Vicki CorpianVicki Corpian and Juliet Barr

My name is Vicki Corpian, and I work at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, in the Student Services office.  I've worked in the same field for over 17 years, and I truly enjoy it.  I work to enrich the lives of graduate students (mostly international). Most of my interpersonal skills I have learned from my "Big" sister Juliet.  

I am grateful to the Waltham Group for existing and impacting the lives of others, but more so for the ability to make perfect matches like the one made for Juliet and I.  

We were matched halfway through my sixth grade year.  At the time I was very shy and withdrawn but she brought out the best in me.  The most valuable lesson she taught me was that the best gifts don't need to come from a store, they need to come from the heart.  

This lessen manifested itself on a cold December night, when Juliet and I went to Faneuil Hall in Boston.  She told me about her roommate who was a Christian at a predominantly Jewish school, and how she wanted to make Christmas special for her.  So we picked out some old pine tree branches from a florist, brought them back to Brandeis, and made a Christmas tree!  

2017 Alumni Spotlight

Juliet Barr '81

Juliet Barr ‘81

The Activity Fair.  As a wide-eyed freshman in the fall 1977, there was nothing more appealing than a room full of tables touting their promises of a full, enriched, busy year which could including singing, acting, davening, hiking, biking, and tikkun olam, just to name a few. I went from table to table and learned of all the opportunities.  I wrote my name down on pads of yellow paper where ever I thought I might want to get involved.  

As you might have guessed, the Waltham Group was one of the places where I signed up. I saw that they had several options for volunteering.  I don’t remember the first Waltham Group meeting, I’m sure it was sandwiched in there between auditioning for the chorus (alto) and signing up for the Hillel once-a-month craft and service group.  If anyone thought I was spreading myself a bit too thin, no one mentioned it as I volunteered to do Elder Outreach (visiting at nursing homes) and Homework Helpers (going to a local school a few times a month) and the Big Brother / Big Sister Program.

At first, with no car, and being the newbie that I was, I stuck to the Waltham Group’s planned programs.  I met my “Little Sister” in some planned setting, and we got together according to a schedule.  But it didn’t take long before Vicki and I formed our own relationship.  I was only 18, and she was 10 but we clicked, and started to make dates on our own time and according to our own interests.    

We enjoyed each other’s company, and one evening in December, I took her on the commuter train to Faneuil Hall.  For me, I knew that I would have to look after her, a little girl out at night in the big city, even though this was a trip that I had already made at least a dozen times.  While we were out, I had the idea to collect some discarded pine branches that a Christmas Tree vendor had left on the street to create a makeshift Christmas Tree for my roommate.  (I thought it would help her, a Roman Catholic,  with the culture shock of being of her first year at Brandeis during the Christmas season!) Vicki and I carried those branches back on the train, schlepped them up the hill, back to Massell, up three flights to my Usen dorm room.  There I found an old box, cut a hole in it, and we jammed the branches in every which way. Vicki and I surprised my roommate by making her a Christmas tree that was waiting for her when she got back to the room.  Years later, Vicki told me that this taught her the real meaning of Christmas.  Imagine, I think I’m doing a mitzvah, but in fact, I’m teaching about Christmas!

By sophomore year, I no longer was involved in the other Waltham Group activities, having moved on to the fall musical and spring’s production of the Mikado, but Vicki and I were becoming as close as real sisters.  I would attend her concerts at school, and I’d bring her to events at Brandeis such as the famous Bronstein Weekend. I learned a lot from being her big sister.  I learned to be on time, and to keep my promises, because I knew she was counting on me.  Many of my friends really did not understand when I chose not to attend a party or go to a concert because I had plans with Vicki.  I once dumped a boyfriend because he gave me a hard time when I kept my promise to take Vicki out and told him he’d have to wait.  I truly believe that this helped me become the type of parent that I am today.

Junior year may have been a challenge for Vicki, I was concerned for her because I had plans to go to Israel second semester.  I told her I would write.  I hope I did. She told me recently I did bring home a souvenir for her.  We did not have the luxury of email, Facebook or texting, but when I returned senior year, my parents gave me the old family car and I DID have the luxury of taking Vicki out for ice cream, and bringing her to campus or to my apartment.

After I graduated, we stayed in touch.  Although I moved around to many places we never forgot one another.  When Vicki got a job at Brandeis, I saw her briefly at one of my reunions.  We continue to communicate through Facebook, email, and the good old telephone.  Looking back, how random that someone only a year or two older than me threw us together one day and the match was made that has kept us connected for forty years.  Our story continues.

About Juliet: Juliet Cantor Barr is a Jewish Educator and has run Religious Schools in NY, NJ, and WA.  She met her husband Michael as a freshman in Usen dorm.  Two of her three children also attended Brandeis, and volunteered in the Waltham Group during their years at school.   She continues to find ways to give back to her community.