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Lifestyle // Good Neighbors
Christina O’Connor

Kiera Usagawa

Once a week after school, Castle High School senior Kiera Usagawa visits Kapunahala Elementary School to spend time with fifth-grade student Jessica. During their time together, the two talk story, climb on the jungle gym or play volleyball.

The girls have been meeting weekly for more than two years as a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Honolulu’s school-based program, with which Usagawa volunteers through Castle.

BBBS pairs children with volunteer mentors as a way to help children succeed. BBBS Hawaii is one of hundreds of chapters in communities throughout the country.

Usagawa, 17, signed up to be a BBBS mentor as a sophomore. She had been wanting to find a new extracurricular activity to participate in and was drawn to the group because of its mission to help keiki.

“I always wanted to give back because I feel like I have so much that was given to me that I should give back, too,” Usagawa says.

Her dedication to the group was solidified when she met Jessica. “She is the sweetest girl ever,” Usagawa says of her little sister.

In addition to volunteering with BBBS, Usagawa also has served at Kapunahala’s summer fun program as a junior leader, and participates in various service projects through her involvement with Castle’s DECA, a business marketing club. Next fall, Usagawa, who excels in math, plans to study engineering with an emphasis on sustainability. She hasn’t yet chosen a college, but if she goes to the Mainland, she will certainly miss Jessica.

While Usagawa’s mission to have fun, quality time with Jessica is a simple one, the impact extends far beyond that.

“I just want to make that meeting a good part of the day, because things might not always be good at school or at home,” Usagawa says.

After all, the BBBS program is about more than play time or socializing. A study released earlier this year documenting the significance of the program found that youths involved in BBBS showed an increase in educational achievement (95.2 percent) and avoidance of risky behavior (83.4 percent) during their first year in the program. Youths also demonstrated higher aspirations, great confidence and better relationships (96.6 percent).

Accordingly, Usagawa has seen positive changes in Jessica throughout their time together. “I feel like she has gotten a lot more outgoing,” Usagawa says. “She talks a lot more, and she is socializing more with other people and other kids in the group.

“I love that I can help people,” Usagawa adds. “And I stayed (with BBBS) mainly because of Jessica. I know that she gets excited to see me, and I get excited seeing her.”

For more on BBBS Hawaii, visit bbbshawaii.org.

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