Workplace Mentoring: One Year Later

This month we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of Beyond School Walls (our workplace mentoring program) with our partners at Rackspace and AISD! It feels like yesterday that Beyond School Walls (BSW) launched with a goal of providing middle school students with workplace exposure, career and college awareness, and a post high school plan. In other words, it’s still one-to-one mentoring, but each match spends their time at the Big’s workplace (in this case, Rackspace)!

Little Brothers and Sisters arrive at Rackspace for the first time last year -- October 2013.

Little Brothers and Sisters arrive at Rackspace for the first time last year — October 2013.

Last year, Rackspace employees cheered as the school bus pulled into the parking lot. Little Brothers and Sisters were visibly excited to embark on their first meeting as they entered the fun and vibrant Rackspace building, complete with game room.

Today, there are more than a dozen AISD students enrolled in the BSW program, with a mix of both 7th and 8th graders. Every Little is bused to the Rackspace office, where they enjoy activities with their Bigs – including ping pong, foosball, crafts and much more.

Little Sister Navaeh and Big Sister Courtney at Rackspace, just before starting a game of ping pong.

Little Sister Nevaeh and Big Sister Courtney at Rackspace, just before starting a game of ping pong.

Big Sister Courtney says her experience as a mentor has been “incredibly fulfilling”.

“My job at Rackspace took on a whole new meaning when I joined the program. It wasn’t just about my individual contributions to the company or my regular 8-5 anymore,  it became more about how Rackspace can impact a child early on and the fact that I am lucky enough to drive that influence,” Courtney says. “As a mentor we were told that we could have a big impact on our Littles, but in fact, my Little has had a tremendous impact on me in so many ways and that is simply invaluable.”

New this year, the program has also expanded to include a new feature: Bigs can now visit their Littles during  the school lunch break! This means they’re meeting twice as often, in both an office and educational environment.

Little Brother and Big  Brother enjoying some foosball in the Rackspace game room!

Little Brother and Big Brother enjoying some foosball in the Rackspace game room!

These outings will introduce Little Brothers and Sisters to work environments and potential  career paths, and help them gain an understanding of the educational requirements, and life skills needed to achieve their own professional success.

Here’s to another great school year and a wonderful partnership with Rackspace and AISD!

Shametra’s Story: Catching up with a former Little Sister

Shametra, former Little Sister.  (Photo credit: DHillsPhotography.com/Ujima magazine)

Shametra, former Little Sister. (Photo credit: DHillsPhotography.com/Ujima magazine)

Shametra’s laugh is warm and genuine, and complemented by smiling eyes. She’s a strong woman with a kind heart – the mark of someone who has chosen a positive life path, perhaps in spite of early challenges.  Shametra is also a former Little Sister who was matched almost 30 years ago, and she still stays in touch with her Big Sister.

“My Big Sister was such an inspiration in my life and such a great mentor. I learned a lot from her. Even [now], I’m still in touch with her. It’s as if there’s no separation between us,” Shametra says.

Looking back, her Big Sister Cynthia was a source of strength. When Shametra was just 10 years old, her mother passed away and she was reeling from the loss. Then, she met Cynthia.

“We went fishing, made popcorn balls, we would go out to eat and she attended my volleyball games and track meets… Cynthia was there for me, she was never too busy and whenever I would play sports from junior high to even high school — I could remember looking up in the stands and seeing her face,” she recalls.

Cynthia was always there for her, and even helped her through the loss of another adult in her life.

“I had a step father growing up. He was murdered when I was 16 years old…  Cynthia helped me to understand that for anything negative that I may have experienced, there was always light at the end of the tunnel. Not so much so of saying it, but showing that life was to be enjoyed,” she says.

Shametra_creditTheExaminer

Shametra has already written one book (Chronicles Of A Mended Heart) and plans to write again. (Photo Credit: The Examiner)

The Sisters made it through the hard times, and of course, had fun times, too. Shametra laughs as she recalls fun outings like going to Bowl for Kids, or when she received her college scholarship from BBBS (she still has the original certificate from 1989!). It’s clear that the memories they shared together are still so important and meaningful.

Today, Shametra works for the State of Texas, writes for Ujima magazine, is finishing her Social Work degree and has already published a book, Chronicles of A Mended Heart. She also finds time to give back by volunteering with several organizations. She’s a victim services volunteer with the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, has been volunteering with the HEB Feast of Sharing for the last seven years, and organizes The East Austin Community Fall Festival.

“I’m involved in my community because ever since I can remember, nothing happened with me just saying I wanted change,” she says. “If you set your mind to applying positive change in your community, that’s exactly what you will get from it. Sometimes you have to lead by example.”

So what does the future hold for Shametra? She’d like to open her own business, continue writing, and of course: “be a Big Sister.”

Just Do It!

Mentor

One of the most effective ways to recruit volunteer mentors is word of mouth. Here at BBBS, we see great results when our current and former volunteers talk with friends and family about their experience as a “Big”. With that in mind, we invited Big Sister Sheila to share her thoughts on being a Big Sister.

***** **

By Sheila Lyle

What did I know about kids? I’d never had a little sister. Sure, I was the neighborhood babysitter, and I have a niece and nephews, but what do I really know about mentoring a little girl? I kept thinking that I was too busy, or that I might not be a good enough mentor.

When I finally took the plunge and signed up, I had an interview with a BBBS Enrollment Specialist who explained in detail what it means to be a mentor and what is expected. She also asked questions about my life and asked about my limitations, all in an effort to match me with a Little who would be the best fit with my personality. She even took into consideration where I lived so I wouldn’t have to drive across town (what a relief… who wants to drive in Austin traffic)!

I’ve been mentoring my Little, Amari, for 3 years now and it has been one of the best experiences in my life. Watching her interests grow and her grades improve is so rewarding. This experience is not what I expected, sometimes we just go out for ice cream or go to the park, but I can see a difference in her each year.

Since meeting Amari, her grades are continually improving in school, she has joined the volleyball team and basketball team. She started singing in choir and enjoys her Drama/Acting class. She has so many interests and I am so proud of her stepping outside of her comfort zone and learning how to play team sports.

Last year, 97 % of Central Texas Little Brothers and Sisters stayed in school, improved their grades and avoided early parenting. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the guidance and encouragement we received from someone in our life. With only a few hours a week, you can encourage a child – a child who needs it the most – to become something great.

Big fun at Fall Fest

Little Sister gets spider face paint, while Big Sister opted for the cat look.

Little Sister gets spider face paint, while Big Sister opted for the cat look.

Fall is a time when friends get together and fun memories are made. For us here in Austin, it means the temperatures finally dip below 90 degrees and it’s time to go outside!

This year’s Fall Fest was a huge success, with dozens of matches coming out to enjoy the festivities and the cooler temperatures. The day started with rain, but a little downpour won’t stop costumed kids from going out for candy-filled goodie bags!

Littles were skipping up the driveway to the BBBS office – some of them dancing to the outdoor music – all of them eagerly joining in on a bean bag toss, or building their very own scarecrow, or getting their faces painted by event volunteers.

Some oldschool festival favorites like the cake walk were also modernized, as Littles got to participate in a “cupcake” walk. Matches also made crafts, created their own costumes and played balloon games with their Bigs. By the looks of the crowd – the grownups were having just as much fun as the kids!

Thanks to everyone who makes this event possible, and to all the matches who joined us this year. What about you — were you at Fall Fest? What’s your favorite thing about Fall?

Little Sister and Big Sisters making glittery crafts!

Little Sister and Big Sister making glittery crafts!