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Be an Angel: 'Big Sister' brings joy to 9-year-old

Courtney Murphy of Stonington spends a few hours each month with her little sister Elena, a 9-year-old she describes as “spunky.”

Only Elena isn’t really her sister. She’s a third grader from Groton who was matched with Murphy through Hartford-based Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that provides mentors to young people across the state.

In the past year, Murphy has brought Elena to the Polar Express train ride in Essex as well as an Isley Brothers concert at the Mohegan Sun. They’ve also gone to bowling alleys, Mystic Aquarium, arcades and even for a pedicure, and Murphy said one of her favorite moments was teaching her little sister to ride a bike.

“Is this your job?” Elena once asked Murphy.

“No, I do this for fun,” she responded.

And it’s true, said Murphy, that she gets just as much out of the relationship as Elena. They usually spend three to four hours together monthly doing things that Elena likes to engage in.

“She’s just fun loving,” Murphy said. “She’s a little shy at first, but then she warms up.”

Murphy runs all the training programs at Electric Boat as its director of workforce development, where she’s worked for nearly two decades. It’s a bit of a family thing at EB, with Murphy representing the third generation in her family to work there.

With no children of her own, and feeling like she wanted to give back to the community, Murphy said she sought out Big Brothers Big Sisters thinking it would be rewarding to help out.

She has found the best reward in her budding relationship with Elena, who took the time to write a heartfelt Christmas letter that Murphy shared.

“When gramma tells me that you’re coming to pick me up, my heart fills with joy and love, then my heart explodes,” said the letter, slightly edited here. “I love all the time I spend with you.”

Murphy admitted she got a little teary-eyed after reading the note, which concluded with “You are the best.”

Murphy said the requirements for being a Big Sister are pretty loose, though volunteers are encouraged to be consistent with their visits. The goal is to spend six hours a week with a little sister, though Murphy can’t always find that much time.

“I hope more people get involved,” she said. “It’s not this heavy burden. It’s something I look forward to.”

Murphy said she feels a commitment to Elena and her future, but it is more about their interaction than any sort of gifts.

“I want to see how she grows up,” Murphy said. “It’s fun to see things through her perspective.”

For information on the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, visit nbbbs.org or call (860) 930-0609.

Be an Angel is a regular feature in the Times. To contribute, email times@theday.com.

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