Joe Morales on New Beginnings

Lindfors_160408_9165Joe MoralesLM jpgWork has begun on the second story of the BBBS Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center. As the new building takes shape, it represents the next chapter in BBBS’ story as well. Few people understand this as well as Joe Morales whose own personal history, growth and development are deeply entwined with those of the agency.

As a former Little Brother, a former Big Brother and a former BBBS board member, Joe has a unique perspective on the transformative power of BBBS’ work and the positive impact the new Mentoring Center will have. “I know how BBBS changes lives,” Joe said, “because I’ve lived it. I’ve also seen BBBS grow over the years, and I can hardly wait to see all the things the organization will be able to do in this new space.”

Joe’s involvement with BBBS began when he was 11 years old, three years after his father had left the family. “Thank goodness my mother saw a flyer about Big Brothers Big Sisters and had the foresight to know I needed a positive male influence in my life,” Joe recalled. “I was at an age where I was starting to talk back and get a bit rebellious.”

Joe entered the program reluctantly, telling his mother that he didn’t want a Big Brother. In retrospect, however, he acknowledges that becoming a Little Brother changed the trajectory of his life.

“When I started, BBBS was located on W. 7th street in the old Caritas building, a two-story building with a winding staircase,” Joe said. “The main thing I remember was that staircase and how creaky it was. But, I really liked that building.” It was there that Joe and his mom attended BBBS meetings and there that he was matched with his Big Brother, Dave.

“Talk about somebody who was a great role model,” Joe continued. “Dave was a graduate of Notre Dame. He was getting his masters at UT, worked at IBM, and was married.” Despite these credentials, Joe was not impressed with his Big Brother at first. “I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy? He’s not my father. What is he going to do with me?’”

“And I gotta tell ya,” Joe chuckled, “When I think back on what Dave has done for me, it’s amazing.”

The two spent a lot of time playing tennis and basketball, going bowling, watching movies, or occasionally just sitting and reading books. Dave taught Joe how to play chess. “And he had a boat,” Joe laughed. “The fact that a kid from the east side of town could actually go to Lake Travis and be on a boat for the afternoon was really cool. And these are the types of things BBBS does. The agency takes kids out of their environments and opens up other worlds for them.”

Joe’s favorite times were the Sunday evening dinners Dave and his wife prepared. “I’ll never forget… one day we were standing in his backyard. Dave was grilling burgers. I was looking around and I said ‘Dave, this is a really nice house. I don’t think I will ever have anything like this,’” Joe said. “And Dave told me, ‘Joe, you can have a house like this. You just need to remember three things: whatever you do, get your education; whatever you do, try to be the best; and stay out of trouble, whether it’s with your mom, the school, or the law.’”

Many years later, Joe became a Big Brother. He was in his backyard barbequing with his own Little Brother. “My little guy told me, ‘Joe, you have a really nice house. I’ll never be able to have something like this.’” At that point, Dave’s words popped into Joe’s mind and he passed along the guidance he had received so many years before. “That’s the kind of impact this organization can have,” Joe said. “Those three things sound so simple, but they are so true.”

Joe saw this truth play out as a young man, at about 14 years old. He began running with the wrong crowd, one bent on vandalism and destruction. After a particularly close call with the police, Joe had an epiphany. He wondered what would have happened if he and his friends had been arrested. “My first thought was not ‘What would my mother think?’ but ‘What would Dave think?’” Joe admitted. Consequently, he broke off his friendships with those boys and changed his ways because, he said, “I didn’t want to lose Dave.”

Three years later Joe learned that a woman from Austin had been abducted and killed. When the authorities captured the killers, it turned out that three of the four were guys Joe had been hanging around with as a freshman. “If it hadn’t been for my mom, BBBS and Dave, I could have been in that group,” Joe said.

Joe’s relationship with BBBS evolved again when he became part of BBBS’ board in the 1990s. “My experience on the board taught me just how much work goes on at BBBS behind the scenes,” Joe explained. “I was impressed with the organization’s level of commitment and its drive to serve more kids.”

Construction of the Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is another step forward for BBBS, and it’s one that Joe is excited about. “I’ve seen BBBS grow from a three-caseworker, local, homespun office to the professionally run organization it is today. Over the years, I’ve watched the agency go from one building to another as they’ve outgrown the space, because the need is so great,” Joe said. “BBBS’ need for a new building is something that’s been talked about since I was on the board. This new facility is going to be state-of-the-art. I can’t wait to see the finished product. This organization has done so much with so little. The impact BBBS will have going forward will be tremendous. The future looks so, so bright for BBBS and for the community.”

With the completion of the building in sight, Joe is contemplating taking his relationship with BBBS to the next level as well. He’s considering becoming a Big Brother again. “I do get emotional when I think about the impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Joe admitted, “because I know where I would have ended up without the organization. The beauty of it is, I’m here… talking about BBBS and watching the organization grow so that it can have that life-changing effect on even more children and families.”

Fans for Life

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Big Sister Brandi and her Little Sister Brynn love to sing to CDs when riding in the car. This simple activity recently led to a special adventure with some important life lessons.

