On the surface, they don't seem to have much in common. Eiesha Horsley is a 33-year-old black woman from the North; Iyana Steen is a 13-year-old white girl from the South.
Horsley, however, understands much of what Iyana deals with because she also was raised by a single mother and attended schools in which she was the minority race.
"You didn't want to be just the best athlete," she said. "You wanted to be a scholar athlete, so I learned very quickly how to balance my academics and my extracurricular activities."
That attitude and achievement led Horsley on a successful path, which includes being named the 2014 Mrs. Georgia America. But she didn't mention her fancy title to Iyana or her mother, Marisol Quinones, when she met them in January to become Iyana's Big Sister.
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"I wanted her to love Eiesha, not Mrs. Georgia," said Horsley, whose reign ended last month. "It's not that I'm not proud of it, but I'd like to keep the focus on her."
And here's what that focus has done: Iyana said she has learned from Eiesha, "Don't let anything get into your head and bother you and mess up your life."
Horsley said she has learned from Iyana "patience and understanding. We have to have some real talks. I want her to get a real honest opinion without going elsewhere and getting negative feedback."
Iyana is a rising freshman at Carver High School, where she was accepted into the magnet program for science, technology, engineering and math.
"I'm not a sweaty girl," she said with a smile. "I'm a nerd, all brains."
Horsley is the owner and director of MADE Today Inc., a professional development organization in which she leads programs for organizations, families and youth to take control of their lives, respond to life's tribulations and improve their self-esteem and financial stability. MADE, standing for Making a Difference Everywhere and based in Charlotte, N.C., has produced more than 300 regional titles, 100 state titles and 40 national titles in cheerleading and dance competitions.
She was a cheerleader for the Carolina Panthers in 2005 and 2010-12 and was selected for the 2015 Atlanta Falcons cheerleading squad after she moved to Columbus last year, when her husband, U.S. Army Capt. Jarrell Horsley, was transferred to Fort Benning. She travels back to Charlotte twice per month to keep connected to MADE Today, and she is an instructor at Performance Dance Centre in Columbus.
Stepdaughter Amari, 4, visits half the year from her home in Virginia, so Horsley already had someone to mother. But she doesn't see mentoring Iyana as a sacrifice; it's a blessing.
"As Mrs. Georgia, a lot of times I'm giving back, but it can still be about me," Horsley said. "But with this, it's not about me; it's about us. People can look at my life and think it's glamorous all the time. Don't get me wrong; it's great. But this lets me know that I have a heart bigger than what I actually think sometimes."
Horsley was invited to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley gala in January.
"I really didn't want to pick up any more obligations," she said, "but listening to the stories made an impact."
Indeed, the event motivated Horsley and her husband to become Bigs. The next day, she called the Big Brothers Big Sisters office and applied. She went through the background check and interview that day. Within a week, they contacted her with a possible match.
Iyana has a younger brother, Sean, 12, who also has a Big.
"I wanted one when I noticed Sean was doing a lot of stuff with his Big Brother and I'm at home by myself while my mom's at work," Iyana said.
Iyana saw the positive impact on Sean. "He used to be very annoying and attitudinal," she said. "But since his Big Brother came, he's gotten more fun and we started interacting more."
Horsley and Iyana's mother, Marisol Quinones, immediately felt comfortable with each other when they met.
"It was very natural," Horsley said.
"I could hear my mom crying," Iyana said. "My mom's been through a lot of struggles, but she makes a lot of friends easily. I think she was letting all her frustration out."
Quinones works 60 hours per week as a machine operator at Panasonic. She needs the overtime, she said, to make up for the child support her ex-husband fails to pay.
"It seemed like everything I talked about (that day) with Eiesha, we could relate spiritually," Quinones said. "Her mom also being a single parent and what she does with her (MADE Today) girls, it was an instant click."
Iyana's first impression of Eiesha: "I thought she was very pretty, very professional."
And when she found out that her Big is Mrs. Georgia America, Iyana shrugged off the wow factor.
"I'm like a tomboy," Iyana said, "but she's trying to turn me into a girlie girl."
Horsley said of Iyana, "She's very pretty and outgoing. Very quickly, I knew I wasn't going to have any awkward moments." Then she added with a laugh, "I've picked her up in a hat and no makeup on, so she's been able to see all sides of me."
Bigs commit to spending at least 4 hours per month with their Littles. Horsley, however, gets together with Iyana four or five times each month, and they often spend 4 hours in one day.
