Cushman And Wakefield: A Commitment That Runs Deep


Partnerships are an integral part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ success. There are the matches created – the mentoring partnerships that change children’s lives and that are the focus of BBBS’ work. But there are also business and community partnerships that support and advance the agency’s work in a variety of ways.

The most powerful of these partnerships are those in which our partners engage with us on multiple levels, bringing a range of personal and professional resources, skills and expertise to bear. One such partner is Austin-based commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield.

Cushman & Wakefield in Austin was formerly known as Oxford Commercial and was started in 1993 by people who feel strongly about investing in the community. “As a business we have a responsibility to give back,” said Ford Alexander, executive managing director, Cushman & Wakefield. “We are fortunate to be leaders in the community and to make a good living here. It is our duty as leaders to help those who don’t have the same advantages we have. Helping others creates a stronger community and greater opportunities for us all.”

“Ford and his corporate family are models of philanthropy in that they have engaged with our organization and our work in so many ways over many years,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS. “Ford has been a Big, a Board member and a donor. His company has supported our organization through financial contributions and by lending their professional expertise in the real estate field. They are champions for civic engagement and they understand the importance of investing in youth and supporting community needs.”

The former Oxford Commercial gave a portion of each real estate transaction they closed to non-profits. “We invited our clients to choose which non-profits they wanted to support with a donation on their behalf from our company,” said Sonia Houston, Director of Broker Resources. “It’s a more personal way to engage with our clients and work together to support our shared community.”

BBBS is, and has been, a recipient of this generosity. “With the incredible impact it’s had on the lives of thousands of young people in the Austin area, BBBS has always risen to the top of the non-profits I support. I’ve experienced the joy of working directly with BBBS in many capacities and I’m thrilled that my company can also join the cause through our corporate giving program,” Ford continued.

Ford’s personal involvement with BBBS began when he was a student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. “I was in a fraternity and I decided that we needed to get involved in the community,” Ford explained. “I knew of Big Brothers Big Sisters, so I got half a dozen guys from our organization to become mentors with me. I was matched with my first Little Brother for two years and it was as rewarding for me as it was for him. That one experience led to my decades of proud support for BBBS and its mission.”

When Ford returned to Austin to finish his college degree he continued mentoring with BBBS, once again bringing friends into the organization as volunteers. As he moved into the business world, just like his company, Ford found new ways to engage with BBBS.

“Ford has stayed engaged with our mission over the years,” Fields added. “Not only has he brought his personal passion and commitment to our work, he has also brought his company’s philanthropic spirit and its professional expertise to the table to help us address organizational and operational needs.”

“His company recently contributed to the success of our 2016 Amplify Austin fundraising campaign, and the organization is involved in helping us sell our current property as we prepare to move to our new mentoring center site,” Fields explained.

Marketing manager Tony Napolillo says that it was the commercial real estate company’s commitment to helping the community that influenced his decision to work for the company. “I was extremely impressed with the company’s philanthropic efforts and with the impact they have,” Tony said. “These folks are helping BBBS provide mentoring services to young people in Central Texas that truly change lives. That’s significant and I’m so proud to work for an organization that is a champion of this important cause.”

“There are a lot of ways to get involved with BBBS in addition to being a Big,” Ford continued. “You can teach a class, give money, help with events or, like us, offer your business skills and experience. Every individual’s and organization’s talents can be put to good use.”

Ford Alexander and Cushman & Wakefield are partners who are truly making a difference… for BBBS and for the community as a whole.


Spotlight on Lauren Portley

Lauren Portley HeadshotT

BBBS offers successful and impactful mentoring programs, but without funding these programs would go away. Lauren Portley, vice president of development, works hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Lauren’s job at BBBS is to oversee fundraising events and to solicit donors and businesses for money. It is a responsibility some people might find intimidating. “I think it takes a unique individual. Not everyone is cut out for it,” she said. “But I think everyone is capable. It’s just a fear of rejection that stops people.”

She is not put off if people are not ready to donate as she believes it is all a matter of timing. “The word ‘no’ doesn’t bother me,” Lauren said. “It’s all about the mission, about serving more kids, and about how to continue the quality of programs that we’ve set the standard for. We want to continue to be the best in town at what we do, while increasing the quantity of services offered while maintaining program quality.”

It’s BBBS’ mission that makes a difference for donors as well, according to Lauren. “There has to be a purpose to what you’re asking for,” Lauren explained. “And donors want to know you are being good stewards of their dollars.”

Every day is a different experience for Lauren as she meets with a variety of people and businesses. “I love meeting all the different donors and volunteers,” Lauren continued. “I enjoy chatting with my team and program and marketing staff as we prepare for events.”

