Brianna Warren, 18, and Ashley Cureton remember the first time they met in March 2016.
"It’s like a first blind date," Cureton says.
They were matched together by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas after Cureton went through the training program and Warren’s mom signed up her daughter, as well as her other children.
Warren was in eighth grade when she found out she had been assigned a Big Sister.
Cureton had just moved to Austin from San Marcos after growing up in San Antonio. She was advised by two friends who had been Big Sisters to try the program after she let them know she was interested in becoming involved in her new community.
They went for a walk in the neighborhood and asked each other what Cureton calls surface-level questions, such as, "What school do you go to?"
"I was nervous," Warren says. "What if we don’t connect? What if it’s weird?"
Neither had any expectations. Now, they can’t imagine not being a part of each other’s lives. "Brianna and I do life together," Cureton says.
"We’re friends. Whatever happens or goes on in my life, we talk about it," Cureton says. "Brianna is part of my family; she’s part of my village."
For Cureton, it’s a sister relationship that’s different from her own sisters. "I just feel comfortable with her," she says.
Cureton and Warren were chosen first to be Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Big Sister/Little Sister match of the year. Then they won the same honor at the state level.
On June 26, out of the 140,000 matches currently participating in the mentorship program, they were named the national Big Sister/Little Sister match.
"I thought it was crazy," Warren says. "I didn’t know what to say ... me and Ashley?"
"That was something," Cureton says. "I feel like I could do more. It was unexpected."
Ordinarily, the honor would come with a trip to a conference and chances to represent the nonprofit nationally. Amid the pandemic, though, they will probably make virtual appearances. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is working on some special things for Warren, including some career advice about becoming an artist from L’Oreal and a gift card for $500 from Nordstrom.
Warren just graduated from Vista Ridge High School and is looking at going to community college. She eventually wants to go into art therapy.
Art is one of the ways that Warren and Cureton have connected. "I am not the arts; that is all Brianna," says Cureton. "I enjoy watching her in her element."
Cureton does use art as therapy through adult coloring books. They also both love makeup and jewelry and getting their nails done, as well as going to the ballet or plays. "Anything artsy," Cureton says.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has offered them many opportunities to try new things. The most memorable was when they went ziplining. "It was scary," Warren says. "I can’t believe we actually did that."
They both encouraged each other, and both knew that if one didn’t go, the other wouldn’t go. "I didn’t want to look like a wimp," Warren says.
They’ve kept a scrapbook of all of their experiences, which include bowling and pottery painting.
What they really love, and hope to do as soon as it’s safe to socialize again, is going to Pluckers and then getting frozen yogurt. They’ve kept connected through texting and FaceTime. Cureton says she always schedules their time together because she knows that Warren has a lot going on with her job and school.
Their relationship has matured. "As she gets older, it’s a reminder that I’m getting older," Cureton says. "She gives me advice, too. There’s plenty of times where I talk about a co-worker or a situation that has happened."
Their relationships is "definitely going to grow and blossom," Cureton says.
Cureton has never felt like a mother to Warren — more like a supportive older sister or friend. She listens and never tells her what to do, but if something felt off, she would encourage Warren to talk to her parents. "There’s just been times where I’ve encouraged her," Cureton says.
Early on, their relationship was tested when Warren attempted suicide after she had been bullied by a group of girls at school. Cureton knew something was wrong in their last meeting together before the suicide attempt; she even called her Big Brothers Big Sisters match specialist for advice. Warren just seemed really distant. Cureton would ask her questions, but "I wasn’t getting much out of her."
Then, after Cureton hadn’t heard from Warren, she finally got a phone call from Warren’s mom explaining what had happened.
"I was blown away," Cureton says. "I was completely surprised, doubting myself."
She went through the process of wondering if she had failed Warren. Then Cureton’s boyfriend pointed out the obvious: "It’s not about you; get over yourself."
"He’s right. What Brianna needs from me is to reassure her that I’m not going anywhere," Cureton says.
Warren says at the time she didn’t feel like she could tell anyone what was going on. "I just kept it to myself."
Warren knew Cureton was a forever friend after her suicide attempt. "When I got out of the hospital, it was like friends don’t check on me. Only one friend did. Seeing Ashley there, too, she cares. She’s comfortable to open up to," Warren says.
"It’s been a journey," Cureton says. "It’s all brought us closer."
Without Cureton, Warren says, she would have been depressed and alone in her room these last four years.
"These have been the best four years of my life," Warren says.
Now they will transition from the mentorship program for ages 6 through high school into the young adult program, called Big Futures. It provides continued support.
"I don’t plan on moving and ghosting her," Warren says. "I don’t think I can do that."
"We’re in a relationship that is going to evolve, but we’re doing life together," Cureton says. "I don’t see it dwindling apart."
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has 450 children currently waiting to be matched with a Big Brother or Sister. It’s currently doing all training virtually, including volunteer information sessions. Sign up for more information at BigMentoring.org