What Happens Now That I’m a Big?

You’ve been accepted as a Big. You’ve completed the enrollment process, the background checks and the training. You’ve met your new Little Brother or Sister and you’re ready to start changing a child’s life for the better, forever. Everything will be perfect, just like in the brochure, right? Except your Little doesn’t say much on your first outing, and he or she doesn’t seem enthusiastic about your efforts to interact.

Is the match in trouble? Did you mess up? How do you start building a meaningful relationship with this child? New Bigs often have common questions and concerns soon after being matched. But BBBS’ professional staff is prepared to help Bigs, Littles, and families work through the twists and turns along this relationship road.

A mentoring relationship is like any other relationship. It takes time and effort to foster a sense of trust, companionship and comfort. And when a match is just getting started, patience, realistic expectations, consistency, and attention to the little things can go a long way.

“I have Bigs who worry about their Littles not talking when they’re on an outing and thinking that their Littles don’t want to be matched,” match support specialist Rah-Taja Doggett explained. “I always encourage them to be patient, because it takes time for a relationship to flourish.”

Staff members also encourage Bigs to remember that there are any number of reasons a child might not want to talk or open up right away. “Sometimes kids are shy or nervous,” Ellen Harsch added. “It could be that they’re a teenager, or that they don’t know what to suggest for an outing.”

To help Littles open up, BBBS’ match support specialists recommend planning outings that are interactive and engaging and that don’t put too much pressure or focus on the Little. “We encourage new matches to play card games or to do activities where they build or make things,” said Christina Snell, a BBBS match support supervisor. “We also provide ‘nice-to-meet-you’ cards that Bigs and Littles can use to initiate conversations.”

When Ellen and her Little Sister go out to eat they enjoy getting kids’ menus that they can color while waiting for their food. This gives them something to do together, but it takes the pressure off of having a conversation.

One of the Bigs Christina works with uses a journal to foster communication with a reserved Little. “The pair has a match journal that they pass back and forth,” Christina said. “When the Little is at home they can record their thoughts and ideas in the journal, or the Big can provide questions like ‘What’s the coolest thing you did this week?’ Sharing a journal takes the pressure off discussing everything in person but it allows the Big to interact with their Little and to gain insight into what their Little is thinking and going through.”

As a match progresses kids may or may not open up more, but seeds of trust can still be planted. “You build trust by being consistent and reliable, by keeping the plans you make and by reassuring your Little that you’re there for them,” Lauren Dolan said.

“We know that there are times Bigs can’t be consistent,” Sergio Guzman added. “But when Bigs can’t be there or when they need to change their plans, we encourage them to give their Little a call to check in or to make plans for the next outing so the Little will know when they’ll see their Big again and that their Big is thinking of them.”

In addition to being consistent, BBBS’ staff encourage Bigs to be realistic and flexible in their expectations about their matches. “Surveys show that our kids DO feel close to their Bigs and that it sometimes takes our Bigs longer to develop a sense of rapport than our Littles,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ vice president of programs. “But Bigs don’t necessarily see that. They come in with lofty goals and when the things they’ve imagined don’t happen right away, they sometimes get concerned.”

Joe cites his own experience as an example. Joe mentored a 14-year-old who never had any issues with not talking. “My Little talked a mile-a-minute,” Joe laughed, “but he never said ‘thank you’ for our time together.” When they’d go for several days without talking, however, Joe noticed that he would get a text from his Little saying, “’Sup? (What’s up?)” “I realized that he wasn’t going to thank me, but that initiating contact, being the one to suggest we hang out, and texting was his way of doing that.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of recognizing what small victories actually look like.”

“Sometimes Bigs forget to look at the subtleties of their matches,” Nick Rudomin agreed. “My Little will never be on my shoulders shouting at the camera like in the brochure. He’s not going to have a deep conversation with me, but for him, showing up every week is his way of letting me know that he values our time together.”

Occasionally Bigs need to see those small victories through the eyes of the parent. As Lauren explained, it’s the Little’s parents who see their child come home from a match outing full of excitement, or who experience a change in their child’s attitude that confirms that they are enjoying the match and benefiting from it. Maintaining communication with a Little’s parents can help Bigs better understand the difference they are making.

