Finding Her Way

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Children are resilient, but they can reach a breaking point. Alyssa is a 16-year-old who is the youngest of 4 children. After experiencing a series of tragic events, Alyssa was losing her way – until she was matched with a Big Sister.

“She was on the wrong path. She had lost hope. You could just see it in her,” said her mother, Stephanie, who pointedly admitted that she feared her daughter would end up in jail or dead.

The difficulties began when the family’s home was flooded and they had to move. Six months later their house burned down and they had to move again. Not long after that, the family suffered through yet another flood, all within a two-year period. Alyssa was in the house during the most recent flood and it terrified her. These events began to take a toll on the teenager.

“Her attitude changed and she acted like she didn’t care about anything,” her mother continued. “She was getting into fights and had to be transferred to different schools. She was climbing out of windows to run away from school. It was really bad.”

Things started to change about 6 months ago, when Alyssa was matched with Rebecca. The two had an instant connection. Alyssa had found a friend who could help her get back onto a positive path. “They were both very comfortable with each other,” Stephanie said. “They found it easy to talk to one another.”

Rebecca became a Big because she remembered her own mentors and how they’d contributed to her life. “I wanted to be that person for someone else,” she recalled.

As a Big, Rebecca had two goals. She wanted to be someone Alyssa could open up to and talk to in a way that she couldn’t with her mom and siblings. Becca, as the family calls her, also wanted to support Alyssa in a practical sense by encouraging her to graduate, to find a career and to succeed. According to the family, both goals are being met.

“Now, oh my gosh, how Alyssa’s changed,” her mother continued. “She volunteers at the animal shelter. She is in FFA, a leadership program, at school. Becca got her out hiking. She just has a better outlook on life.”

Alyssa’s grades have also improved under Becca’s tutelage. “Last year she failed several classes, but this year she’s passing all of her classes and has gotten A’s in some,” Becca explained. “I’m so proud of her.”

Becca and Alyssa both enjoy the outdoors and going on hikes together. “We also really enjoy food,” Becca laughed. “So, we will often go to dinner for our outing.” One new place that Alyssa seems to like is the Hit the Spot Café.

“She also really loves animals and once a month we volunteer at the animal shelter,” Becca added. “I helped her apply to volunteer and signed up with her, but she’s kind of run with it. She now goes to help out after school. It’s something that’s become a part of her life and that she’s doing of her own accord. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of her for. I could see her working with animals as a career.”

Having a career wasn’t something Alyssa had even thought about until the pair took a tour of Texas State University. “Now she’s started talking about going to college and life after high school,” Becca said, “and I don’t even bring it up. I get excited when I see her making such progress, becoming more confident and starting to make goals for herself.”

Before being matched with Rebecca, Alyssa had never wanted to go to college. Now however she says, “I am going to go to college.”

“Becca has opened my eyes and helped me to see that no matter where you come from you can always aim higher,” Alyssa explained. Alyssa would be the first in her family to attend college.

Her mom, Stephanie, agrees that Alyssa has a new attitude about her future. “Alyssa really looks up to Becca,” she said. “Now Alyssa tells me, ‘I know what I’m going to do with my life and I’m going to get there. I’m going to make good money, and buy a house. I’m going to be somebody.’ I have never heard her talk like that before.”

As Alyssa makes her way to the life she envisions, she plans on having her Big Sister Becca by her side. “Yes, we’ll be friends for life,” Alyssa said.

Becca agrees. “Alyssa is wonderful and I look forward to hanging out with her. I really want to see her through high school and support her next steps.”

Such support is not lost on Alyssa. She knows what her Big Sister is doing for her. “Becca is a wonderful person who has really changed me,” Alyssa added, “and I really do love her for that.”

A Message of Gratitude From Our CEO

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“Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
—William Arthur Ward
 Greetings,

As we approach this season of Thanksgiving, we have so much to be thankful for at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

We have reached an exciting moment in our history with our move to our new facility – the Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center. It’s a moment that has been 45 years in the making. A moment that connects our past, our present and our future. A moment made possible by the work, efforts and involvement of all who have come before us… all who have contributed to making BBBS what it is today.

This is a moment for gratitude.

As I reflect on this unique moment in time, I am grateful to all who have been part of our rich history, who have been part of our work and who have shared in our journey.