At the end of March, Brandi and Brynn attended the Bobby Bones “Raging Idiots” CD release ‘meet and greet’ event held in Austin. It was not the normal fan day experience however, as the two received VIP passes to meet Bobby Bones and his crew in person. “So many positive things have come out of this,” Brandi said. “It’s one of the neatest things I’ve ever experienced.”

According to Brandi, the pair listen to Bobby Bones’ music a lot and talk about his life. “Bobby has a song about wanting to go fishing with his dad, but not being able to because his dad left when he was five. When his mom remarried, his stepdad took him fishing. I use this song to remind Brynn that we don’t always have all of the people we think we’re ‘supposed’ to have in our lives and that our families don’t all look the same, but that if we look closely, we’ll find that there are many people who love us and who will do what they can to make our lives good.”

Brandi was trying to create something good for Brynn when she first heard about the Bobby Bones meet and greet. She also heard that people were lining up for 5 hours to meet the crew. “I knew we couldn’t do that,” Brandi remarked, “since it was a school night.” She emailed KASE101 directly and explained that she was trying to do something special for her Little, and they agreed to help make the meeting happen.

“This was about Brynn meeting her first celebrity and the fun in that, but it turned into so much more,” Brandi explained. “It gave me the opportunity to teach Brynn about the importance of trying new things, even when you’re a little scared, because wonderful things can come out of doing that.”

Dressed in her “When I grow up I want to be a… Veterinarian” t-shirt, Brynn got to meet Bobby and the crew, plus tour the Tour Bus. Bobby also asked Brynn about her shirt and her hopes for the future.

Talking to Bobby about her life goals was another important learning experience for Brynn. Bobby had a rough childhood and overcame obstacles to achieve the success he has today. He exemplifies the phrase “you can be whatever you aspire to be.” And he understands the importance of having a mentor. It is why he was once a Big Brother himself and why he has been a supporter of BBBS’ Ice Ball.

Brandi believes their encounter also taught Brynn that people she doesn’t know can care about her and be kind to her. “That’s such an important lesson,” she said. “Brynn’s confidence was built up so much the day she met Bobby; it was an amazing thing to be a part of.”

It was important in many ways for Brandi to be part of this experience as well, since Bobby did something very special for her eight years ago. Brandi’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer and she was going through a difficult time. She reached out to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America who was also battling cancer. Robin left a very heartfelt and encouraging message on Brandi’s voicemail. It was a message that helped Brandi’s mom through her treatments, and a message that ultimately helped Brandi when her mom lost her battle with cancer. The message was so important Brandi wanted a way to hang onto it. In stepped Bobby Bones.

“As an avid fan of his show, I decided to email Bobby to see if he knew of any way to save the message,” Brandi said. “He had his producer schedule time for me to come to the studio and they worked to get the voicemail onto a CD. I was able to listen to it whenever I was sad and needed encouragement. I still do to this day.”

Brandi and Brynn are planning to make a video of themselves singing one of Bobby’s songs to send to him along with photos from the meet and greet. Brandi also plans to tell Bobby that Brynn is doing well on her homework – something that is already motivating Brynn to do her best in school.

So, while singing in the car may be a simple thing, Brynn and Brandi have learned that simple connections – such as being a match – can open up a world of possibilities with life-long impacts.

“Bobby did something really nice for me. It was simple, but it has had an effect on my life. Now, eight years later, he’s doing something that’s affecting my Little’s life,” said Brandi. “This whole thing has just really touched me.”

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Spotlight on Megan Rodriguez

Megan Rodriguez- 5101

Megan Rodriguez is one of the first people you’ll talk to if you are interested in becoming a volunteer or enrolling your child in BBBS. Cheerful and welcoming, Megan is a customer relations supervisor and one of the first points of contact with the organization.

“We handle both child and volunteer inquiries,” Megan explained. “Sometimes we have to refer callers to other resources, but we always work to help people find what they’re looking for.”

Customer relations supervisors have to be organized, detail-oriented and ready for the unexpected because every day is different. “We have volunteers calling, we get referrals from case workers, and a lot of inquiries come through the website,” Megan said.

Some of the questions asked? Families are often curious about the screening and match-making process, what the outings are like, whether there are costs associated with the program and how long their child might wait to be matched with a Big Brother or Sister. Volunteers are also interested in knowing how long it might take to be matched with a Little Brother or Sister. They are also often interested in understanding the time commitment involved in being a volunteer, what kinds of activities Littles enjoy and what types of kids become Littles. “Sometimes volunteers think we only take certain kinds of kids,” Megan added, “but we accept kids from all types of families, backgrounds, cultures and income levels.”

Megan’s work involves getting everything in order so that families and volunteers can move on to the enrollment process. “Making this connection with families and volunteers is what I enjoy most about my job,” she said.

In addition, Megan gets a lot of satisfaction out of receiving kind comments about the agency. “When checking references, a lot of people will say ‘Oh, I just want to thank you and your organization for doing such a fabulous job,” she said. “It is great knowing that people are aware of what our agency does.”

In her spare time Megan enjoys family time and writing. She is currently working on a children’s book, she also writes articles about local bands, and her favorite dessert is strawberry cheesecake.