Helping Kids Get to College

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You may know that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas works hard to have immediate, positive impacts on children’s lives by matching them with supportive mentors. But you may not know that BBBS also works hard to positively affect children’s futures by emphasizing education, encouraging academic achievement, and offering college scholarships to Littles. This year BBBS proudly celebrates the 30th anniversary of its college scholarship program.

“In 1986, the Griffith family provided an endowment to start a scholarship program for BBBS students,” said John MacNary, BBBS’ scholarship program manager. “They wanted to strengthen the mentoring relationships we had and they recognized that a good education provides an important foundation and creates new opportunities for success.”

Any child in the BBBS program who is 14 years old and who has been matched with a mentor for a year is eligible to receive a $2,000 scholarship for use at a 2 or 4-year college, university, or accredited trade or technical school.

Students can earn an additional $500 per year for each additional year that their match remains active, up to a total of $4,000. Since the program began, BBBS has promised 2,500 students more than $5 million dollars in scholarship support.

“We enhance the program by partnering with other organizations to create events that encourage kids to enter, and stay, on the path to college,” John continued. Two of these events, Rock Enroll and Financial Aid Saturdays, are underway this spring.

Rock Enroll was conceived as a way to motivate at-risk students to pursue higher education. “Because music appeals to young people, my initial idea was to hold a concert for kids who took positive steps to attend college. That concept became Rock Enroll, a BBBS booth at the free SXSW Education Expo. Every student who attends the Expo receives a guest pass to a free concert. Over 30 colleges and numerous businesses are represented at the event which provides students with information and assistance regarding opportunities for post-secondary education.”

Financial Aid Saturdays are another education-related initiative BBBS offers in conjunction with the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Google Fiber. FAS workshops are designed to help graduating seniors understand and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This national application is required to apply for federal financial aid for colleges and universities.

“Scholarships are intimidating,” John continued. “A lot of kids think they won’t qualify. For the BBBS scholarship, every child who is 14 years old and who has been matched for a year, qualifies. That’s all they have to do.”

“Receiving the BBBS scholarship was a great relief to me and my family,” added Cristian Vazquez Cuadra, a former Little. “Before even applying to colleges, my Big Brother told me that college could get crazy expensive. At the time, I thought he was messing with me. But now, being in college for my second year, I see that these college book prices are no joke. Thanks to the BBBS scholarship I am able to buy all my books on time.”

Most BBBS Bigs are college graduates as well, so they can help their Littles understand the importance and benefits of a college education, as well as the steps involved in pursuing higher education or vocational training. Many of the students involved in BBBS’ scholarship program are first-generation college students.

“We’re making it real for kids,” added John, a first-generation college student himself. “Through our scholarship program, our emphasis on academic achievement and the education-related programming we offer, we’re investing in kids’ futures. We’re showing them we believe in them and that we know they can succeed. A good education is critical for success and it’s one of the areas where BBBS is making a difference… one that will have impacts for years, and generations, to come.”

AMPLIFY Your Support for BBBS!


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BBBS is thrilled to be participating in Amplify Austin once again in 2016, and we want YOU to get involved! This 24-hour day of community-wide giving will be held from 6 pm March 8 – 6 pm March 9. The goal is to raise over $9 million for over 600 local charities in just 24 hours.

AMPLIFY Your Support Dollar for Dollar!

Thanks to our generous matching donors Cushman & Wakefield / Oxford Commercial, Sport Court of Austin and an anonymous donor, ALL gifts up to $15,000 will be matched dollar for dollar!  When you donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters, your dedication as a donor Amplifies the number of children and families we are able to serve in Central Texas.  Your contribution is a true investment in a child’s future, and every bit makes a difference.

Ways You Can AMPLIFY for BBBS!

  • Donate!

    Every dollar counts and your support will be DOUBLED by the match! You can wait and make your gift during the event, 6 pm March 8 – 6 pm March 9 OR Schedule your gift now! It’s easy! Just visit BBBS’ Amplify Austin page, set it, and forget it! Your gift will still be matched as a part of this special day.

  • Spread the word!

    You can be an important part of Amplifying BBBS by involving others! Forward this blog post or share BBBS posts on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about why you support BBBS and why your friends and family should too! Don’t forget to use #AmplifyATX!

  • Become a fundraiser! 

    Amplify Austin has a great, easy to use system that allows you to be an advocate for BBBS. Simply visit BBBS’ Amplify page , click “Create a Fundraising Campaign” and follow the instructions!

Thank you for Amplifying for BBBS!

Special thanks to the generous donors who offered to match the first $15,000 raised for BBBS during Amplify Austin!

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Mentoring Tips from Bigs

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When it comes to mentoring, the best advice often comes from other Bigs. In the article below, a number of our Bigs share insights and words of wisdom based on their own experiences.

