One Phone Call Changes Two Lives
Love, hard work and friendship turns the impossible into reality.
To this day, Julie Mullenbach has no idea why she finally called.
She passed the Big Brothers/Big Sisters sign in Bloomington, Ill., “approximately 700 times” on her way to and from work at State Farm®.
The non-profit was looking for volunteers to serve as mentors to at-risk kids; for people that would help these kids learn lessons and develop skills to help them find success later in life.
“I’d always think of a reason why I couldn’t be a Big Sister,” Julie remembered. “I’d say I was too busy or that I wouldn’t know what to do or I didn’t want to commit to something if I couldn’t give it 100 percent, so I just kept passing by and never calling.”
Everything changed 12 years ago when Julie finally called.
“Figure out what you want to be, and we’ll figure out the rest together.”
Kayanna Jones and Julie Mullenbach meet for the first time.
In 2009, Julie was paired with a 6-year-old girl named Kayanna Jones.
“We both liked sports, we liked being outside and we liked to shop,” said Julie.
Julie remembers being a little nervous as she drove to Kayanna’s house to meet her for the first time. “I remember thinking ‘What if I’m no good at this, what if I let this kid down?’ Then I saw this adorable little girl standing on the side of the road, jumping up and down with excitement, and I just knew everything was going to be OK.”
For the next 12 years, it was more than OK. Kayanna and Julie would get together once every two weeks and as time went on, the two grew closer and closer.
”The first couple of years were mostly about building a relationship. I wanted her to know that she could always count on me, that I’d be there when I said I’d be there and that she could trust me.”
Julie once asked Kayanna what she wanted to be when she grew up. The 10-year-old thought about it for a while and said, “I guess I’d like to work at Burger King.”
“I asked her ‘Is that because you like to cook?’” said Julie. “And she told me that she thought Burger King might be a good job, since she couldn’t go to college.”
The two celebrating another milestone.
When Julie asked why she couldn’t go to college, Kayanna told her “it costs a lot of money.”
“You’re right, it does cost a lot of money,” Julie told her, “but I’ll tell you what: you figure out what you want to be, and we’ll figure out the rest together.”
Figuring it out
The next time they met, Kayanna’s career goals had changed; she now wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer.
With that part figured out, the two began working on a plan to get Kayanna enrolled in college.
“Kayanna has always been a great student,” Julie said, “so we were never concerned about her grades. I always tried to show her just because things are hard, it doesn’t mean they’re impossible.”
An avid volleyball player, Julie would sometimes take Kayanna to her games. Kayanna loved sports and quickly took a liking to volleyball. She showed a lot of promise. When the opportunity arose for her to attend a prestigious volleyball club, the two were extremely excited – even after they saw the $800 price tag.
“We weren’t really discouraged,” Julie said. “We just approached it like everything else; we figured out how we would solve this particular problem.”
Through a combination of hard work, talent and perseverance, Kayanna (pictured on the right) landed a full ride to attend college at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Julie set up a GoFundMe account and they quickly raised more than $1,000.
Kayanna continued attending volleyball clubs, working the concession stand in exchange for money off of her tuition.
“When all the other girls were going home or going out to celebrate, Kayanna was working,” Julie said. “She knew that if she wanted to reach her goal and get to where she wanted to be, this is what she needed to do, and she never complained.”
All of the hard work paid off. Kayanna was recruited by the University of Illinois-Chicago, and she’ll be attending this fall -- on a full scholarship. “It’s just so incredible,” Julie said. “I am just so unbelievably proud of her.”
Their story was so inspirational, the two were recently recognized as the state of Illinois Big Sister and Little Sister of the Year and were finalists for the national award.
“Kayanna and Julie’s story is really remarkable and inspiring,” said Corey Burrows, Chief Operating Officer of the Central Illinois chapter of BBBS. “Their relationship really personifies what we want our organization to do. When we talk about ‘helping a child reach their potential,’ this is exactly what we mean.”
For information on how to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, visit https://www.bbbs.org/get-involved/.
At State Farm, we believe doing good is contagious and there are Good Neighbors all around, even though it’s sometimes hard to see. People who, each and every day, make the world a better place, one Act of Good at a time.
That’s why we started 100 for Good™.
Giving back, doing good and being there when it counts are all a part of our State Farm culture. It’s who we are, and it’s who you are, too. 100 for Good brings us all together so we can see all the amazing Acts of Good our fellow Good Neighbors are doing across the country.
Big or small, every Act of Good makes a difference. Donating old clothes, paying for a stranger’s coffee, or big acts like Julie’s.
Join the community of Good Neighbors. Download the 100 for Good app today (available on IOS and Android App stores), start tracking your Acts of Good, and share your story using #100forGood. Together, we can do so much good, and inspire others to join the movement of making this world a better place, one Act of Good at a time.