Kate & Hector Perez: Host Committee Chairs for Ice Ball 2016

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Sparkling lights, ice sculptures, an elegant setting, fashionable gowns, exotic auction prizes. It’s easy to get caught up in the dazzling event that is Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Ice Ball Gala. But Ice Ball Chairs Kate and Hector Perez look beyond the glamour to focus on the heart of the event: raising money to help BBBS provide mentoring services to more children in Central Texas.

This civic-minded couple is involved with a number of non-profits, but BBBS has captured their hearts. Hector originally got involved with BBBS as a Big Brother and, several years later, he got Kate involved as well. “I came from an economically disadvantaged background in San Antonio,” Hector said. “Growing up, there were times in my life when having a male mentor and role model would have been very helpful.”

It was BBBS’ reputation and Hector’s desire to establish a one-to-one connection with a child that motivated him to become a Big Brother in 2010. “I thought, if I could have a relationship with one child, for an extended time, I could have an impact on that child,” Hector recalled. “When I became a Big, I was surprised to discover how much being a volunteer affected and benefited me too.”

Hector was matched with his Little Brother Gabriel six years ago. Their relationship is such an important part of his life that when he and Kate planned their wedding, they both knew that Gabriel would be involved. “Hector and I are both from big families,” Kate laughed, “but when we got married there was no question who our ring bearer was going to be. It was Gabriel.”

Kate and Hector weddingSince becoming a Big, Hector has contributed to, and been involved with, Big Brothers Big Sisters in many different ways. He was named Big Brother of the Year in 2014, has the distinction of having raised the most money as an individual donor for BBBS’ annual Bowl for Kids event, and serves on BBBS’ Board of Directors and Scholarship Board. Kate became involved with the agency as well after attending BBBS’ 2014 Ice Ball gala.

“We have a strong interest in helping non-profits succeed,” Kate said. It is this interest that prompted them to join the Ice Ball Host Committee in 2015, recruit others to help with the event, and ultimately become Ice Ball 2016 Host Committee Chairs – a job that comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of work.

“Making Ice Ball a success is a group effort,” Kate explained. “It takes sponsors, staff, donors, volunteers, and friends. This event wouldn’t be what it is without a team. I give credit to everyone who is working behind the scenes to prepare for this year’s gala. We’re grateful for their involvement.”

Contributing to non-profit events is not an unusual pastime for the pair, as they are involved with many community organizations. Kate is on the board and is involved in fundraising for Ballet Austin, the Texas Young Masters Foundation, and the Blanton Museum’s ‘Art on the Edge’. She and Hector have also started a special organization to help veterans transition from the military back to civilian life.

Ice Ball, however, is special. “Ice Ball is so different from other events,” Kate remarked. “It has such positive energy and support. The laughter and cheering that occur when an auction item brings in a record amount is so much fun to experience.”

But it’s the gala’s overarching mission that really inspires this couple – raising the funds needed to provide mentoring services to more kids in Central Texas.

BBBS currently serves approximately 1,000 children each year, but for every child who is matched with a Big Brother or Sister, there is another child waiting to be matched with a mentor of their own. Funds raised through events like Ice Ball allow the agency to hire the staff needed to make and support more mentoring relationships.

“We know first-hand how hard it can be for a child who is waiting to be matched with a Big Brother or Sister.” Hector said. “Gabe’s brother, Trey, was on the waiting list for quite some time. That’s why we do Ice Ball. To make mentoring relationships possible for even more kids.”

Though the couple contributes a great deal of time to local non-profits in addition to their regular jobs, they do have some down time. Hector is a runner and has competed in 4 marathons. “We love to travel and to experience new cultures,” Kate added, “And we enjoy entertaining and spending time with family and friends.”

Their Little Brother, Gabriel, has become a part of their extended family, just as Kate and Hector have become a part of Gabriel’s family. One of Hector’s proudest moments was when he received a compliment from Gabe’s older sister. “She said ‘Thank you for helping my brother become a man,’” Hector recalled. “Hearing that told me that I was having an impact on Gabe’s life. That was a very special moment for me.”

And, at the end of the day, creating more relationships and moments like these, is what Ice Ball is all about.

Hector and Gabe 2016

BBBS Presents Scholarships to Over 400 Students

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Encouragement and possibilities were the themes as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas promised and awarded almost $900,000 in college scholarships to more than 400 students at the agency’s 30th Annual Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony on Saturday, June 11. Held at the For the City Center, the event featured Mayor Steve Adler as the keynote speaker. He addressed his remarks to an audience made up of students, families and mentors.

“I am a first-generation college student,” Adler told the graduates, many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college. He congratulated the students on their academic achievements and encouraged them to look to their successes and to believe in themselves when the going gets tough.

Over $410,000 in scholarship funds were made available to BBBS’ graduating seniors, and younger students were promised $480,000 in funds to be used when they graduate from high school.

The scholarships will be used at a variety of institutions and vocational schools including the University of Texas at Austin, Berklee College of Music in Boston and Bennington College in Vermont. This year’s graduates are pursuing fields including nursing, music, veterinary medicine, business, computer coding, physics, biology and medicine.

“It is incredible to see the positive impact BBBS’ Scholarship Program has on our kids. It helps them achieve feats many of them never thought they could, and it opens the door to new opportunities.” said Brent Fields, CEO, Big Brother Big Sisters of Central Texas.

