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Shadyside woman named Pennsylvania's Big Sister of Year

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 6:27 p.m.

Roberta London always wanted to have a little brother.

When she joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters youth mentoring organization 10 years ago, she went against the norm and asked to be matched with a boy instead of a girl.

That's how she met then-7-year-old Ishemer Ramsey, a Butler boy she's proud to call her little brother.

“He is an awesome kid, he really is,” said London, 40, of Shadyside. “He's like family to me now.”

London, a compliance manager at PNC Bank, has been selected Pennsylvania's Big Sister of the Year by the Big Brothers Big Sisters State Association of Pennsylvania. She is among 100 mentors nationwide vying for the national Big Sister of the Year award given by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. The winner will be announced at the group's national conference in June.

“She's been consistent, she's been supportive and she's been there for him through good and bad,” said Ted Qualli, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters State Association of Pennsylvania. “This isn't a paid position. She's spending time with him because she wants to. She's giving of herself, and she has exposed him to different things he wouldn't have known.”

London, who is single and an only child, learned about the mentoring network from a friend after moving to Pittsburgh from Boston in 2001. She figured mentoring a boy would be suitable because she's always gotten along better with boys.

As it turns out, there are more boys on the Big Brother Big Sister waiting list than there are available mentors, Qualli said. And Ishemer, who is now 17, lived with his father and needed a strong, female role model.

“When they see us out, people think we're mom and son,” London said. “There are times I've had to act as a mother figure but his mom is still in the picture. It's more of a brother-sister relationship.”

In the 10 years since she mentored Ishemer, London has made sure they stay busy when they see each other every two to three weeks. They go bowling, to the movies or sporting events. She takes him out to eat and introduced him to Indian and Thai cuisines. They've traveled together to Baltimore and Washington. This month, they went to Cleveland to see an NBA game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Their bond has helped London develop a sense of responsibility.

“When I first moved to Pittsburgh, it was all about Roberta,” she said. “Now with Ishemer there's someone else I have to look out for. It's not just about me. Even though I give of myself, I feel like I get five times back what I'm giving. He's a blessing.”

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412 -320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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