'Sisters' an unlikely pair with great rapport
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Amillia Michaelis, 9, hugs "big sister" Peg Burris at the end of a visit this week at Roosevelt Elementary School in Port Angeles. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound matched the pair last spring, and seeks more volunteer mentors in both Clallam and Jefferson counties. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Sisters Amillia and Peg are part of a small and hopeful effort in Clallam County.

The "little sister," Amillia Michaelis, is a fourth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School, while "big sister" Peg Burris is a Clallam County sheriff's deputy.

There's quite a gap in their ages -- Amillia is 9 while Burris is a grandmother -- but the two have grown close in the months since they chose each other. Amillia and Burris are one of just seven Clallam matches made by Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Puget Sound and its local coordinator, Samantha Garwood.

Garwood, an AmeriCorps volunteer from the tiny town of Onekama, Mich., is hunting for adult mentors, known as Bigs, for children at Roosevelt and Dry Creek elementaries in Port Angeles.

Clallam County's Bigs program is based in the two schools for now, unlike Jefferson County's community-wide program, which has made nearly 200 matches.

Garwood brought Amillia and Burris together last spring, just as Amillia was finishing up third grade. They meet each week in Roosevelt's cafeteria to play board games, practice multiplication tables, and just talk, like sisters.

"We talk about how our weekends were," said Amillia, "and we play checkers. She won most of [the games]."

Burris countered that Amillia had beaten her a few times.

"She's being shy about it," she said.

"Amillia is teaching me the game of Life," Burris added, referring to the Milton Bradley game.

But both also learn about life through the eyes of someone at a different stage.

For Burris, the work week is brightened by the simple gift of Amillia's friendship.

Amillia, for her part, looks forward to a whole season of activities with Burris: baking cookies in the school cafeteria kitchen, decorating a pumpkin for Halloween, making Christmas presents for her parents.

Both sisters have family members who live far away: Amillia's older sister is in California and Burris' 29-year-old Air Force sergeant son is stationed in Georgia.

And last summer, the pair didn't see each other since school was out, so they kept in touch by sending cards and chatting on the phone.

Book reading plans

They also planned to concurrently read a book, Allie Finkel's Rules for Girls: Best Friends and Drama Queens by Meg Cabot.

The sisters haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but there's still time.

"We hope to stay together," Burris said.

Early on, "it was kind of weird. . . . I didn't really know her," Amillia said.

But Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Puget Sound provided an ice-breaker list of activities, so they could check off things they'd enjoy doing together.

Asked whether she recommends Bigs to other kids her age, Amillia said yes, since "they're really fun and they're really nice."

In both Clallam and Jefferson county, many more Bigs are needed, said Liesl Slabaugh, branch manager for the North Olympic Peninsula.

In Jefferson, about 40 children are on a waiting list for big brothers or sisters.

And in Clallam, Garwood seeks matches for the students at Dry Creek and Roosevelt.

To learn more about Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Puget Sound, visit www.BBBSps.org, phone the Jefferson County office at 360-379-4984 or phone Garwood at 360-670-6016.

The benefits of having a chosen sister, Burris said, "are very reciprocal."

Amillia is "a very special young lady. I'm really happy she calls me her friend."


Sequim-Dungeness Valley reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com

Last modified: October 21. 2009 11:07PM
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