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Students walked across the stage to receive their awards and posed for photos with dignitaries following the ceremony. Lauren Petrowski of Fox 7 Austin was the emcee for the event, and speeches were given by Mayor Steve Adler, BBBS of Central Texas CEO Brent Fields, BBBS Executive Board Member Jamie Avila and former Little Sister Keyanna Maxwell.

About the Scholarship Program: In 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas received a contribution from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program encouraging Little Brothers and Sisters to complete high school and pursue post-secondary education. The program was the first of its kind throughout the nearly 350 BBBS chapters. Since 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters has promised nearly $5 million in college scholarships to 2,500 Little Brothers and Sisters in Central Texas.

For more information about BBBS’ Scholarship Program, go here

A Gift for Learning

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Sometimes you just need to be given a chance. Sometimes you need to be given a lifeline. For Demetria Wiley, that vital support came from Big Brothers Big Sisters and the agency’s scholarship program.

Demetria grew up in a family where her mother was abused and she herself experienced abuse as well. “As a child, I had to struggle. I was really depressed,” Demetria said. “My mom always tried to do things to keep my sister and me happy and away from any type of stress.”

However, Demetria’s mom had troubles of her own. She suffered from mental illness and spent time in the state hospital while her children went through foster care. “It was a tough life,” Demetria recalled. “I was one of those kids who wasn’t supposed to make it.” And at one point, it seemed as though she really wouldn’t make it. Demetria attempted suicide – sparking her family to take action. That was when Demetria’s mom signed her up for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“I got a Big Sister and I was so excited,” Demetria said. “My Big Sister was my best friend. She treated me like family, even though we were not the same race – she was Caucasian and I was African-American. We did everything from bike riding to going to the movies together. She helped me with my homework, and she encouraged and supported me.”

Despite her Big Sister’s support and encouragement, Demetria didn’t think she had a chance of pursuing higher education. “I never thought I’d go to college because we moved around so much,” Demetria remarked. “I attended 9 or 10 different schools as a child and always had to catch up on schoolwork, but even so I managed to get straight A’s.”

Due to her academic success, educators offered her an opportunity to attend St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, a private college preparatory school in Central Texas, as part of a special program. She would be one of the first African-American students, a thought that frightened her. “I thought, ‘No, I can’t handle that,’” she said. “I turned it down and figured that I’d never get another opportunity to attend college or to receive any other scholarships.”

Despite her doubts, Demetria soon discovered, that she could get another scholarship through BBBS, one that would help her pay for college. “That was such a gift,” Demetria said. “It helped me so much by furthering my education. Getting that scholarship showed me that I had the ability to do anything I wanted to in life. And with that motivation I thought ‘I’m not gonna stop here!’”

And Demetria didn’t stop. She earned not only one degree, but two. She currently has a Bachelor’s Degree in Healthcare Management, a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management and she is working on a Master’s Degree. While pursuing her Bachelor’s degrees, she joined the National Guard, where she served for 10 years. She is currently a Sergeant and works on weekends. Her full-time job is with Austin’s airport where she works in Human Resources.

Her successes, determination and education have inspired her sister, her daughter and her son to attend college as well. Both of Demetria’s children have also been enrolled in the BBBS program and both are due to receive scholarships this year.

“The BBBS program is so important. It’s something kids can utilize when they have absent parents, when they don’t have self-esteem, when they need motivation, and when they need something to help them get where they need to be in life,” she said. “It’s very difficult when you’re a kid and you’re struggling and you don’t have any idea what your future might be.”

“And the Scholarship Program makes such a difference,” Demetria continued. “Receiving a scholarship gave me the motivation to pursue my academic goals. It also gave me the sense that my dreams, and I, were worthwhile.”

“Kids need to know that there are programs out there that can help them; that they can use to get ahead. And that, despite really hard times, they can make it if they try.”

“My Big Sister, BBBS and BBBS’ Scholarship Program gave me help when I needed it and now I want to use the opportunities and experiences I have had to give back.” Demetria said.

Spotlight on John MacNary

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As high school graduations occur throughout the region, it’s only natural to think about the next step for many of these students – college. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas also thinks about, and plans for, this next stage in the educational process and that is where BBBS’ scholarship program manager, John MacNary, plays a major role.

In 1986, a Central Texas family created an endowment to start a scholarship program that would benefit BBBS students and further their educational goals. John oversees this program by identifying students who are eligible for BBBS’ scholarships and getting them enrolled.

“I was a first-generation college student,” John said, “so I try to help others onto that path. Applying for college can be a complicated process. There are a lot of steps.”

To help students navigate these steps John works to make students aware of all the resources that are available to them. “I want to make college more accessible,” John added. “There are a lot of students who don’t even think about college because they need to work to help their families. I want students in our program to know that college is an option and that we are here to help.”

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is excited to invest in young people,” John said, “and our scholarship program strengthens our agency, and our Littles’ experiences with us, as a whole. Students are required to remain matched with their Big Brothers or Sisters for over a year to qualify for a scholarship through BBBS.”

In his down time John enjoys the downtown Austin scene and discussing politics. He also enjoys an unofficial role as a tour guide for friends when they travel to New York City. But his major focus is still BBBS. “I just love the opportunity to help kids,” John said.