When Jackie Goldstein and Shana Cole became PALs over 26 years ago, it would have been hard to believe they would still be in each other’s lives today.

PAL – a Jewish Family & Career Services program similar to Big Brother and Big Sister programs – links adults with children of single-parent families. Jackie and Shana were one of the first PAL matches, brought together by Ellen Moore, the program’s coordinator at the time.

“Little PAL” Shana needed another older presence in her life because her mom, Nancy, was born with a profound hearing loss and was fully deaf by the time her children had reached their teen years. As such, she couldn’t accompany her kids on all their activities, like going to movies and concerts.

“My children have normal hearing, and having a big brother for my son and a big sister for my daughter opened a new world for them,” Nancy said.

“Big PAL” Jackie recalls the first time she met Shana. The latter was only 11 years old.

“She was a little shy and even pretended to be sick,” Jackie said with a smile. “When I went to pick her up, she was complaining of a stomach ache. I said that it was too bad that she wasn’t feeling well because I had planned to take her to the zoo to draw the animals, and – suddenly – she was feeling much better.”

The day turned out great, and it served as the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Over the years, Jackie has shared with Shana many of the younger’s special moments – her bat mitzvah, wedding, even her baby’s naming ceremony.

“I’ve loved watching and, hopefully, helping her become the amazing woman she is today,” Jackie said.

A few weeks ago, Shana – who now lives in North Carolina with her husband Craig and two-year-old daughter Maddie – was in Atlanta to visit Jackie. She shared a few thoughts on the PAL program and what made it special for her.

“Jackie became one of the most significant influences of my childhood,” Shana sayid “She has been there to guide me and be a role model…[and] she tolerated me when I was intolerable.”

Shana, who explained she suffered with ADHD, explains that she could be difficult at times, easily distracted and always talking.

“Whether or not I drove her crazy, I have no idea,” Shana said. “She never made me feel anything but special.”

Now 37, she says doesn’t think many adults realize the impact they can have on the life of a child.

“For certain, I didn’t, not till much later,” Shana said.

Today, she is not only married and a mother herself but also the co-owner of a thriving business. She thinks Jackie had a lot to do with her success in life.

“Yes, I still get a stomach ache when I’m nervous,” she laughed, recalling her first visit with Jackie. “Maybe I just need to go to the zoo more often.”

Nancy is very grateful for the relationship the PAL program created for her daughter.

“Jackie helped my daughter,” she said. “For that, I am grateful, forever grateful. I could go on, but I believe this pretty much explains how much I love Jackie.”

For her part, Jackie says she was just having fun and that she never realized the full impact she was having on Shana’s life – or the life of Shana’s mother.

“I love Shana like family and always will,” Jackie said. “Thank you to Nancy for sharing her with me all these years, and thank you to the PAL Program for making it happen.”

SPECIAL FOR THE ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES

Editor’s Note: If you are a single parent or someone interested in learning more about the PAL program, please call JF&CS at (770) 677-9300 or email info@jfcsatlanta.org.