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Making a big impact

Little Sister asks Big Sister to walk her down the aisle

Dancing down the aisle in her wedding gown with her dear friend at her side was April Anderson –Vaughn’s idea for the perfect beginning to her late-summer wedding. She and her husband, Matt, were married at Joy Christian Center in St. Cloud in mid-August. Vaughn’s mother was not able to attend the wedding for health reasons, and her uncle was also unable to attend the ceremony to walk Vaughn down the aisle.

“So I decided to ask one of the strongest persons in my life if she would give me away,” Vaughn said.  That person was Sherry Olson, of St. Cloud, who had become Vaughn’s “Big Sister” 25 years earlier in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Olson and her husband, Al, were in Sturgis, S.D. in early August for the annual Motorcycle Rally. It was their 27th trip to Sturgis. They returned early from the rally to attend the wedding because Olson received her “Little Sister’s” request to walk her down the aisle.

“I told her it would be an honor,” said Olson, who admitting feeling very emotional as she danced down the aisle with her “Little,” who she had known since she was 7 years old.  In a wedding toast to the couple, she spoke of how proud she was of Vaughn, who she describes as an excellent parent, a hard worker and someone who is helpful to others and is very generous with her time and resources.

Olson and Vaughn first met when Olson was a probation officer in Little Falls and Vaughn was only 7 years old and living with her mother and brother in Pierz. “Twenty five years ago, when I moved to Little Falls and took the job, I wondered how I could contribute to the community,” said Olson. “I signed up to be a “Big” and we were matched almost right away.” Vaughn remembers meeting Olson and thinking that having a probation officer for a “Big” sounded scary. “But I thought she’d be fun, too.”

The two met at least once a week, on Wednesdays. They baked a lot, played board games, went to the library, did art projects and ate out. Doing homework became part of the Wednesday night tradition too.

Vaughn had older sisters who had busy lives and families of their own, so her relationship with Olson was extra special. “It helped me get through the week, being able to look forward to Wednesdays,” Vaughn said. “ We talked about life and family, and we hung out.”  Vaughn compared having Olson in her life to having blue skies and sunshine around.

When asked what impact having a “Little” had on her, Olson said, “I don’t have children so April was the closest thing I had to having a little girl. It was always fun.” She added that it brought balance to her life. During the day, she worked in a demanding job with people who had committed felonies, but on Wednesday evenings her life revolved around her “Little Sister”.

Vaughn didn’t have pets when growing up but she learned to love animals from her “Big,” who owned horses and had always been a big animal lover. Vaughn also gives credit to Olson for becoming involved in church. “I didn’t have a religious background as a child,” said Vaughn. “ Sherry was one of the few role models I had.” Vaughn admired Olson’s faith and how positive she was, always looking at the bright side. “As a teen, I tried church, but I didn’t get it.” A proud moment for both of them was when Vaughn was baptized.

Vaughn played in the school band and sang in choir and was involved in karate for five years. Olson was in attendance at these events, and she has kept scrapbooks and photo albums filled with school pictures, photographs, concert programs and personal notes from Vaughn. “Some day these will be hers,” said Olson, “because April said she does not have a lot of pictures of herself when she was growing up.”

Olson and Vaughn were matched in Morrison County, but both of them moved and, coincidentally, ended up in Stearns County, where Olson continued her work as a probation officer and where Vaughn completed her high school education.

After graduating from St. Cloud Tech High School, Vaughn got married, and before long, she was the mother of two girls.  Olson continued to stay in touch with Vaughn. The Big Brothers Big Sisters program officially ends at age 18, but the relationships between “Bigs” and “Littles” can last for years.  Vaughn said her daughters adore Olson and that they all compete for her attention when they spend time together.

Vaughn has a strong work ethic. “I’ve always had two to three jobs,” she said.  She has been a waitress, moved furniture, been a disc jockey and worked in retail jobs. “My mom never really worked, and my father was not around,” Vaughn explained. “Sherry was an example to me of someone who always worked.” Vaughn now works in the field of home healthcare.  “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s like going to spend an afternoon with your grandma or grandpa and helping them.”

As they raise their daughters, Vaughn and her husband want them to learn that family is important and that there is more to life than the Internet or television. “My girls are different from a lot of others their age. We actually play board games. We try to do fun things that are low cost.”

Olson retired from her job in corrections a year ago and is spending time these days doing things on her “bucket list.” Besides riding and caring for her horses, she volunteers with the Humane Society and also tutors students at Oak Hill Elementary School in St. Cloud.  “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have a big smile on my face because of something cute that one of the kids said or did,” she said of her tutoring experience.

Olson said that although Vaughn is busy parenting and working, the two of them are able to spend more time together since she retired from her 8 to 4:30 schedule. She contacted the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to ask if they had a record of the exact match date for her and Vaughn. The month and day are unknown but the year is 1988.  The staff were impressed, and uncertain of how many other “Big- Little” relationships have lasted that long.

Both Olson and Vaughn want to promote the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, noting there is a shortage of  “Bigs” and a waiting list of “Littles” hoping for a match. For more information, contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota at 1-888-600-1616.

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