JaRiah Taylor found the perfect ball at St. Clair Bowl in Fairview Heights for the big game against her Big Sister, Charrell Barksdale.
Not only was it hot pink, the same color as Charrell’s nail polish, it had “ASHLEY” engraved on it. JaRiah, 13, of East St. Louis, has a sister named Ashley.
JaRiah inched toward the foul line and lifted the ball toward her chest, ready to go for that first strike.
“Wait!” Charrell called out from behind her. “Come back and tie your shoe. You’re not injuring yourself on my watch.”
Charrell, 28, of Belleville, is protective of JaRiah, her little sister for three years. The two are part of a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois mentoring program.
Charrell takes JaRiah to restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, museums, sports games or parks about twice a month. They talk on the phone several times a week.
“She’s somebody I can talk to about my feelings,” said JaRiah, a sixth-grader at Lincoln Middle School in East St. Louis.
JaRiah falls in the middle of six siblings, ages 2 to 18, who are being reared by their single mother, Kekeisha Beasley. Her father lives in Texas.
Kekeisha signed up JaRiah for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I just felt like it would be something different,” said Kekeisha, 37. “It would give her a chance to explore and build her social skills.”
Charrell also is a positive female role model. She works as a claim examiner for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and teaches health care administration at Brown Mackie College in Fenton, Mo.
Charrell was a peer leader while in college at Eastern Illinois University and still is involved in youth programs through church and sorority.
“I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to make change,” she said. “I don’t want to sit around and complain.”
JaRiah’s favorite thing to do with Charrell is go out to eat, and her favorite restaurant is Cheddar’s Casual Cafe. She also likes McDonald’s and T.G.I. Fridays.
“My mom gave us a coupon to go to Olive Garden, and we made our own pasta,” JaRiah said.
The two are regular theatergoers, but Charrell fell asleep during JaRiah’s two favorite movies, “Frozen” and “Despicable Me.” She’ll never live it down.
JaRiah has gone to watch Charrell play in a St. Louis kickball league, and last fall, they went pumpkin picking at Eckert’s.
“When I started school, she bought me school supplies,” JaRiah said. “And when my birthday came up, she bought me a birthday gift. She bought me a diary and some candy.”
Kekeisha has noticed changes in JaRiah since her big sister-little sister match. Mainly, the 13-year-old seems less shy.
“I used to have to call Charrell for JaRiah, but now she does everything herself,” Kekeisha said. “She calls her and carries on conversations. It’s opened her up some.”
Charrell is engaged to marry Jermaine Minor, an ex-Marine and fellow Veterans Administration employee. She is swamped with her two jobs and other activities, but she makes time for JaRiah.
Charrell’s twin brother, Darrell, had a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters when he was a boy, and she saw how it benefited him.
“I’ve had a lot of encouragers in my life,” Charrell said. “I’ve had a lot of people who helped me along the way. I feel like it would be selfish if I didn’t try to have the same effect on someone else.
“There’s a quote that says, ‘To the world, you may just be somebody, but to somebody, you may be the world,’ and that’s so true.”