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Mentors supporting Austin-East students during difficult school year

Their friendship has been especially important to Tenayia this year as recent gun violence has plagued her school, claiming the lives of several of her classmates.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — It is easy to see how much Tenayia Bishop and Beth Ellis enjoy each other's company as they catch up outside a downtown Knoxville coffee shop.

"One of our favorite things to do is get outside and be active so hiking and running together," Beth said.

"You get to learn new things, see new things that you never thought you would know or see," Tenayia said. 

Credit: Beth Ellis
Tenayia and Beth finish a race together.
Credit: Beth Ellis
Tenayia meets former President Jimmy Carter at his church's Sunday School class in Georgia

The two were matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee when Tenayia was just 8 years old.

Beth has watched her grow up through the years from a shy, self-proclaimed tomboy into an bright, outgoing young woman and straight-A student named Miss Senior by her peers at Austin-East Magnet High School.

Credit: Beth Ellis
Tenayia and Beth pose for a picture during homecoming.

"She taught me a lot throughout my years and helped me with stuff that was hard to me," Tenayia said.

Their friendship has been especially important to Tenayia this year as recent gun violence has plagued her school, claiming the lives of several of her classmates.

"We're trying to recover from everything that's been going on and just trying to look on the bright side." she said. "Talking about it makes me feel better." 

"A lot of things at Austin-East have really hit close to home this year so talking through what some of that means and knowing some of these people that have been touched by gun violence this year is tough for Tenayia," Beth said.

Tenayia is persevering through her senior year and looking ahead to graduation before heading off to college in the fall.

Beth is already making plans to visit.

"Yes, I will track her down," Tenayia laughed.

The two sisters find comfort knowing the other is just a phone call away.

Credit: Beth Ellis
Beth and Tenayia pose for a picture on a hike.

"It's been great. We've grown so much from the relationship, and I think we've been able to understand each other perspectives," Beth said.

BBBS of East Tennessee is providing extra support and resources for matches at Austin-East.

Click here to become a mentor.