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Big Sister of the Year pushes personal boundaries to be a good mentor

BBBSWNC salutes its 2023 Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year – Karla Magaña and Bill Smith. Bill, who lives in Polk County, and Magaña, a Jackson County resident, have both been matched with their Littles for four years.

Karla Magaña has been named BBBSWNC’s Big Sister of the Year for helping her Little Sister Kira work through challenges while also championing BBBS to the Hispanic community in the Cashiers and Highlands area.

Magaña has been “the outlet for Kira that takes her mind off of the challenges and allows her to flourish in new opportunities and learn about herself and what her interests really are,” Danielle Hernandez, BBBS Cashiers & Highlands Senior Program Coordinator, wrote in her nomination.

Additionally, because Magaña continually promotes BBBS in her professional work at the International Friendship Center in Highlands, “the interest and trust in our program from the Hispanic community here has grown tremendously,” Hernandez wrote. “We are seeing more and more families seeking information about the program.”

Magaña first met Kira at Kira’s school four years ago through the BBBS Site-Based Program. Like many new matches, it was a bit awkward at first, Magaña recalled in a recent interview. Kira, who had experienced a lot of loss, was quiet. But things began to perk up after Kira pointed out that she and Magaña have first names that begin with the same letter.
From then on, Kira was her true self, her Big Sister said – “very outgoing,” the kind of person who compliments strangers and asks about their dogs.

A year in, Magaña suggested to Kira’s mother that Magaña and Kira become a match through BBBS’s Community-Based Program, which would allow them to do things off school grounds. That began a series of adventures that include outings that indulge Kira’s love for research, especially outer space. Magaña has helped Kira find local age-appropriate avenues to explore her interest in space, as well as a pathway Kira can pursue to achieve her dream to become an astrophysicist.
Under Magaña’s guidance, Kira has begun to explore new worlds. Magaña, a native of Mexico who learned English as a second language, noted Kira’s openness, after initial reluctance, to learning more about her Big Sister’s Mexican heritage. “The other day we were in the park, and there were signs in English and Spanish and she started reading them in Spanish,” Magaña said. “She’s more open to my culture and learning about other cultures as well.”

Last year, Kira and Magaña stepped outside their comfort zones several times, Hernandez wrote. Kira, who loves animals, wanted to go horseback riding, “and while both Karla and Kira were incredibly nervous, scared even,” Hernandez stated, “they both took the reins with all their confidence. And had an incredible experience learning to ride and control their horses.”

Later in the year, they challenged their fears of heights and speed by going ziplining. Demonstrating to Kira “that you can do anything you put your mind to,” Magaña completed the line set with a 100-foot zip, Hernandez said.

And they skateboard – well, Kira does.

“I sit on my skate and just go downhill,” Magaña said, laughing. “I see how passionate she is about it, and I don’t want her to lose that excitement. I want to teach her it’s OK to be afraid and push your boundaries. You just have to keep trying to get better. So I can’t give up now.”

Kira “is somebody that everybody should have in their life,” her Big Sister said. “She’s a loyal friend, she’s always going to have your back. She advocates when she sees something wrong. When someone is bullying or bothering her friends, she steps up for them. She’s brave – a lot braver than I am. She makes me want to be the better version of myself because I know she is watching.”

“They just mesh like real sisters. She’s like part of our family now,” Kira’s mother wrote in the nomination. She said Magaña, whose work at the International Friendship Center includes facilitating a support group for mostly single, immigrant mothers, has helped Kira’s self-confidence grow. “She is an amazing example for Kira in what a good education and hard work can get you.”

To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina, visit bbbswnc.org. To become a Big or enroll a child in the Cashiers-Highlands area, contact Hernandez at cashiers@bbbswnc.org or (828) 399-9133.

For more, contact Hernandez or BBBSWNC Communications Coordinator Paul Clark at paulc@bbbswnc or (828) 776-1627.

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