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It’s been an honor to watch her grow up.’

One-year commitment turns into lifelong friendship

As a Western Michigan University student, Corilee Kessler heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring and thought to herself, “I can do that for one year.” Kessler met her Little Sister Cinthya Lopez, then a fifth grade student at Woods Lake Elementary School in Kalamazoo, when she was 21.

Now, 13 years later, Kessler says, “I’m super happy about how it turned out. I got way more out of it than I thought I would. I didn’t think this would be a lifelong friendship.”

A lifelong friendship is how both women describe this relationship that started over ice cream in 2002. The former Big Sister/Little Sister pair reminisced recently at a local restaurant and, while they hadn’t been in the same room for several months, it obviously didn’t feel like it had been long. The two have a noticeable bond and frequently smile, laugh and even finish each other’s sentences.

Since they met, Kessler and Lopez have been there for each other for every major event in their lives including graduations and Kessler’s wedding. Kessler was on hand when Lopez recently became the first person in her family to graduate college when she earned a degree in criminal justice from Western Michigan University.

Lopez points out that this wasn’t the first graduation Kessler attended: She was also present for Lopez’s fifth grade and high school graduations. Asked how she felt watching Lopez walk across the stage to receive her college diploma, Kessler likens it to the pride a parent feels for a child. “It’s just incredible,” she says.

Having Kessler in her life was imperative in her deciding to attend and finish college, Lopez says. “Before meeting Corilee, I didn’t know anyone who had gone to college. I’d never thought of it.” But seeing Kessler, now a Kindergarten teacher at Mattawan Early Elementary School, complete a degree in education and Spanish sparked a goal for Lopez to also earn a degree.

The 24 year old put herself through college with the help of a partial Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship and by working two jobs. Often Lopez worked 60 hours a week as a student. “This girl works harder than anyone I know,” Kessler says. “She’s amazing!”

Having achieved the goal of a college degree, Lopez is reaching for new heights. She has decided to go back to school to earn a degree in nursing and will start classes this summer.

“Having Corilee in my life gave me someone else to look up to,” Lopez says. “My family is great but she was completely different from my family.”

Through their friendship, “I saw that my life could be different and thought that I want to live like she does,” Lopez says.