Tauryian Sparrow was struggling when she first met Brenda Triplett. Tauryian was 16 years old and had recently suffered the loss of her father. She and her siblings had been placed into foster care. And because she had been unschooled during her childhood, she was now enrolled at Bronx Regional High School, trying to figure out if she could get enough credits to graduate before she turned 20.
But she had a more immediate problem: She didn’t know where to find breakfast in the morning. She was spending the first half of her day at school hungry.
Brenda, who is the director of educational achievement and partnerships at Children’s Aid, had come to Tauryian’s high school that day to see how she was transitioning to care and to school. When she heard about Tauryian being hungry, Brenda stood up immediately and found a school staffer who could help.
“She heard I was hungry, and she found out how to help right there and right then,” Tauryian said. “It’s been that way ever since. Whenever I’ve needed something, she’s been there for me.”
In her role at Children’s Aid, Brenda interacts regularly with older youth in care. She has a track record of forming strong mentoring relationships with those students, who often call her Auntie Brenda. And Tauryian was no exception.
“I connect with kids like Tauryian because of my background,” Brenda said. “Growing up, I didn’t always feel like I fit in. I was always the poorest kid in class. I didn’t have a two-parent household. And I overcame that. So now I root for the underdog. I connect with kids who have challenges. I’m so grateful that I get to experience these connections and this fulfillment. I feel so blessed to be able to touch these lives.”
Brenda’s main mission with Tauryian was to help her graduate from high school. Tauryian’s father had not filed the proper paperwork to have her registered as a homeschooler, and so she started school at 16 with no credits. Originally, Tauryian thought that she would have to stay in high school until she was 20.
Then, when the coronavirus pandemic descended on New York City and schools shut down, educational requirements changed. Students were allowed to take their Regents exams, even without the requisite credits. Tauryian passed all of hers with grades in the 80s and 90s.
Then, Brenda enrolled Tauryian at Children’s Aid’s Next Generation Center in the Bronx, where she was able to complete her high school equivalency diploma.
“When COVID hit, that’s when our bond really got stronger,” Tauryian said. “School was iffy, and online school was a pain in my behind. But she never gave up on me, and I never gave up on me.”
Last year, Brenda was the commencement speaker at Tauryian’s graduation from NGC. And they decided to have an additional celebration as well. When Brenda learned that Tauryian didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, she invited her mentee over to her house to celebrate.
“My husband said: ‘This was one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve ever had,’” Brenda said. “When we talk about the mentor-mentee relationship, we always focus on what the mentor gives the mentee. I have to try not to cry when I say this, but: I’ve gotten more and I’ve learned more from her. I’ve learned about resiliency, about forgiveness, and about hope.”
And Tauryian feels the same way about Brenda. “She was the mother or the aunt I wish I would have had,” she said. “Every time I see her, I want to give her a hug – or a fist bump, because it’s COVID.”
Now that’s she has her diploma, Tauryian is turning her attention to college. She’s enrolling at LaGuardia Community College this year, where she plans to study zoology and hopes to become a veterinarian. It’s a dream that she didn’t think was possible before she found someone like Brenda, who believed in her.
“Words can’t describe how life has been since I met Dr. Triplett,” she said. “I’m speechless about her. She’s a great soul, and she wants the best for me.”