I am also grateful for our agency’s 45 years of impactful service in the community, and for the opportunity to continue this work as we move forward.

I am grateful for the creation of this new mentoring center, a place that has been a hope, a need, a dream and a passion for many people, in many ways, over many years.

I am thankful for, and excited about, the new ways this facility will impact our daily work and our work in the community. We are already seeing some of these impacts now:

  • For the first time in our history, our staff and belongings are all under one roof
  • At our October BIG Fall Carnival, our first event in this new location, our new space allowed us to invite all of our matches, volunteers, friends, associates, children and families on our waiting list, alumni, neighbors and others into ‘our house’ – something that has never before been possible.

As I look to the future, I am grateful that we now have the resources in place that will allow us to dream bigger and to think more aspirationally about the impact we can have as we go forward.

Finally, in this season of gathering with those we care about, what I am most grateful for is you. I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate this moment with you, grateful for your role in our lives and our work, and grateful for the privilege of continuing this mission together as we work to improve the lives of children and families in Central Texas.

Warm wishes,

Brent Fields
CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas

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BBBS’ BIG Fall Carnival = Big Fun

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Popcorn, snow cones, inflatable slides, and hula hoops were all part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ BIG Fall Carnival on Saturday, October 29. It was a fall celebration that welcomed an excited crowd of over 300 children, families, and friends to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center in Rathgeber Village.

There were plenty of treats and smiles as many kids came dressed in their Halloween costumes to enjoy the day. “What a great kickoff event for our new facility,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It was a special day for our matches and guests alike.”

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“This event perfectly reflects the new opportunities that our mentoring center will make possible,” Fields continued. “This new space will allow us to serve larger numbers of kids, families and volunteers, to partner with other organizations, and to bring community members together in new ways.”

“We could never have had an event like this at our old facility. We’ve expanded our space and, in so doing, we’ve expanded the kinds of opportunities we can offer those we serve. It’s going to be exciting to see our carnival grow year to year, to watch our organization grow, and to see our impact on the community grow as well.”

“A special ‘thank you’ to Katharine and Ted Barnhill, a former Big Brother and board member, whose generous sponsorship made this event possible.”

Bigs, Littles and employees alike had a great time Saturday. “The best part was watching the kids run up and down the line of games,” laughed Saul Espinoza, one of BBBS’ match support specialists. “You could tell that some parents wanted to slow down a bit, but the kids were having a great time and they just wanted to try everything. I overheard one kid saying ‘I just keep winning!’ He was excited about doing so well at all the different games he was trying.”

The free event was reminiscent of an old-fashioned country fair. Activities included a cake walk, an inflatable slide, a basketball toss, a bean bag throw, an inflatable wrecking ball game, hula hoops, face painting and much more. There were also lots of special treats.

Numerous sponsors and agency partners provided refreshments. Honest Tea supplied drinks. Wells Fargo Bank and BBBS’ board member Carlos Barbosa made freshly popped popcorn, and Edible Arrangements owner and former Big Sister Reva Enzminger provided delicious ‘ghost pops’ (ghost shaped pineapple slices dipped in chocolate) that were quite ‘pop-ular.’

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“The chocolate covered pineapples were probably the biggest hit! Ok, maybe that was my favorite,” Big Brother Abraham Salas remarked. “My Little Brother, Kevin, enjoyed the snacks as well as the football ladder game and the bean bag throwing game. Although we didn’t join in on the inflatable wrecking ball, we enjoyed watching others participate. All of the inflatable games were awesome.”

Representatives from Austin Fire Department Station No. 14 and Austin Emergency Medical Services were also on hand to talk with children and to show off their trucks and equipment.

BBBS’ carnival brought together a diverse group of participants: Bigs, Littles and their families, children and families from BBBS’ waiting list, BBBS’ alumni, board members, staff members, former staff members, and friends, along with children from the Austin Children’s Shelter.

“This was a historic event that marked an important moment in time for our agency,” Fields concluded. “This is the first time in our 45-year history that we’ve been able to invite all of the people connected with BBBS to our space… to our ‘house.’ Our new mentoring center is, and will be, a gathering place…a meeting place… a place to bring people together. And bringing people together is what our organization is all about.”