What it Means to be a Mentor

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For many people, the words “mentor” and “mentoring” can be confusing. Some think that mentoring is related to education, or to being a tutor. Some people believe that being a mentor is work-related and has to do with employee training. Some equate mentoring with providing temporary child care or ‘babysitting’ services, while others see mentoring as the opportunity to become a child’s savior or hero.

In reality, “mentoring” is about forming a caring relationship with another person, supporting them, and sharing time and experiences with them. This process, while simple, is often profoundly meaningful and transformative for both parties, particularly as their relationship grows and deepens over time.

In the essay below, Albert Swantner, Central Texas’ 2016 Big Brother of the Year, shares his own story of being a mentor and what that experience has been like for him.

Albert Swantner

I remember what I thought being a Big Brother was going to be like when I joined 3 years ago. I remember attending my training and the (BBBS) Ice Ball and seeing the videos of Bigs and Littles and it seemed so simple; a kid needed his life to be changed in a big way and I was going to be there to do it.

When I first met Josh 2 years ago at the start of our match, I was ready to change his life immediately. However, our first meeting was mainly silence, some small talk, not exactly life-changing. So I started to think, well surely on the second meeting the life-changing part would come into play, but this meeting was also mainly silence. Josh is naturally very quiet, which is something that I completely understand, as I, too, am very quiet, so it was hard for me to find things for us to talk about.

I started to think that we would spend most of our days hanging out in silence. We went on like this for a few weeks, but slowly I started to get Josh to talk. He started to tell me about his love of soccer and video games, and before I knew it, I learned basically everything about his family, school, friends, hobbies, and he felt like part of my family.

We had a great time together, talking, playing laser tag, eating, bowling, playing pool, and just hanging out. But through it all, I felt like he was a good kid and that he didn’t really seem to need any changing. We had fun together and developed a great relationship, but I sort of gave up on this whole “changing a kid’s life” thing. It gave me some consolation that we had become great friends, but I figured that we would never be like those matches you read about and see during the banquets.

Then one day Sophia, my match support specialist, and I were talking about the activities Josh and I had done together. I told her about our tour of the engineering building at UT and how I was hoping Josh had had a good time checking it out. Towards the end of our conversation she told me that Josh’s mom had said that Josh has become more confident and is really considering going to college. His mother said that she believes some of this is a result of my time with him as a Big Brother. I was blown away.

After my talk with Sophia ended, I started to think back over the time I’ve spent with Josh and it hit me; I had been changing Josh’s life since our first meeting, by simply spending time together and sharing my experiences with him. The times we spent bowling and eating dinner had been so much more than just outings a few hours a month.

Once you realize that even the smallest actions have repercussions far beyond the actual experiences themselves, it changes your outlook on life. Doing something small or seemingly insignificant for someone can mean so much more than you imagined. And Josh has influenced my life as well. I will forever be changed by my experiences as a Big.

When evaluating my relationship with Josh, I realized that in reality I’m the lucky one. Josh has already given back to me more than I could possibly have given him. He has changed my whole perspective on “doing good.” The smallest actions make a huge difference to a child and BBBS has given me the amazing opportunity to do this for Josh, and for that I’m forever changed and grateful.

BBBS’ Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center

Mentoring Center Rendering 2015

Building A Better Future

In 2016, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas will celebrate its 45th anniversary. As it does so, the agency will realize a dream that has been years in the making; that of creating a new, larger facility that will allow the organization to better serve children and families in Central Texas.

“Five years ago the BBBS Board realized we’d outgrown our current facilities and decided to launch a capital campaign to build a new mentoring center,” said Brent Fields, BBBS’ CEO. “Due to the generosity of a number of donors and supporters, that goal is now becoming a reality. We are proud to announce that construction of BBBS’ new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center has begun.”

“This new space will allow us to serve more children, serve them better, offer more services, and strengthen our relationships with the community and with other community organizations,” Fields added.

Construction has started on the new center located in the “Rathgeber Children’s Village” at the former Robert Mueller Airport site in East Austin. BBBS hopes to move into the new facility, named after the project’s largest donors, Laura and Kyndel Bennett and Sara and Dick Rathgeber, by the fall of 2016.

Impact of the Mentoring Center

BBBS moved into its current facility in 1988. Since that time, the Central Texas population has grown exponentially, with the number of children under-18 and at-risk youth growing even more rapidly than the population as a whole. More kids need help than ever before. The new East Austin facility provides a means to offer that help.

“BBBS’ primary barriers to helping more children are funding and space,” said Fields. “Our current building compromises our ability to provide onsite programming, training, and enrichment activities for Bigs, Littles, and families. It has also limited our ability to grow our program to help more youth. On any given day BBBS has more than 600 children on our waiting list.”

The new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is a 20,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility that will provide ample space for Bigs, Littles, families and staff to meet, interact and spend time together in one centralized location.

The building site at 4800 Manor Road is located near a large percentage of our current clients and is part of a demographic area that is growing. This site will increase service visibility and accessibility.

