BBBS’ Big Futures Program

A mixed race teenage girl is taking a high school standardized test in class. She looks down and works on the test.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas exists to help children achieve success in life through one-to-one mentoring. BBBS currently serves children ages 6 to 18 years of age, and the agency’s formal relationship with each match ends when a Little becomes 18 years old or graduates from high school. However, a new program called Big Futures may extend the length and type of services that BBBS provides for Bigs and Littles.

“By closing matches at 18 or at graduation, we are missing out on the opportunity to positively impact our young people as they are entering adulthood – one of the most pivotal times in their lives,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs.

Big Futures will offer on-going support to Bigs and Littles beyond the high school years, help Littles fully utilize BBBS’ Scholarship Program, and provide additional resources and support regarding post-secondary education and career readiness.

A handful of matches whose Littles graduated from high school last year are currently working with BBBS to develop and define this new program as a pilot project.

“Many of our young people come from challenging backgrounds and are often the first in their families to attend college,” Joe continued. “Our goal, especially in the early stages of this pilot, is simply to better understand the needs of our young people as they transition into adulthood and to continue offering support, encouragement and guidance to help them get where they want to go.”

Eventually, Joe sees the program providing resources and training to students in middle and high school as well.

Big Brother John and his Little Brother Jaylon are involved in the Big Futures pilot program. Although Jaylon is a college freshman in Alabama and John doesn’t see him as often as he did during Jaylon’s high school years, the two are still in contact. John is currently providing support to help Jaylon stay focused on his goals in veterinary science.

“Big Futures is a great idea,” John said. “With BBBS’ current age limits for matches, you help someone get through high school and then it’s like ‘Hey, good luck in college.’ And college is a really different animal, with a lot more freedom and responsibility. If kids need a helping hand to get through grade school and high school, they are likely to need support as they transition to college.”

Rob Richardson, a Big Brother and benefits specialist at the University of Texas at Austin, agrees. Rob has worked in the college environment for over 16 years, spending a large portion of that time training resident advisors and, more recently, working with student judicial services. Rob has counseled students on everything from roommate conflicts to allegations of cheating to police charges.

“The years between ages 18 to 22 are a crucial developmental time,” Rob remarked. “This is when students are building habits they will have for a lifetime, they are in transition getting new class schedules every three months, and they are learning to create structure for themselves for the first time. The Big Futures program will provide Littles with consistency and support during these years.”

“Support is so important, especially in the first year of college when students are making decisions about their majors and how to spend their time,” Rob continued. “I’ve seen students fall into the trap of wanting to do everything, and then I’ve seen the opposite, students who have trouble engaging with the campus community. Continuing the BBBS relationship will offer Littles stability as they are developing ideas about the world and about their purpose.”

BBBS’ pilot project is currently focused on identifying the most important issues and needs that young people have following high school. The agency will then work on developing a range of tools, activities, and resources to support Littles as they navigate their respective paths toward adulthood.

Helping students prepare for success doesn’t just mean college prep work either. Big Futures will support youth around the three “E’s” – Education, Employment and Enlistment.  The program will serve as a resource for students wanting to attend college, enter the job market immediately after high school, or enlist in military service. Matches will be able to access information on job readiness, resume building, work/life skills, and enlistment requirements.

“We recognize that we are not the experts in any of these areas and we don’t want to be,” Joe explained. “There are numerous agencies doing fantastic work in each of these realms. Our goal is to guide young people to the most useful resources for them.”

“This is one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced in my 9+ years at BBBS,” Joe concluded. “This program will give us the opportunity to truly experience the life-changing power of mentoring as our youth transition from childhood into adulthood. Big Futures will allow us to help Littles use the confidence, skills and aspirations that they’ve built through their matches as they move toward achieving the ‘success in life’ that our Vision proclaims.”

If you’d like more information on this or other BBBS programs, please contact us at 512-472-5437 or visit our website at www.Bigmentoring.org

Spotlight on Candace Bunkley: BBBS’ Scholarship Program Coordinator

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Big Brothers Big Sisters is mission-focused. It’s no wonder that many of the agency’s staff members are as well. Candace Bunkley, BBBS’ Scholarship Program Coordinator, wanted to work for an organization that “had a mission and was doing a good job.”

Candace previously worked for a healthcare law office as an office administrator. After an internet search, however, she found the organization she wanted to be part of: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. She began with a part-time position in customer relations before moving into her current role overseeing BBBS’ Scholarship Program.

