Outlook

Employee honored as top state 'Big Sis'

Monday, April 3, 2006

Paula and RachaelLike many sisters, Paula and Rachael relish their good times together and offer comfort in adversity. They share personality traits. And each can't imagine what life would be without the other. They weren't born to this sisterhood, but that doesn't diminish the quality and significance that led the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Minnesota organization to honor Big Sister Paula Eckerman with its top volunteer award this past year.

Eckerman, database manager for the SCSU Foundation, launched this extraordinarily rich relationship eight years ago by signing up with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota. She was single and shy in 1997. So was 7-year-old Rachael, the Little Sister she was paired with. Years later, in her nomination of Eckerman for the volunteer award, Rachael wrote: "All the things I have she has helped me gain. Without Paula, I would still be the quiet, scared girl I was when I met her."

Once Eckerman made the decision to reach out, she reached deep. Her bond with Rachael grew stronger each year, and so did the "Sisters'" self-confidence. Eckerman was there for Rachael as she met incredible challenges for one so young: the death of her father, moving from St. Cloud to the little Wisconsin border town of Sandstone with her mother and brother, and seeing her home destroyed by fire. Eckerman also was there to share the joys of sisterly activities: shopping for new school clothes, going for pizza and movies, enjoying family gatherings, reading her little sister's poetry.

"When Paula became a Big Sister I'm sure she had no idea the kind of impact she would make on Rachael's life," said Troy Fritz, director of the area Big Brothers Big Sisters. "I remember Rachael's mom telling me that Paula was an 'angel sent from above' and that she has made such a tremendous impact in Rachael's life, helping her become a caring young lady with more self confidence."

Eckerman has grown, too, in the relationship. "Rachael actually shows me how to look at things differently," she said. "She's had many challenges for such a young person, but when we're together having fun I can see her worries melt away. She can be a kid, stress-free for awhile."

Through the years Eckerman has married, and she and her husband Tom are hoping to adopt a child of their own. They've posted their parent profile on their personal Web site as well as through the Children's and Home Society Family Services. In their parent profile letter, Tom wrote this tribute to Paula: "My wife is a very strong person with willpower that never stops. She is a very caring, protective and giving person."

Now that Rachael is 16 and approaching adulthood, Eckerman looks forward to new dimensions in their relationship. Perhaps one day she'll see Rachael pass on the legacy of their sisterhood by reaching out to her own Little Sister.

- Marsha Shoemaker

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