April 11, 2023

Friends — Austin: A Story of Friendship & Basketball

How Program Director and Friend Marilyn Empowered Mariah to Use Her Voice

On the last day of a weeklong basketball camp this past summer, Mariah ran excitedly through a crowd of people to find Marilyn in the bleachers and hugged her. It was a big hug—and an even bigger moment for their five-year friendship. Mariah’s affection is something to be earned. When they first met, she was reserved, sometimes choosing to communicate through behaviors instead of using her words, and didn’t seem interested in many school activities. And here was this nearly 11-year-old girl with a broad smile, who had gotten up early herself that week, filled her water bottles, remembered her inhaler, and was prepared to take on an entire day of basketball.

Mariah’s dream career is basketball. “She’ll always say to me, ‘I’m going to college,” says Marilyn, Friends - Austin Program Director and Friend to Mariah. “I’m going to play basketball, and you’ll be there. Can we still be friends?”

When Marilyn became Mariah’s Friend, she was determined to be a consistent female presence to this little girl. Marilyn has supported Mariah through transitions between five different elementary schools. They have a relationship based on trust, understanding, mutual respect, and patience, and Mariah’s natural confidence has soared over the years. Before the start of this school year, she shared a list with Marilyn of things she wanted to communicate to her new teacher. She’s learned to advocate for herself and shared with her teacher that if she gets overwhelmed, she may need a break but will return.

“She’s not afraid to speak her mind,” says Marilyn. “I hope she continues to have people in her circle who allow Mariah to keep working toward her goals no matter what and advocating for herself along the way, whether in school, family, or basketball.”

  • 2018: Marilyn and Mariah start a friendship. Marilyn still has photos on her phone of when Mariah was five years old.
  • 2019: Mariah tells Marilyn about wanting to be a basketball player when she grows up.
  • 2020: Mariah is motivated and sets up her own computer and hot spot every day so she can connect remotely for school. Both devices were provided by Friends - Austin.
  • 2021: Through Friends - Austin’s partnership with the YMCA of Austin, Mariah begins playing basketball, attends all practices, and takes skill building very seriously. Mariah also solidifies her love and respect for Marilyn’s dog, Dr. Dre.
  • 2022: Mariah goes to a basketball camp for the first time, sponsored by Friends - Austin board members. Marilyn transports Mariah every day to and from camp, where she quickly makes friends. She asks Marilyn to come early on the last day to cheer her on.