“My primary role is to receive and process scholarship applications from Littles,” Candace explained. “I process their paperwork and help them understand the requirements for BBBS’ Scholarship Program.”

And that’s just the beginning. Candace also oversees the program’s daily operations which include sending scholarship payments to various colleges, tracking program spending, and coordinating BBBS’ annual scholarship awards ceremony.

In addition, she provides general scholarship and college information to students. “I love hearing what our Littles are majoring in and what schools they’re going to,” Candace continued. “And the fact that they understand the requirements of the different universities and of our program, and that they are keeping up with those responsibilities, is a testament to how well they’re succeeding in school.”

Helping Bigs, Littles and families understand the requirements for enrolling in college can be challenging. “If students can’t get enrolled in time because they don’t have everything completed, I can hear the disappointment in their voices,” Candace admitted. “But I remind them that their BBBS scholarship will be available whenever they are set to enroll. Overall, I’m really impressed with how well our students stay on top of things. They are really doing a great job.”

Candace’s goals for the Scholarship Program include increasing the number of Littles who access their scholarships each semester, and helping them connect with other educational resources in the community.

Candace doesn’t work all the time. She enjoys being involved in her church, Austin Stone, and taking classes through Austin Community College. She also spends a lot of time with her dog, Dolly, a miniature Maltipoo.

“Our Bigs work so hard at getting their Littles to dream big and to think about their goals for the future,” Candace continued. “I think my favorite part of the Scholarship Program is helping Littles achieve those goals and supporting the work our Bigs are doing.”

Game Changers: Olivia

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Olivia is an Austin professional who has become a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters for a second time. She has also become a BBBS Game Changer.

“When I got involved with BBBS of Central Texas and saw all of the programming and resources that this chapter offers Bigs, it blew my mind,” Olivia said. “BBBS provides programming, support and community partnerships that create great experiences for Bigs and Littles, allowing matches to focus on building strong relationships, rather than worrying so much about planning activities.”

Recognizing the significance and impact of these resources motivated Olivia to become a Game Changer. “I understand the difference that these resources make, but I also realized that they don’t just come naturally,” Olivia continued. “There has to be funding. As a Game Changer, I provide a small amount of money each month – about what I’d spend on a few cups of coffee –  but these funds have a huge impact.”

Olivia’s monthly gift contributes to BBBS’ ability to hire more staff, provide support to Bigs and Littles, and, ultimately, change children’s lives for the better, forever.

“The resources and support BBBS provides are a huge part of what makes BBBS’ mentoring relationships so successful,” Olivia concluded. “It’s easy to get caught up in our own day-to-day dramas, but most of us really don’t have anything to be concerned about. A lot of the kids BBBS serves don’t have anything. They need our help.”

Thank you to Olivia and all of our other monthly donors for making a contribution that makes a difference for children in our community.

Become a Game Changer here

Please Join Us for the Grand Opening of our New Mentoring Center

mentoring-center-grand-opening-card-srgbAs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas marks its 46th year of service in Central Texas, the agency is pleased to announce the grand opening of the organization’s new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center, a facility that will allow BBBS to serve more children and families throughout Central Texas in years to come.

On January 25th, 2017, the agency’s founders, donors, former and current Big and Little Brothers and Sisters, board members, community leaders, families and friends will gather to celebrate the historic opening of this new facility. It is fitting that the center is opening in January, which is also National Mentoring month.

The public is welcome and invited to attend.

Honored guests will include BBBS’ first Executive Director, BBBS’ founding Board Chair, as well as the agency’s first Big Brother, among others. Current and former Bigs and Littles will also be on hand. A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place, and, following opening remarks, tours of the building, interviews, entertainment, activities and refreshments will be provided.

BBBS’ 2017 Bigs of the Year

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Take a moment to recall the different mentors you’ve known, those people who took time to teach you a skill or life lesson, who really listened to you, who inspired you, or who were always there for you. We’ve all had mentors in our lives.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ mission is to help children succeed in life. We do this by pairing children with caring adult volunteers who serve as role models, mentors and guides. These mentoring relationships are transformative and life-changing for children, for adults, and for the community.

January is National Mentoring month: a time when we celebrate those who donate their time and energy to provide opportunities and care for others.

“National Mentoring Month allows us to celebrate the incredible impact and power of mentoring,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs. “We use this time to recognize and thank our current Big Brothers and Big Sisters for their involvement and to raise awareness of the need for even more individuals, community groups and businesses to engage in this life-changing work.”

