MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Nik Harris knew that she wanted to be a mentor, and said that if she “held on long enough to be in a position I could help some other kid that I was going to do it.” As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she got that chance, through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County with the new program BIG Pride.

Harris serves as the first ever LGBTQ Consumer Advocate for the Florida Department of Agriculture. As a BBBS mentor, she was matched a year ago with Katie Paff, a teen who has met many challenges. She said they are a perfect match.

“When I heard Katie’s story I was like ‘I got to meet this little.’ And Katie’s just like constantly perseveres through challenges that come her way,” said Harris.

Paff was adopted from Russia, home-schooled until moving to South Florida as a teen, and then lost her mom, all while in the midst of navigating identity questions. Paff was in a very dark place, at times, even considering suicide.

“It was a day when a couple of close friends’ family members actually died, a lot of stuff happened at school that day that set me off the hook. It got very bad, but having Nik’s been very helpful with that part of my life,” Paff said.

Nik Harris and Katie Paff of BBBS Broward program Big Pride (CBS4)

Harris is Katie’s sounding board, offering ways to cope with adversity. A lot of their time in the last year was spent like any other friends, going out to eat and exercising. They’ve attended some events together too.

They went to the Equality Florida gala, where Paff brought friends along and got to meet Harris’ boss, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Paff found support in her school, as well, and last year led the Gay Straight Alliance club, as President, and exercised some diplomacy skills too.

“I was on a district wide youth advisory council, for spring semester we revised a LGBTQ critical support guide for Broward County, made it more gender friendly,” Paff stated.

Now a proud graduate of Blanche Ely High, Paff will attend Broward College with the goal of becoming a social worker. She credits her friendship with Harris for a lot of her academic success.

“I feel like known known Nik my whole life, but it’s only been a year. I know we say that all the time. I really don’t know where I would be without Nik, I really don’t,” said Paff.

Click here to learn more about BBBS Broward and BIG Pride.

Frances Wang