`Big Sister, Little Sister' bond with love

Sometimes they do crafts together. Sometimes they watch videos. Sometimes they go shopping.

Sometimes they just hug.

This week, it's dinner together at Shari's Restaurant.

They sit on the same side of the booth and Katie helps Esther read the kid's menu.

"I want that," says Esther, pointing to the picture of the Cheesy Dilla. When the waitress comes, Katie orders for her.

Esther Simmons is Katie Tager's little sister. Actually, the pair are two generations apart in age -- Esther is 13, Katie 48 -- but they found each other through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Columbia Gorge, a mentoring program administered by The Next Door, Inc. Katie, who has mild mental retardation and lives alone in her own apartment, was looking for a girl she could mentor who also was developmentally disabled.

Katie and Esther met last summer and liked each other.

"We've been together ever since," Katie says. They get together once a week at least -- "sometimes more," she adds.

They wait for their dinner and talk about the Special Olympics; Katie is an old pro at and Esther will compete in the games for the first time next month.

"I'm really fast," Esther says. "I run hard. I get tired but I just keep going." Katie says she mostly has to walk now, because of her knees. But she's won all kinds of medals in past Olympics and will be rooting for Esther to win medals of her own.

They talk about school. Esther goes to Wy'east Middle School and is learning to read. They talk about movies -- neither of them likes scary ones. They talk about shopping -- they both love to shop.

They talk about each other.

"Esther is like a littler sister than the one I've got," Katie says. "I feel more responsible with her. We laugh a lot. Whenever something's funny she tells me about it and we laugh."

Esther breaks into a silly, infectious giggle.

"I like how Katie smiles," she says. "I also like how she talks. I like to give her hugs and she gives me lots of hugs."

Katie: "One other thing about Esther is she's always happy and she cheers me up when I'm having a down day."

Esther: "I like her rings." One is a kitty cat, the other her birthstone, Katie explains, holding out her hands.

Esther's Cheesy Dilla comes, along with a salad for Katie, and they eat and talk.

"Remember when we got plain white t-shirts and we decorated them with markers?" Katie asks.

"We have to do it again, Katie, because mine washed off," Esther says, giving her big sister a sideways glance. They discuss doing it with sweatshirts this time, since it's winter.

Katie and Esther get help for their activities from Katie Folliard, who oversees the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She's given them a coupon for tonight's dinner, and helps Katie with ideas about activities they can share.

Esther's mom, Ronni Simmons, helps with transportation since Katie doesn't drive. She's happy to do it.

"I love it that Katie is Esther's big sister," Ronni says. "Katie has a real good motivating spirit about her." She often drops Esther off at Katie's apartment, or drives them around where they need to go.

"I like their relationship," Ronni says. "They shop together. They laugh together. It's a great thing."

Speaking of laughing, Katie and Esther are laughing again in their booth at Shari's. They are being silly, just like sisters, cracking each other up about stuffed animals.

They talk about what to do next time.

"One thing we haven't done yet is have a pajama party," Esther says. "I could come over to your house in my pajamas." Giggle.

"And I could be in my pajamas," Katie says. Big sisterly smile.

"We're perfect together," Katie says. "She's my little angel."

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program can be reached at 387-2367.

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