In January BBBS also announces the agency’s Central Texas Bigs of the Year. BBBS’ 2017 awardees include Big Sister Meredith Curran, Big Brother Jeremy Giroir and Big Couple Vanessa Ordones and Dixon Hankins. These individuals are recognized for their exemplary service, dedication and impact as mentors.

Meredith and Takeria

“It’s been a 7-year adventure,” Meredith said of her match with Little Sister Takeria. In the beginning, she recalled sitting across from her future Little Sister and wondering what she might have in common with the shy 8-year-old she had just met.

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It turns out that the two have had a lot in common. They have shared a lot of “firsts” together, such as Takeria’s first hayride and first baseball game. They have also enjoyed running errands, baking and simply hanging out at Meredith’s house. “Takeria even helped me transport a scared dog from one animal shelter to another through my role as a volunteer at Austin Pets Alive,” Meredith added. “When I pick her up and include her in my activities, it makes them much more fun!”

Takeria agreed. “Just spending time with Meredith in general is the best,” she remarked. “I never knew that having a Big Sister would be such an amazing experience.”

Takeria has always introduced Meredith as her Big Sister. When the two met at Takeria’s middle school for lunch one day, a little boy looked at Meredith with surprise when Takeria said she was her Big Sister and said, “But you’re not black!” Takeria just laughed and went on with her conversation. “Nothing fazes her – I mean nothing!” Meredith joked.

Meredith attributes this year’s Big of the Year award to Takeria as much as to herself. “Without her eagerness and dedication to spending time with me, I would not have been nominated for this award, The greatest accomplishment in my life is being a Big Sister. This adventure with Takeria is priceless. I am confident it will never end.”

Jeremy and Dylan

Jeremy Giroir sees his match continuing long after his Little Brother Dylan has graduated from high school as well. “From the very first time I met Dylan I felt like he was family,” Jeremy said. “Although Dylan was very shy at first, it didn’t take long before I saw his eyes light up with curiosity and his playful jokester spirit come out. To say that he quickly became part of my life is a gross understatement. Hanging out with him is not something I feel like I “have” to do, or that I’m “supposed” to do, it’s something I GET to do.”

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One of the other things Jeremy gets to do is to see the world anew through the eyes of his Little Brother, whether playing basketball and football or visiting a college campus. “Some of my favorite conversations with Dylan involve talking about what he wants to be when he grows up, or what college he wants to go to,” Jeremy continued. “It’s beyond refreshing to see his confusion turn into excitement when he realizes that he can choose his path in life.”

Jeremy sees this simple interest in a child’s life as being the key difference between kids who have dreams of successful futures and those who don’t. “A child’s excitement about the future is like a light bulb that can only be illuminated by someone who genuinely cares about them and who is willing to spend the time and effort to help them turn it on,” Jeremy said. “Being part of an organization that allows these connections to happen is a no-brainer for me. I can’t say enough about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I think it truly changes the world one relationship at a time.”

Dylan also values his relationship with Jeremy. “Jeremy is a good role model,” Dylan remarked. “Because he helps me, I want to help people too. When I say my prayers at night I pray that everyone can have a Big Brother like me. Jeremy is a great friend and I tell everyone he is the best Big Brother ever!”

Vanessa, Dixon and Fred

In addition to a Big Brother and Sister, this year a Big Couple of the Year has also been selected – Vanessa Ordones and Dixon Hankins. They have been involved with BBBS for over six years.

Vanessa and Dixon have become like family to Little Brother Fred. They have cheered him fred-and-dixonon at sporting events, played games together and helped him focus on his academics and future aspirations. Early in their match, Fred was in attendance when Dixon earned his Master’s degree from the University of Texas. This sparked a growing interest in higher education and Dixon and Vanessa recently cheered Fred on in turn as he walked across the stage to earn his high school diploma. Fred is now utilizing his BBBS scholarship as a freshman at Lamar Technical Institute in Beaumont.

“I feel we’ve had an impact on Fred’s life and he’s definitely had an impact on ours,” Dixon said. “Fred has had plenty of challenges, and it’s been inspiring to see his positive outlook on life,” Vanessa added. “With us and Fred, this is life-long. We’ll be a part of his life, and he’ll be a part of ours, forever.”

With such exceptional examples of all that mentoring can do, National Mentoring month reminds us of those who’ve impacted our own lives, and inspires us to ‘pay it forward’ by providing time, care, support and opportunities for others.