Preparation is important to Lauren whether she is meeting with donors or setting up for an event. While an event may appear glamorous, the behind the scenes can be very different. “People don’t see behind the scenes when you’ve been schlepping 40 pound bins around in 6-inch heels and sweating in a cocktail dress for 12 hours,” Lauren laughed.

What does Lauren enjoy doing during her down time? “I love to travel. I’ve been to Paris, which I loved. I enjoyed going to Ireland, Scotland and Dubai. I traveled to all 50 states growing up. My family would pile into the van and head out,” Lauren said. “And I enjoy food and wine and spending time with my family.”

Being a Big Couple

Dixon and Fred tight cropLM jpgSometimes it takes two. That’s what some of our Bigs have discovered when they’ve volunteered as Big Couples. It’s an option in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring program that many people aren’t familiar with; the opportunity to enrich a child’s life as a team, as a couple. It’s what couple Vanessa Ordones and Dixon Hankins did when they signed on with BBBS.

“We both had a passion for, and thought about our careers in terms of, helping the community,” Dixon said. “We thought mentoring as a Big Couple would be a really focused way to direct our efforts. We’d be able to do it together and support each other in the process. By combining our skills, we thought we could really make a difference in a meaningful way.”

Vanessa had volunteered with BBBS in college and really enjoyed her experience. The couple has now been involved as a Big Couple for about six years, since their Little Brother, Fred, was in middle school. Initially, it was challenging to find time in their busy schedules to be mentors, but as their relationships grew, the mentoring became something more.

“If there’s a difference between when we started and now, it’s that now that we have established strong relationships, it’s just really fun,” Vanessa explained.

“When you commit to being a mentor you’re committing to providing consistency and to making another person an important part of your life,” Dixon continued. “What I’ve enjoyed most is building that close relationship with Fred and seeing the comfort level grow between us. Now we have a friendship as well as a mutual understanding of how we all work together.”

Part of that understanding comes from having the benefit of two mentors as opposed to one. “We have a lot of laughs,” Dixon said. “In addition, Fred gets to see the dynamic between Vanessa and me as a couple. I think it’s been really positive for him to witness a healthy relationship and the ways that Vanessa and I interact with one another.”

“Being a Big Couple also provides some built-in flexibility,” Dixon added. “We spend as much time together as the 3 of us can, but if there’s an occasion when Vanessa can’t participate, then Fred and I can go hang out, and vice versa. It really gives us more opportunities to spend time with Fred. And after we spend time together, Vanessa and I can reflect on that experience and share information, ideas and reactions, which adds another dimension to the experience as well.”

“Having two mentors also offers additional benefits for our Little because we both bring unique personalities and skills to the relationship,” Vanessa explained. “I instill structure and future thinking. I’m constantly checking in about academics, and I help with homework and with applying for jobs and college. Fred and I talk about how to make Fred’s future goals more attainable. Dixon and Fred share a love of basketball. They play pickup games together at the UT Rec Center and can talk endlessly about what’s happening in the NBA or with their own school and rec league teams. Dixon also models for Fred what it means to be a respected and respectful man.”

Vanessa and Dixon have been an integral part of their Little’s life. “Fred has been involved in sports and it’s been great to have shared that with him. He didn’t have many other people to watch him play and cheer him on, but we have always been there and I know he has really appreciated that,” Vanessa said. “More recently, we helped him get a driver’s license, which was huge for him. That has given him a little more freedom and a sense of self-worth.”

The couple has also supported Fred’s academic progress. “Academics are not a high priority in Fred’s home so it can be easy for him to focus on other things,” Vanessa explained. “Our emphasis on education has helped him to be more successful in middle and high school.”

Now that Fred is a high school senior, it’s a poignant time as the couple reflects on their experiences together. “I work at UT and I’ve taken Fred to campus to walk around and to play basketball in the gym,” Dixon said.  “After listening to his questions about college life, I think it was important for him to get a sense of what college might be like. And, I think that’s how you change a person’s life, by exposing them to new things, little by little.”

Being a Big Couple has been a positive and meaningful experience for Dixon and Vanessa as well. “I feel we’ve had an impact on Fred’s life and he’s definitely had an impact on ours,” Dixon continued. “Fred has had plenty of challenges, and it’s been inspiring to see his positive outlook on life. It’s neat to think that this relationship has come about because of BBBS.”

“With us and Fred, this is life-long,” Vanessa concluded. “We’ll be a part of his life, and he’ll be a part of ours, forever… I think… I hope!”