Elizabeth Medearis Myers has reached one of those turning points in life that mothers often face before they’re ready.
Her only child, a daughter, is soon turning 16 and preparing to get a driver’s license. Myers guesses college, a wedding and grandkids can’t be far behind.
She knows she’s going to have more spare time on her hands.
“I felt that, since my daughter is growing up and becoming more independent, I had time to help some other child find happiness,” Myers says.
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She signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring program that matches adult volunteers with hundreds of local kids in need of a friend.
The result was a recent pairing with 6-year-old Isis Smith of Charlotte, a kindergartener whose favorite activities include coloring, music and visits to the eatery Monkey Joe’s.
Isis came with a warning label: “Some people have all the answers,” said the girl’s mother, Rakiyah Reeves, who has six children. “Isis has all the questions.”
Sure enough, the first meeting of Myers and Isis at the Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters was short on hugs and giggles, and heavy on interrogation.
“Serious girl talk,” Myers called it.
Luckily, Myers has worked in the museum field, including five years (1992-97) as executive director of Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville.
Museum people live to answer questions.
Still, she wasn’t sure what to expect when the two scheduled their first outing at Ten Park Lanes near Park Road Shopping Center. It would be Isis’ first time bowling.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous,” Myers says. “It felt more like Christmas morning.”
As in, hoping for the best but not knowing what to expect.
It only took two seconds to clear that up, however.
“I pulled up and she smiled,” Myers recalls, almost sounding relieved. “A big smile and she ran to me. So innocent. So genuinely happy. It just filled my heart with pure love that I could make someone else that happy.”
So they bowled, Myers let her win, and sisters were made for life.
Isis conceded that Myers was nice, “and she’s so pretty.”
‘Happiest little girl’
It should be noted that Myers, who is now single, got the blessing of her daughter, Elizabeth Carol “E.C.” Myers, before taking on a little sister.
“I had been thinking about it for five years, but didn’t want to feel like I was neglecting my own daughter,” the elder Myers said.
“But then E.C. told me: ‘Whatever little girl you get is going to be the happiest little girl in the whole world.’ That really touched me.”
E.C. has helped out. After that first bowling trip, Isis visited Myers’ home and E.C. and some of her friends fashioned a pink crown for Isis out of construction paper and bought a big fried chicken dinner to celebrate.
Of course, Isis had to explore the house and dig through some old trunks and jewelry boxes, which she insisted were “treasure chests.”
The two have since gone on two other play dates, including an investigation as to whether plain or chocolate pancakes are better at IHOP. There was also a visit to uptown that included eight rides on the same escalator and coins tossed in seven fountains along Tryon Street.
Boys are waiting
If it all sounds rather simple, that’s the way Big Brothers and Big Sisters likes it. The point, says agency CEO Karen Calder, is to build self-confidence and self-image for the children, which isn’t about spending a lot of money.
Currently, Big Brothers Big Sisters has 952 active relationships working in the Charlotte area, nearly all like Isis, from single-parent homes. There are more than 200 kids currently on the waiting list for a volunteer match, most of them boys, Calder says.
“We’re offering is a chance for someone to make a difference, to reach out to impact someone else’s life,” Calder says. “Often these relationships endure long after they (kids) move out of the program at 18. They are lifelong.”
Myers, who has three siblings, says time is going to be her greatest gift to Isis. That’s something single moms don’t have enough of, she says, and it’s what younger children crave the most.
“I just want her to feel special,” Myers says.
The two will share many “firsts” in the coming months, all of them things Myers has done many times before.
But she says it only takes a child’s smile to make it feel new again.