Name: Jeanna Matuszak
Volunteers for: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Wisconsin
Nominated by: Barbara Vo-Koldos
Nomination letter: “Jeanna has been there for Emily on a consistent basis for the last three years, not because she has to, but because she wants to.”
Tom Robinson retired from the business world years ago, but he’s hard at work every Tuesday to make things better for the residents of a Green Bay women’s shelter.
Jeanna Matuszak and Emily Klinter are sisters in just about every sense of the word except one: They were not born that way.
It took a couple of unfortunate twists of fate to bring these two young women together in a special friendship that has impacted both of them and brightened their lives.
Matuszak is a volunteer who has been Klinter’s big sister for nearly three years through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Wisconsin. She is one of seven community volunteers being recognized in Press-Gazette Media’s “Seven Days of Giving” campaign this year to highlight people who volunteer their time and talents throughout the year.
Klinter, a 17-year-old junior at Pulaski High School, said her friendship with Matuszak has made a big difference in her growth as a person.
“We have a lot of fun together,” she said. “I look up to her.”
Matuszak, 26, of Howard, knows well the impact that an adult role model can make on a child. After her father died in a plane crash when she was 7, Matuszak got involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters and had a big sister to lean on during some difficult years.
As an adult, Matuszak decided to get involved again and help another young girl the same way.
Officials cautioned her that Klinter had special needs because of developmental disabilities stemming from a brain tumor removal at age 2. The girl’s parents hoped a big sister could help her build some self-confidence heading into the crucial high school years.
It worked out well because Matuszak’s job working with disabled adults gave her unique insights into communicating with her new friend.
“Emily and I are just a perfect match,” she said. “I’m able to get her out of her shell.”
Since early 2010, the two have spent countless hours together, perfectly at ease with each other whether they are dancing to a TV video game, singing along with the car radio, volunteering at an animal shelter or baking cookies for a nursing home.
Although Klinter will graduate from Big Brothers Big Sisters when she turns 18, Matuszak said they plan to remain friends.
Klinter’s mother, Kay Klinter, said the relationship has made immeasurable differences in her daughter’s growth, boosting her self-esteem and teaching her to become more sociable.
“It’s been a gift. I’m not kidding,” she said.
Referring to her daughter, she added: “Their relationship has had a great impact on who she’s becoming.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @pgscottwilliams.