SOUTH PORTLAND — Life was good for Diedre Sileo in 2005.
The Bath native had started her career as an x-ray technician, spending three months at a time at places around the U.S.: Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina, Kansas and Boston. She then returned to her home state in 1984 and began working in occupational medicine.
But something was missing.
“I had a good job and a home of my own,” Sileo said recently. “But I also had lots of free time. I wanted to do something to give back.”
One of her friends who served on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine encouraged Sileo to become a Big Sister. So she did.
“Jayda Fletcher was only 7 years old when I met her in 2005,” Sileo said. Fletcher was attending an alternative school, and her mother’s attention was focused on two younger siblings, one of whom had attention deficit disorder. The mother was 16 when she gave birth to Jayda.
“She thought it would be good for her daughter to have an adult mentor,” Sileo recalled.
The match was made. Sileo officially became Fletcher’s “Big Sister,” and they’ve enjoyed a mutually rewarding relationship over the past eight years.
“It’s been so gratifying to be part of Jayda’s life and to see her blossom,” Sileo said. “In the beginning, talking with her was like pulling teeth. Now we have great conversations. She’s gone from being a troubled student to making the honor roll, and she’s looking forward to going to college.”
Sileo has introduced Fletcher to things she might not otherwise see, such as theater and ballet. They’ve also enjoyed going to movies, water parks and barbecues.
Halloween costume parties have provided great opportunities for this Big Sister Little Sister duo to shine. Three times they’ve been awarded “best costume” honors: as witches, as a doctor and patient, and as Thing One and Thing Two from “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss.
Sileo noted that Fletcher is now almost part of the family. “My 5-year-old daughter Payton loves Jayda,” she said. “She thinks of her as an aunt.”
Not surprisingly, Fletcher shares positive feelings about her experience with her Big Sister. “I try to get together with Diedre as often as possible,” she said. “It’s a really good program.”
The Big Brother Big Sister program officially ends when the younger “sibling” becomes 18 years old. But Sileo said she and Fletcher have no intention of ending their relationship; she plans to continue working as a medical assistant for Central Maine Partners in Health, and to continue her relationship with Fletcher.
Together they exemplify the benefits of stepping outside one’s comfort zone to light another person’s life: Everybody wins.
One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: firstname.lastname@example.org.