Tufts University.

Sally, who is set to graduate from high school this spring, has already received her first college acceptance letters! Ana is excited to see Sally explore this next phase of life, “Sally has really challenged herself in these new opportunities! I know that she’ll do well once she goes off to college!” Still, both Ana and Sally are glad that Sally’s top choice schools are all in Boston, so they can continue to see each other often.

“Ana really inspires me,” said Sally, “She has changed my whole life.”