One of them is shy and the other is outgoing. One of them is not yet a teenager and the other has grandchildren. One of them has long hair and the other’s hair just brushes her collar, but Ashley Thomas and Angela Cayafas are family.
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Cayafas is Big Sister of the Year for Big Brothers Big Sisters of El Dorado County and Ashley is her Little. They’ve been a match for four years, beginning with a Big Brothers Big Sisters School Program at Indian Creek School. Cayafas works at the El Dorado County Office of Education, just next to the school.
“People were trying to recruit Big Brothers and Big Sisters for the school program because it’s been shown that children with a mentor do better in school — their grades improve and they tend to stay in school,” said Cayafas. “You meet with your Little at their lunchtime at their school. I thought,’I could do that.'”
After the first year, Cayafas wasn’t sure meeting for 45 minutes once a week was helpful enough for Ashley.
“I would sit with her at lunch but she was very shy and didn’t talk much. Then I would push her on the swings or hold her stuff when she was on the monkey bars. And I told her I am Greek and Greeks always hug, so I told her I would hug her hello and goodbye if that was okay with her,” said Cayafas.
When Ashley moved to Pollock Pines, meeting at lunch wasn’t possible. Ashley was devastated at the loss and Chris Thomas, her father, asked if the relationship could continue as part of the regular Big Sister program.
“I filled out an evaluation,” said Cayafas, “and wrote the only impact I thought I might have had was the hugs.”
Hugs won the day and the two have remained a match ever since.
“We watch movies together and cook at Angela’s house,” said Ashley, 12. “I like having someone to talk to.”
“She loves my buttered noodles,” said Cayafas,64. “We go for walks, shopping or to the alpaca farm. Ashley’s favorite thing is to look through the Dog Encyclopedia at my house with the pictures and descriptions of each breed. She’s quite an animal lover.”
Cayafas said what she and Ashley do is nothing sensational, “but what time we spend together, we thoroughly enjoy.”
She tries to bring “girl” things to Ashley’s life since Ashley lives with her father and 6-year-old brother, Austin.
While the two usually have one-on-one time, they also include Austin, from time to time.
“I always check with Ashley first to make sure she’s okay with it,” said Cayafas. “I took them both to the county fair and we had so much fun,” said Cayafas. “Austin had never been on a Ferris wheel before and he turned to us and said, ‘I told you the Ferris wheel would be the funnest thing.'”
The match continued even when Ashley and her family briefly moved to Los Angeles.
“We saw each other once a month when either her family would come up here or I would go down to visit my daughter,” said Cayafas.”There’s been commitment on both sides.
“We joke that when she gets to be taller than me, she’ll be the Big Sister and I’ll be the Little Sister,” said Cayafas. This year, Ashley surpassed Cayafas in height and the two are getting a big kick out of it.
Cayafas has attended Ashley’s track meets and basketball games; she’s been invited to Ashley’s birthday parties and family events; they know each other’s families.
Cayafas, who said she wanted to be a mother since the age of 2, has two adult children, a son and a daughter, and grandchildren. Everyone, including Chris, Austin and Ashley, gets hello and good-bye hugs.
“I’ll be with this family forever,” said Cayafas. “I’m having all the fun. It’s a pure delight to hang out with her. I would completely recommend being a Big Sister because it brings such joy to your heart.”
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters call 530-626-1222.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.