A Legacy Built to Last: Celebrating 45 Years in Central Texas

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Building on the past while looking to the future, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas celebrates its 45th anniversary this month. BBBS began with one man helping a few disadvantaged boys, grew into an agency that serves almost 1,000 children a year, and is preparing to reach new levels of service when the new BBBS Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is completed later this year.

BBBS became a reality in Austin in the early 1960s thanks to the work of several men who recognized the need for adult mentorship for boys. At first the group focused on boys without fathers, and then their efforts shifted to helping boys in Juvenile Court. Both early initiatives were hampered by not having an organization in place to recruit mentors and to work with big and little brothers once a match was made. As one early organizer put it, “You have to have continuous contact with both Brothers. Otherwise they lose interest.”

In the summer of 1970, a group of men who were concerned about the thousands of fatherless boys in Austin resolved to find the necessary support to begin a full time Big Brothers agency. Within a few short years the organization had grown to include a professional staff that worked with almost 300 matches a year from an office at St. David’s Episcopal Church at 308 E. Seventh St. The organization became Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas in the 70s and moved to its current location at 1400 Tillery in 1985.

Though times have changed, the organization’s focus on helping children succeed has stayed the same, something Jamie Avila has observed first-hand. Jamie has served as a Big Brother, as a staff member, and as a current member of the BBBS board.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 45 years. The agency continues to have a tremendous impact on the community. My “Little” is now a young man,” Jamie said, adding “It’s with a great sense of pride that I see him serving as an unofficial mentor to my own 12-year-old son. Mentoring can improve people’s lives through generations. It’s the ultimate win-win for everyone involved. To see this come full circle in my own life really demonstrates the far-reaching impacts of BBBS’ work.”

Andrea as a child, with her Big Sister "Bert"

Andrea as a child, with her Big Sister “Bert”

Caring mentors never go out of style or lose their importance or effectiveness. “The continuity and the depth of the relationships formed through BBBS are beautiful to me,” said Dr. Andrea Campaigne, a former Big Sister, board member, and a former Little in the program. “My Big Sister was the first woman in her family to attend college. I was the first woman in my family to attend college, and my Little was the first in her family to attend college. The program works. Putting an adult role-model in an at-risk child’s life fosters their development in ways that produce responsible citizens. That is the framework for building a healthy community.”

Building upon this rich legacy of community impact will take the organization to the next level as BBBS prepares to make the move to a new, larger location this year – the new BBBS Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center. Located in Rathgeber Village, on the site of the former Robert Mueller Airport and near other child-focused agencies, BBBS will finally secure a home specifically suited to the agency’s needs.

“The new facility will provide space to facilitate more client interviews, more adequately support agency staff, and offer room for match activities and recruitment events,” said Amy Jones. “As a former Big Sister, board member, and volunteer, it’s exciting to see the organization grow beyond my involvement and expectations.”

Board member and Big Brother Hector Perez predicts that the Mentoring Center will have an immediate impact on BBBS. “There’s a level of excitement and optimism regarding how we can raise the bar to take as many Littles as possible off our waiting list,” Hector remarked. “To have a place we can call home, a place where the community can come together to further and enrich our work, is really significant.”

“BBBS is all about being there to serve the community,” said Maria Barrett, a Big Sister and the marketing director for Padgett Stratemann & Co., a BBBS sponsor. “BBBS is an innovative organization that keeps tabs on how the community is changing and how the needs of Littles are changing. Only organizations that keep their eyes on their true mission have the sustainability to last 45 years,” Maria added.

“It’s going to be really exciting to have the new mentoring center finished,” Jamie concluded. “Austin is growing and so is BBBS. It’s exciting to imagine the opportunities we will have to partner with new businesses, organizations and families coming to the city. We live in one of the most exciting, progressive cities in America and I think our agency is going to reflect that well in the city we call home.”

BBBS’ Mentoring Center News: Kyndel Bennett and Dick Rathgeber

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The foundation has been poured, the walls are going up, and the new Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is well on its way to becoming a reality. BBBS will be moving to this new location at the site of the former Robert Mueller Airport, as part of Rathgeber Village. It’s fitting that an agency about relationships would build a center for relationships, funded as the result of a relationship – that of great friends Dick Rathgeber and Kyndel Bennett.

“The irony of all this is that our relationship started because of BBBS,” Kyndel explained. Kyndel has been involved with BBBS for over 20 years, both as a Big and as a board member. “I was in Brent Fields’, the CEO of BBBS’, office and he had Mr. Rathgeber’s book on his bookshelf. I borrowed the book and read it in about two days. There were a lot of stories about real estate, Austin and philanthropy… all of which resonated with me.”

Kyndel was so intrigued by the book he asked Dick to meet him for coffee. The two met for four hours and subsequently became great friends and business partners, embarking on a number of projects together. “Dick has become a real mentor and a great friend,” Kyndel said.

Dick is the visionary behind ‘Rathgeber Village,’ and Kyndel knew there were extra sites at the development; a development where BBBS would be a perfect fit. “I had the chance to ask Dick to donate the land for the building,” Kyndel remarked, “and he did.” The new building will allow BBBS to take its work to a new level in the years ahead.

“A fellow once told me, ‘you can’t bank out of the trunk of your car,’” Dick said. “If you’ve noticed, banks always have very impressive-looking facilities. You have to have a good place to do your work and when the Mentoring Center is done, BBBS will have an impressive-looking facility.”

