Big Brothers Big Sisters 2021 Mentee of the Year awarded to an Abilene duo with a decade of mentorship

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ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Abilene High School junior, Itzelh Longinos, has been matched with her “Big” Inger Svalling since 2011. In all that time they have grown close and built a relationship that Big Brothers Big Sisters recruitment director, Megan Woodard, affectionately calls rare.

“‘Big Brothers Big Sisters’ has been in Abilene for 40 years. In that time only about 5 or 10 matches have been together for a decade or more,” Woodard told KTAB/KRBC.

It all began with a trip to McDonald’s. Svalling says that was their first outing. She remembers a family at a table near them leaving without cleaning up any of their trash. She says Longinos’ response to their actions told her all she needed to know.

Recalling that first outing, Svalling said, “she got up, didn’t say a word, went over and put it in the garbage. And she said they should have cleaned up after themselves, and I said ‘oh this is a good child.'”

Over the next 10 years they would meet up once a week. Svalling would teach Longinos to care for her horses, take her to plays, even show up for her band competitions, and most recently her Quinceanera.

Mireya Longinos (Itzelh’s mother), Inger Svalling, Itzelh Longinos

“Without her I don’t think I would have sprouted as much,” Longinos remarked.

Svalling added, “and she did sprout!”

Taking her “Little” to a career seminar, Svalling says Longinos left that day at 9-years-old set on becoming a nurse; a dream she is actively working towards today.

“I’m going to Holland medical school right now- the College at HSU. I’m going to graduate as a CNA. I’m thinking to go up as a NICU nurse,” Longinos explained.

Svalling came to America from Sweden in 1959, arriving in Boston to work as a nanny and learn English.

“I was supposed to stay for one year to learn the language,” Svalling told KTAB/KRBC. “But I am a slow learner, so 62 years later I’m still here.”

Longinos says she’s gained a unique perspective on the world in talking with Svalling about her childhood in Sweden. Woodard explained that their vastly different backgrounds might be the reason they matched so well.

Inger Svalling, Itzelh Longinos

“We get to see them learn about each other’s cultures; how each other thinks and they each grow from that… Those are the kinds of matches we like to see,” Woodard chimed.

Longinos told KTAB/KRBC she owes a large part of who she is today to her relationship with her big.

“I’ve had depths where I could have fallen but I’ve chosen not to… I’m proud of myself very proud,” Longinos fondly explained.

“We are all proud of her,” Svalling added.

To get involved as either a ‘big’ or a ‘little,’ click here.

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