Observing Christie Thompson and Polly Sy, one might assume they are mother and daughter.
The two display what seems to be a natural ease with each other.
"We definitely have similar personalities," Thompson said.
The Columbus residents are not related, but they do have a special relationship.
They are mentor and mentee, matched three years ago through the school-based mentoring program of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio.
The pair were honored Jan. 15 as one of two outstanding mentor/mentee matches at a celebration of National Mentoring Month held at the Ohio Statehouse atrium.
Columbus residents Daniel Nam and Narareth (Tony) Seth also were presented with the award by the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio, a program of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
"I had always wanted to volunteer and work with kids," Thompson said. "I don't know how to describe how rewarding this experience has been. I have two children now, but Polly is also like a member of my family."
When they were first brought together at a gathering of potential mentors and mentees, they were not told who their partners would be, she said.
"I took a look at her and I thought, 'I bet that's my mentor,' " Sy said. "Somehow I just knew."
The two hit it off right away, she said.
They meet weekly at Columbus Alternative High School, where they talk about matters both serious and fun, Sy said.
It's just a chance to hang out and enjoy each other's company, she said.
"We're trying to arrange to be part of the community-based mentoring program so we can go out and do things outside of school," Sy said.
The influence of her mentor has helped her overcome her shyness and be willing "to take some chances. I'm more outgoing now," she said.
Sy ran and won election to student senate and also was chosen to be on the court for Columbus Alternative's semiformal dance earlier this month.
If it wasn't for the support of her mentor, "I would have been way too shy" to achieve those accomplishments, she said.
"I've been so proud of everything she's been able to accomplish," Thompson said. "I still remember the quiet girl in pigtails who I first met."
The mentoring experience is rewarding for both the adult and the student, said Marilyn Pritchett, executive director of the mentoring center.
The center provides a variety of services, including training, program guidance and background checks for 40 central Ohio mentoring organizations and another 50 agencies in northern Ohio, Pritchett said.
Many of the organizations the mentoring center works with are too small to provide those services themselves, she said.
"We're trying to make sure these agencies that are trying to do such important work don't come up against roadblocks because they lack the resources they need," Pritchett said.
In addition to working with mentoring agencies, the center also provides assistance to central Ohio residents interested in becoming mentors, she said.
"We can work with them and find out their interests and availability so we can help find the right program for them," Pritchett said. "The worst thing is for someone who wants to be a mentor choosing the wrong program for them and getting discouraged and dropping out. There's such a big need for mentors in our community."
For more information about the mentoring center and its services, visit mentoringcenterco. org, call the center at 614-233-6368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mentoring agencies nominate participants in their programs for the awards presented at the annual celebration, Pritchett said.
A panel of judges, none of whom are associated with any of the participating agencies, review and choose the honorees, Pritchett said.
Several commended mentor/mentee partners also were honored at the Jan. 15 event:
* Robert Baker of Grove City and Haleigh Purcell of Columbus.
* Jerry Einsiedel and Theodore (T.J.) Cooper of Columbus and Charles (C.J.) Knapper of Reynoldsburg.
* John Hawley and Jeremy Ruthers of Columbus.
* Jacqueline Maxstead of Grove City and Kanisha Dumas of Columbus.
* Sharyn Rigsbee and Brandy Banks of Columbus.
* Terri Thiede of Delaware and Mimi Wilkins of Akron.
* Kristen Watt and Sarah Major of Columbus.