It’s not just the aesthetics that both men see as important however. The size of the facility and the location also play important roles. “Number one, the new building will give BBBS a chance to grow. Our capacity is currently constrained because of space,” Kyndel added. “If we have more space, we can hire more employees and that constraint goes away. It takes the organization to the next level among Austin non-profits and allows us to serve a lot more kids and that is what this is really all about.”

“I can envision the changes this building is going to make for the organization,” Dick said. “The new Mentoring Center is going to be in absolutely the top charitable location in Austin. It’ll be near the Dell Children’s Hospital, next to SAFE Alliance, the Austin Children’s Shelter, the Rise School, and the Salvation Army Youth Center. This will be an area recognized for helping children.”

Helping is something both men take very seriously. Kyndel started helping others right after college when he became a Big Brother. Later, he served on the BBBS board in North Carolina, and when he returned to Austin, he and his wife, Laura, became a Big Couple. He also served on the BBBS board for 7 years. “I saw the great work the agency was doing, and the difference it made in kids’ lives,” Kyndel said.

Dick Rathgeber also has a long history of giving back to the community. “I like to quote Bob Buford who has a theory that we spend the first half of our life trying to be successful and the last half trying to be significant,” Dick commented. “Trouble is, you don’t know where the halfway point is going to be. I tell young people who say they don’t have money to give, that what they do have to give is time. The happiest people I know are people who give.”

The new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is more than just a structure to these two men. Kyndel and Dick both become a little emotional and a lot enthused as they consider how this building will impact BBBS’ future. “I’m excited about it,” Dick admitted. “I’m excited that Kyndel and I got to work on the project together. BBBS is an outstanding organization, with excellent leadership, and I can hardly wait to see when the employees get to move in.”

”(Mueller) was such an ugly piece of dirt and to see it transformed into such a beautiful place is… you know… it just affects you,” he added.

Soon a lot of lives will be positively affected as BBBS’ capacity to help children and families in Central Texas grows due to the friendship and generosity of Kyndel Bennett and Dick Rathgeber.


Stay up-to-date on our construction progress, see photos from the site, and watch video of the foundation being poured here

National Mentoring Month And Our 2016 ‘Bigs of the Year’

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Who made a difference in your life? Who believed in you and cared for you? Who taught you that you could be more, and do more, than you ever imagined? At BBBS, our mission is to help children succeed in life. We achieve this by pairing children with caring, adult volunteers who serve as role models, mentors and guides. These mentoring relationships prove to be transformative and life-changing for children, for adults and for the community as a whole.

January is National Mentoring Month; a time when we celebrate those who give of themselves to provide opportunities for others.

“National Mentoring Month gives us a chance to share the incredible impact that mentoring has on our community’s young people,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs. “We use this time to recognize and thank our current Big Brothers and Sisters and also to raise awareness of the need for even more individuals, community groups and businesses to step in and engage in this life-changing work.”

As part of National Mentoring Month, we are proud to announce our 2016 “Central Texas Bigs of the Year.” A Big Brother and Sister are chosen to receive this honor annually. The Central Texas awardees go on to be considered for statewide, and then possibly, national, ‘Big of the Year’ honors. BBBS’ 2016 “Central Texas Bigs of the Year” are Shannon Mouser and Albert Swantner. Shannon has been named “Texas Big of the Year” as well.

Albert Swantner chose to get involved with BBBS in order to give back to the community. “When I first joined BBBS, I remember thinking that I would be matched with a kid who needed his life changed in a big way and that I was going to be the one to do it,” Albert laughed. “However, my first meeting with Josh, my Little Brother, was mainly silence. Josh is naturally very quiet, which I totally understand, as I am very quiet too.”

Slowly but surely, Josh began to open up, forging a three-year relationship with Albert that has transformed them both. Albert learned all about Josh’s family, friends and hobbies, and the two spent time talking, playing laser tag and just hanging out. Albert even took Josh on a tour of the engineering building at UT.

Albert had given up on his “life-changing, save-the-day” attitude and was just enjoying his time with Josh when he learned that Josh’s mom had seen a difference in her son as a result of their match. “She said that Josh had become more confident and that he was considering going to college,” Albert said.

“I thought back over the time I’ve spent with Josh and I suddenly realized that I’ve been changing his life since our first meeting simply by spending time together and sharing experiences with him. Once you realize that even the smallest actions have repercussions far beyond the actual experiences themselves, it changes your whole outlook,” he explained.

Shannon Mouser was matched with her Little Sister, Mykayla, in 2009. Mykayla was 10 years old and an only child. “The choice to become a Big was an important decision, but the choice to stay a Big was an easy one,” Shannon said.

In committing to be a Big Sister, Shannon remembered the people who had helped her. “My brother was diagnosed with cancer when he was 7 years old,” Shannon recalled. “It was a pivotal time in my life. My mom was a single parent and needed to rely on the charity of a few organizations for us to get by.”

These memories prepared Shannon to be a source of support for a young girl destined to go through similar experiences. Early in their match Mykayla’s mother became very ill and it was Shannon who provided one-to-one time and a “stress-free zone” to help Mykayla cope. Shannon’s support allowed Mykayla to stay focused on school and choir, and to thrive despite the enormous personal stresses in her life.

“My desire to help was not only about being there for a child, but about giving back the kindness that was given to me, being an example for others and paying it forward,” Shannon said. “It is remarkable that this simple match led me to one of the most meaningful relationships and one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.”

With such exceptional examples of all that mentoring can do, let National Mentoring month remind us of those who’ve impacted our lives, and use those memories as motivation to provide gifts of support and opportunity to the next generation. Mentoring is, truly, a gift that keeps on giving.