“Communication is so important,” Ellen remarked. “I’ve seen matches deal with huge problems simply because everyone communicated with one another. I’ve also seen matches close without ever getting a chance because the participants didn’t discuss what was going on. That is super frustrating because we have so many ways to help Bigs, Littles, and families address any issues they might be facing.”

BBBS’ program staff are talented problem solvers, but they also work very hard to equip Bigs with the tools they need to head off issues before they start. “At every step of the match process we provide Bigs, Littles, and families with the guidance and tools to succeed,” Christina said, “but we’re here if they need us. And it takes all of us, working together, to make each match as successful as possible, because it’s not easy. No relationship is. But, as with any relationship, being there for one another is what matters most.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: BBBS’ staff not only believe in BBBS’ mentoring model, they have experienced it themselves. More than thirty-five percent of our staff, including our CEO, are current or former Big Brothers or Sisters.

Fun in the Sun: Summer Activities for Matches to Enjoy

This is an image of a young girl propped on the edge of a swimming pool and smiling. She is resting her chin on her hands and wearing pink goggles and snorkel gear. The blue pool water is seen in the background.

Central Texas is home to countless places to explore, wander, eat, and enjoy. In the summertime, the weather may get hotter, but that doesn’t stop matches from spending time together both indoors and outdoors.

Big Sister Catherine and her Little Sister Jenny have been matched for almost four years, and have already spent three summers together. At first, Catherine tried to do extravagant activities with Jenny during the summer months. “The first year it’s like you’re dating, and you want to impress the other person,” Catherine said. They soon realized that the activities they enjoy most tend to be simple and free. “Sometimes we just go to a pet store and pet the dogs,” Jenny said, “or we get coloring books and color at an ice cream shop.”

Diane and her Little Sister Azucena try to avoid the outdoors during the summertime. “We like to bake cookies and cook together,” Diane said. When cooking, Diane often tries to push Azucena out of her comfort zone. “We are always trying new and different foods,” Azucena said. Big Sister Ashley and her Little Charlissa also enjoy cooking together. “The food is probably not the best but Charlissa pretends she likes it,” Ashley joked.

Some matches like to utilize their extra free time in the summer to learn new skills. “I don’t know how to swim,” Charlissa said “so Ashley and I are going to work on that this summer. We’ll start at the pool and work our way up to the Greenbelt eventually.” Other than her time with Ashley, Charlissa doesn’t get out of the house very often. “Ashley really helps to show me new things and prevents me from laying around all day,” she laughed.

Big Brother Kuro and his Little Brother Salvador don’t let the heat stop them pursuing outdoor activities. They often feed the ducks by Lady Bird Lake. But Salvador warned that the geese can get a little vicious at times. “Be careful or they might attack you” he joked. Kuro and Salvador also enjoy tossing a lacrosse ball around and playing other sports together.

With so many different places to enjoy and activities to choose from, it’s often difficult to decide on just one thing. But it turns out that what matches do together isn’t so important. “All that really matters is that you’re making time for someone, and they’re making time for you,” said Diane. “That’s a really great feeling.”

Suggestions For Beating the Heat:

  • Cook a fun recipe together
  • Buy inexpensive crafts at Wal-Mart and make them together
  • Explore The Thinkery, The Bob Bullock Museum or The Blanton Museum
  • Play cards or a board game at a coffee shop
  • Enjoy a discounted lunch from one of BBBS’ many partners
  • Find a free workout or yoga class
  • Watch movies in a homemade blanket fort
  • Make your own ice cream or popsicles
  • Visit an antique store
  • Take pictures of the fish at an aquarium
  • Draw pictures of each other

Activities For Embracing the Sun:

  • Feed the ducks at Lady Bird Lake
  • Build a homemade slip n’ slide
  • Play with dogs at Zilker Park
  • Check out a free festival
  • Train for and run a 5k together
  • Explore McKinney Park or Sculpture Falls
  • Sail across Austin (for free!)
  • Hike all 8 miles of the Barton Creek Greenbelt
  • Set up a lemonade stand
  • Wash the car together
  • Explore the Austin Nature Center

Before you head out on your next adventure, check out our list of match discount partners to see if you can do your activity for less or for free! Match discount partners provide BBBS volunteers with affordable options for spending time with their Little. Bigs must present their Match ID Card to receive the discount.

For even more summer activity ideas, click here