“My advice to fellow Bigs is this: Continue to try different ways of connecting with your Little. They may not necessarily respond to one method of communication, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to share with you. Plus, as you’re matched longer, they grow up and get older, so their interests and preferences may change. You have to grow with them.”  Big Sister – Matched for 3 years

“My Little, interestingly, has been a fantastic mentor to me. Over the time that I’ve hung out with him, I’ve learned a lot about how to engage children, teach them, learn from them, and grow with them. Many times, there is a disconnect between what we say and what someone understands, and being with my Little has helped me bridge that gap by communicating in an effective and supportive way. This experience has been wonderful and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to develop not only a child, but themselves.”  Big Brother – Matched for 4 months

“After almost a year as a Big, I have really enjoyed the opportunities to try to be a positive influence for my Little – offering advice and encouragement with problems that he faces, working on projects together and exploring / learning about all the things that are available in Austin. His family has been very welcoming as well, which is an added bonus. Last but certainly not least, the support from the BBBS staff has been awesome. The whole experience has been very positive all around and I look forward to another year with my Little.”  Big Brother – Matched for 11 months

I would just say be patient and try not to expect anything from your Little. They are their own person, and it’s no use having preconceived notions of what your relationship with them should look like.  Let them open up in their own time and just be encouraging, supportive and respectful. All of us could use a little more encouragement, support and respect, right?!”  Big Sister – Matched for 4 years

“One thing that comes to mind is to always pay attention to what your Little actually likes to do. Not what they say they like because they know you like it and want to please you. I was super excited to read the Harry Potter series with my Little. I got so into it that it took me until half way into the second book to realize she didn’t like it. Had I paid more attention, I would have known she was just doing it to please me. I lucked out because two years later she got really into it on her own and now we can still talk about it and read it together.”  Big Sister – Matched for 4 years

“Being a Big has definitely been a rewarding experience for me. It is so much fun seeing my Little’s reaction to something she has never done before and to share that excitement with her! My Little recently hit the teenage years, so it’s sometimes frustrating figuring out what she really enjoys doing and what to do on an outing. When I was a teen I just wanted to hang out with my friends (I had no interest in getting to know someone older than me who I had just met!). If you’re faced with this also, remember, it’s all about quality. Your Little appreciates anything and everything you do for them, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal. You’re making a huge impact on their lives and you will be someone they remember for a lifetime! :)” Big Sister – Matched for 1 year

“I went kayaking with my Little one Saturday. I was not sure how much she enjoyed it (though I gave her a choice and that was what she chose). After, I felt a little dejected but then I remembered a conversation I had with my brother. He said he had stopped going places with his daughter (my niece) because she did not seem to like him as much as she likes my sister (her aunt). I told him I could tell from talking to my niece how much she wants to do things with him and just be with him. When my Little isn’t elated about something we have done, I try to remember that she is probably still happy we did it together.”

“One experience – After going out biking one day, my Little asked me to look at her letters and tell her if she had written them all well. I looked and thought they were well written except the “U.” It took me a few seconds to realize it wasn’t how she had written, but what she had written, that she wanted me to see – I love you.”  Big Sister – Matched for 4 months

Developing the Tools for Success: Ryan and Zak

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“I could tell Zak was already a mature kid when I met him because he was translating for his mom and helping out at home,” Ryan said about his Little Brother. Zakarias was 9-years-old when he and his mom came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Djibouti, Africa. He is now fourteen and has been matched with Big Brother Ryan for about a year.

It’s hard enough for a student to transfer to a new school, but being in a new country and culture present a whole new level of challenge. One key to overcoming such a challenge is having a friend who can answer your questions. “I make sure Zak knows he can talk to me about anything,” Ryan continued, “because if we can be open with each other, I can help him succeed.”

Having someone to talk to has really helped Zak personally. “One of the hardest things I had to face when I came to America was being lonely,” Zak recalled. “I really didn’t have many friends. Then Ryan got involved in my life and the light went on. I’ve been happy since then because I have a Big Brother who comes to me once a week and that’s pretty cool.”

One topic that the two frequently talk about is Zak’s schoolwork. Ryan has been a tutor for his Little. “Zak is fantastic at math, but reading comprehension and sentence structure are tough for him. So I have him work on practice tests, and he is definitely getting better. Now, he always makes sure I know he is doing well in school. We also talk about the future and how his work will help him succeed in getting into a vocational school or college.”

Equipping Zak with educational skills and tools isn’t the only way Ryan helps. The two also discuss relational skills. “Zak told me about an incident where he got into an argument with a family member,” Ryan added. “Instead of getting angry, he remembered what I’d told him about being respectful and listening to what the other person had to say.”

Zak is also learning to resist negative pressures in school. “I try to make sure he’s making good decisions and that he realizes it’s okay to make those right decisions, even though outside influences may say otherwise. I let him know it’s okay to say “no” to some things,” Ryan explained.

Recognition of how Ryan is helping him is something that Zak does not take lightly. “He’s been more than just a friend. He’s like my real brother, though I don’t have one. Ryan takes me seriously, which I really like. He also gives me advice that is good for my life.”

Of course their match is not all serious. There’s also a fun side which is equally as important. “Ryan takes me out to eat and to see new places,” Zak added. “And that helps my life because you need smiles in your life. Ryan is good at giving me smiles. He is a great guy and anyone would be lucky to have him as a brother.”

Smiles are a two-way street. “He’s an awesome kid,” Ryan said. “Our relationship has turned into a friendship where he cares about me and I care about him, and that’s the best thing of all.”