Features include:

•A youth activity center where matches can do art projects, play games, participate in workshops, and spend time together.
•Room for additional staff to serve more children, families and volunteers.
•Meeting rooms for volunteer training and education, space for community organizations to meet after-hours, and private spaces where BBBS staff can conduct volunteer screenings.
•A combination of public and private spaces that will allow donors, families, volunteers and community members to visit BBBS’ offices to learn about our programs and access information and resources while maintaining the privacy of clients being served.
•Park space behind the building for recreational activities.

Community Collaboration – A Unique Partnership

The Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is part of a master-planned nonprofit “Children’s Village” spearheaded by local realtor and philanthropist Dick Rathgeber. The “Village” is comprised of a collection of nonprofit organizations that serve children and families: Austin Children’s Services, The Rise School of Austin, SAFE Alliance, the Salvation Army and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. The village is intended to provide a centralized location for the delivery of these services, leading to increased collaboration. The Mentoring Center is also within walking distance of several parks, hike and bike trails, and the Thinkery Children’s Museum.

Anticipated Timeline

Construction of the Mentoring Center is expected to be complete by the fall of 2016.

Leaning Into the Future – Making Connections

The Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is intended to “take BBBS’ work to the next level” by providing the agency with opportunities to serve more children and families, to add new services and to facilitate and deepen relationships between and among a wide range of individuals and groups. As BBBS looks to the future, agency staff, current and former board members, Bigs, Littles, families and agency friends are being invited to participate in “visioning sessions” to identify priorities for BBBS’ future work.

Two of the themes that have emerged from these sessions are those of interconnectivity and collaboration. Participants are excited about the many ways in which the new Mentoring Center will create and enrich relationships between and among those we serve and those we work with. For an agency that is built on, and devoted to, relationships, it seems fitting that our new Mentoring Center is viewed as a meeting place, a place where we can bring a greater number of people into meaningful connection with one another.

Final Thoughts
As we enter our 45th year, we are building on our past by celebrating the work and contributions that have brought us to this unique moment in time, embracing the present, and preparing for a brighter future…one that will allow us to make an even greater difference in our community.

Thank you for being part of our work.

More Information

Additional information, a current list of major donors, and photos and videos of the Mentoring Center’s construction progress can be found on our website here.

For further information about the capital campaign, to schedule a site visit or to make a gift to this special project, contact Brent Fields, Chief Executive Officer, at 512-807-3604 or at bfields@bigmentoring.org

You can participate in our ‘Visioning Process’ by responding to the survey questions posed here.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2015 Fall Festival

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Gorgeous weather and fun activities created a great outing for matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Fall Festival held at the Loralee Foundation ranch outside of Austin. More than 50 Bigs and Littles attended the annual event, held on Saturday, October 10, in the beautiful country setting – an event that was for matches only.

“Bigs and Littles get to enjoy a free day out, interacting with each other through games, a craft, or even a carnival type ride,” said Christina Snell, BBBS Match Support Specialist. “One-on-one attention is what Littles want most. Fall Fest provides a great opportunity for them to have that, and a lot of fun as well.”


While fun was the theme of the day, quality time was the focus. Outside distractions were at a minimum as Bigs and Littles enjoyed their time together. The impact of this day will last long after the last balloon has popped.

Pumpkin painting, crafts, a cupcake cake walk, face painting, a dart throw, a sack race, a football toss and other activities offered plenty to keep the matches busy for the afternoon. There was also a craft table where matches could help each other make Halloween costumes and masks, plus Trick or Treat bags. “Last year, for many of our matches, the Littles left with costumes they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Snell.

Bigs and Littles had a blast as they made their way through all the activities, bringing out the competitive spirit in one another. “She’s beating me at all the games,” laughed Alisha, a Big talking about her Little Sister Shannon’s success. Shannon laughingly agreed that after winning 3 of the 4 games they’d tried, she was, indeed, doing well. The two were soon off to collect their victory prizes from the Treasure Chest.

For Jackline and DeLeslyn it was all about the horses. “We just painted pumpkins,” said Jackline, a Big Sister, “and we’re about to head toward the ponies. It’s what DeLeslyn’s most excited about.” Then Jackline added with a laugh, “I’ll watch.”

For several matches, this was not their first Fall Fest. “This is our third time,” said Elissa. “And we’ve always had fun. Last year we made scarecrows.” Her Little, Azelea chimed in as she munched on a cupcake, “And I wore my costume last year.” Azelea was excited about getting her face painted, while Elissa made a costume mask.

Josue̒ and Miguel started off at the horse stables, which were a short distance away from the other events. They both enjoyed the horseback rides, though it was only the 2nd time Miguel had ridden a horse. “We also did this fun cupcake circle,” said Josue̒. “It made me dizzy, but we got a cupcake. It makes you feel good about eating a cupcake, burning off those calories.” The pair were then literally off and running as they spied some competitors for the sack race.

