Who's That Gal: Colleen McMurray, Assistant Manager of Site-Based Mentoring for Big Sister Association of Greater Boston
Name: Colleen McMurray
Occupation: Asst. Manager of Site-Based Mentoring for Big Sister Association of Greater Boston
Hometown: Margaretville, NY
Current ‘hood: West Medford MA
Currently Reading: Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker Favorite Workout: Yoga and hiking
Favorite Thing About Winter in New England: Snuggly bulky blankets and cooking warm cozy meals with friends
Tell us a little about your background. How did you first become involved with the Big Sister Association?
I’ve worked for women and girl-serving organizations for as long as I can remember. My background is in education and intercultural leadership and management. I have always found myself in careers that involved training and relationship building. I was co-managing an all-girls group home in Arizona when I decided to move back to the east coast to be closer to family. Big Sister Association was so appealing because they have been prominent in the community for so long and have such a powerful connection to their partners and the matches they support. It just felt like an admirable fit.
Did you have someone in your childhood that stands out as a mentor?
I grew up with a family of strong women. My mom has always danced to the beat of her own drum. She and my dad raised my two older sisters and I to do the same, but I desperately wanted to follow the beat of my sister’s drums. In fact, I admired the sisters so much that I split my chin open mimicking them in a game of “follow the leader.” That was when I learned how important it was to be my own person. My sisters have taught me that I will always have people who accept me and appreciate my quirks. They helped me create a brave space where I can be unapologetically myself right in my own skin while still be able to appreciate what others have to offer in that space. I am very lucky to have mentors who show up to family holidays and are more likely to be a match if I ever need an organ transplant!
What is “site-based mentoring?”
Site-based mentoring is designed specifically for girls in elementary schools (grades 2-5) throughout Boston, Cambridge and Quincy. In Site-Based Mentoring, Big Sisters meet weekly with their Little Sister at the girl’s school, generally during her lunch period (except for our after-school programs where matches meet in the late afternoon and early evening). We ask that our Big Sisters commit to at least three semesters or one full calendar year, but many of our matches choose to continue their relationships beyond this initial time frame. Big and Little Sisters can also keep in touch over the summer months through phone calls, letters and e-mails. It is an amazing program for women and girls with busy weekend schedules who still want to engage in some fun during the school/work week.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
My role primarily consists of running high school mentoring groups where our “Big Sisters” are high school students and our “Little Sisters” are elementary school students. You can only imagine that there are a handful of tiny fires to put out when working with children and teenagers. I think some of the biggest challenges are making sure that our program is meeting developmental needs, that we have enough time to help them grow, and that we are engaging the girls in an empowering way, all on a non-profit budget.
How do you respond when a weeping 8 year old tells you someone stole her invisible fairy shoes and moments later a teenager is asking how she can talk to her peers about cultural appropriation? My role requires a lot of flexibility, resourcefulness, and kindness, but mostly a mindful listening ear with plenty of open-ended questions. It is certainly never a dull moment.
What advice would you give for someone looking for a role like yours?
Ask people to coffee or tea! If you are interested in any position at any organization a great way to learn more about that role is to get to know the person currently in it and ask about their strengths, challenges, and what a “day in the life” looks like. A causal meet and greet is a great way to network, get your foot in the door, and find out if that role is something you are still interested in.
On that note, what advice would you give to someone that is new to mentoring?
Be patient. Relationships take time and nurturing. Many new mentors begin with the assumption that the friendship they build with a mentee will happen quickly and impact will follow, but reality is a little different. Getting to know more about your mentee and their background does not happen without building trust and sharing more about yourself as well. Any change that comes, whether it is change that is seen during your relationship or a long way down the line is really on your mentee’s terms. Support your mentee how they would like to be supported and not how you think they would like to be supported. This may take time and learning on your end.
How can we get more involved with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston?
We always need women to step up and volunteer as Big Sisters, and you can get started easily online at www.bigsister.org. We also rely on the generosity of our community to keep our programs going—we can’t do it without you! Your donation, which can be made at www.bigsister.org/donate, helps us recruit women to become Big Sisters, interview and train them, match them with Little Sisters whom we’ve interviewed, then provide professional guidance and support to each of those one-to-one relationships. We love creative ways that people can support us, too, like purchasing items on from our Amazon Wish List that can be used for Big and Little Sister activities like making slime!