"I just made her a part of my life," Horsley said. "I just pick her up and do what I normally would do or what she normally would do. Sometimes we have to compromise."
They visit museums, libraries and bookstores. They ride bikes. They shop. They cook in and eat out, where Horsley teaches Iyana etiquette. They do homework.
Iyana sometimes accompanied Horsley to her Mrs. Georgia appearances.
"She has to speak up for herself because I can't always be right beside her," Horsley said. "But I look over, and she's just talking away. I love that."
Even if her Big Sister time is spent just joining Horsley on errands, they laugh and have serious talks together, Iyana said.
"She keeps me on my toes," Horsley said with a smile.
Horsley encourages Iyana to go from good to great. She praised her for the five A's and two B's she received last semester in eighth grade but is pushing her to earn straight A's in high school.
"We're trying to raise the bar for her," said Horsley, who was a straight-A student while growing up in Pittsburgh.
"She says it's better to be great than good," Iyana said.
Horsley was one of only three blacks in her class of about 1,100 at Plum Senior High School in 2000.
"It was a struggle," she said.
She was captain of the girls track and field team, breaking her high school's record in the 200 meters. Then she won her first pageant, when a fraternity offered $1,000 to pay for her books her freshman year at Norfolk State. The next year, she was named Miss Norfolk State. Now, she has a master's degree in human resource management and is completing her dissertation for a doctorate in organizational management.
Horsley also helped Iyana become closer to her mother.
"In sixth grade, we had a lot of problems," Iyana said. "We were very distant. I stayed in my room; she stayed in her room. We only communicated to get up and go to school and what we wanted for dinner."
Making the communication more complex, Quinones often doesn't have the energy to be the mother she wants to be when she returns home after another 12-hour shift.
"Because I work so much, I tell Iyana I have to have a routine to come down from that," she said. "Sometimes I just sit in the car. I stand all day, and I want to get the job off my mind before getting back to being Mom."
Migraine headaches complicate the issue further.
"If I overexert myself, they are paralyzing," Quinones said.
That's why she isn't jealous when Iyana confides in Eiesha; she is grateful her daughter has such a constructive outlet.
"I have that trust with Eiesha," the mother said. "All children won't go to their parents and tell them everything. Some things they're hesitant about."
"You have to be very careful," Horsley said. "A lot of times, I have to think before I speak. I try to give her advice, but a lot of things are not in her hands."
Quinones called Iyana's relationship with Horsley "a perfect match from the beginning."
"Eiesha is constantly encouraging Iyana to always do her best," Quinones said.
"The first maybe two or three dates we had, her mom texted me every hour," Horsley said with a laugh. "Now, she's like whatever."
"It makes me feel good that my mom has someone she can trust with me," Iyana said. "With the world today, my mom is very overprotective."
Jeremy Ackles, the volunteer recruitment coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley, said Horsley being a Big is a big boost for the organization.
"It shows that no matter how important you may think you are, you are never too high to reach out and help a child in our community," he said. "Rich or poor, all these children need is your time."
Or black or white or brown.
Iyana's mother is Puerto Rican and her father is Italian. But her neighborhoods and schools have been predominantly black, as are most of her friends, so having a black Big Sister isn't a concern.
"It doesn't matter if you're white or black," Iyana said. "We're all people. If she was like Asian, I wouldn't care."
Horsley welcomed the diversity.
"I love it because it's different," Horsley said.
Quinones also isn't bothered by the racial disparity.
"That really never crossed my mind," she said. "I know the ignorance of the world, and I taught my children better than that."
Everyone doesn't have such an outlook. Iyana and Horsley do get stares and questionable looks when they are out.
"I just say, 'This is my little sister, Iyana,' and 90 percent of the time I don't say 'from Big Brothers Big Sisters.' They don't ask, but you can tell they're confused," Horsley said.
Quinones is glad she allowed herself to entrust her kids with other role models.
"I closed myself up for so long," she said. "I wouldn't allow others to be involved in our lives, but children need a lot of proper adults in their lives to have the proper examples."
BIG NEED FOR MORE BIGS
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Chattahoochee Valley matches children ages 6-14 with adult mentors in professionally supported one-to-one relationships.
Jeremy Ackles, the volunteer recruitment coordinator, said the organization has 260 matches now but a waiting list of 70 Littles, so the need is big for more Bigs.
To learn about volunteering, or for more information, call the office at 706-327-3760.