Though Bigs and Littles were the only guests, several service organizations were represented as volunteers. “We are excited to see the kids,” said Ila, with Texas Zephyr. “This place is so beautiful. It is so calming, and college life is so stressful. (Helping) is a great way to have fun with kids and de-stress at the same time.”

It was a day of exceptional weather, at an exceptional location, for an exceptional group of kids.


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Country Run Kicks Up Record Attendance

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The 2015 annual Corner Store Country Run had over 5,000 entrants and over 100 volunteers. That’s a 150% increase over last year! The event, held October 11th at the Dell Diamond, raised $45,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

“What a fun event!” said Alida Tallman, Vice President of Development for BBBS. “We offer a “Big” thank you to the Corner Store for their continued support of our mission.  It’s events like these that enable us to continue to positively impact children and families in our community.”

The atmosphere was festive as participants dressed in their favorite cowgirl or cowboy outfits to compete in this 5K event. The entrants didn’t have to run. They were encouraged to gallop, trot, or do-si-do their way across the finish line. Along the way, runners encountered giant inflatable pigs and cows and farm-themed zones like the Hay Harvest, the Tractor Yard, and the Chicken Coop.

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“I enjoyed watching him sprint across the finish line after 3 long miles,” Jim Little, a Big Brother, said about his Little Brother, Julian. “We did a practice run the week before at a track near his house and then did the Country Run. For a 9-year-old who had never really run long distances, I was very impressed with his effort.” Julian received a hat and a backpack for joining in the run.

“We decided to participate since we both like sports,” Jim added.  “I think that we continue to strengthen our relationship by participating in activities that we both enjoy. We had lots to talk about on the ride home!”

Once the race was over, everyone was invited to stick around for the free, family-friendly Country Fair featuring carnival games, food, a beer garden and music performed by The Emotions.

The Corner Store Country Run is set to take place in 10 cities across the U.S. and Canada this year including Montreal, Syracuse, Denver, and Phoenix. In 2014, the run raised a net total of $1 million for Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies, as well as local children’s charities.

“I have participated in a number of fun runs over the years, and this was the most well-organized run, particularly for young participants, that I have ever run in,” Jim said. “We had a great time.”

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Helping Children Succeed in School and Beyond

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For students, the return of school means reconnecting with friends and the assurance of homework. The first results in smiles, but the second can result in a huge increase in stress. Big Brothers Big Sisters is particularly focused on improving educational outcomes for Littles. In fact, Littles who participate in our program often achieve educational results that are better than their peers.

In 2014, 98% of the children in our program maintained or improved their grades. Ninety-one percent intended to finish high school, compared with 81% nationally, and 79% intended to attend college, compared with 45% nationally.

“For some BBBS parents, one of the reasons they give for enrolling in our program is to gain an educational role model for their children,” said Sharlene Eaton, Match Support Supervisor.  “While Bigs are able to provide encouragement and coaching on academics, there are times when Littles can benefit from additional tutoring services.”

To help families deal with some of the educational needs their children might have, BBBS Match Support Specialists frequently refer families to two educational resources: Kahn Academy and Brainfuse. Both of these organizations are nonprofits that offer a variety of types of academic assistance for students of all ages, on all subjects.

Kahn Academy provides free online materials and resources to support personalized education for learners. Their mission is “to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” Their methods for doing this include practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that allows learners to study at their own pace. Kahn Academy has partnered with NASA, The Museum of Modern Art and MIT to offer specialized content.

In addition, the site offers free tools parents and teachers can use in coaching, motivating and supporting students.

Information on Kahn Academy can be found at www.kahnacademy.org

Brainfuse is another organization offering tutoring resources and it has a local connection, the Austin Public Library. You can access Brainfuse with an internet connection and an Austin Public Library card. There are also Brainfuse apps for iOS and Android devices.

This service provides free online tutoring for students in grades K-12, as well as adult learners, and is available 24/7. It also offers live tutors Monday – Sunday, 2:00-11:00 p.m. You can view a short demo video on Brainfuse at the Austin Public Library website – library.austintexas.gov/brainfuse

Students communicate with live tutors using an interactive whiteboard to chat, write, draw, copy/paste text or images and graph homework problems. All live sessions are saved and can be replayed as well as shared with friends and teachers by email.

Registration is not required to get live tutoring help. However, it is recommended so that students can track their progress. Registration is required for certain modules like The Writing Lab and the SkillSurfer.

The Austin Public Library also offers other homework help with their Explora units that are grade appropriate and test prep units from Learning Express Library, plus research resources with Britannica Library. All of the homework help resources can be used in any Austin Public Library location or outside the library with a library card.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission is to provide mentors who will support their Littles as they encounter adversity, such that they overcome the challenges they face and ultimately experience success,” said Sharlene. “In fact, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas provides academic scholarships for Littles ages 14 and up who have been matched with a Big for one year or more.”

“We recognize educational success as one of the most significant vehicles for accessing opportunities, and it is one of the areas we emphasize in order to help children achieve their dreams and succeed in life.”