The Ride of a Lifetime: Kaden and Jennifer

Bigs often say that they get as much, if not more, out of their mentoring relationships as the Littles they mentor. A part of that can be attributed to the pleasure of watching their Littles grow up to experience new and exciting adventures. Big Sister Jennifer recently witnessed such a change when her Little Brother Kaden finally grew tall enough to be in the driver’s seat.

“The first time we went go-karting was in August of 2015,” Jennifer said. “Poor Kaden wasn’t tall enough to touch the pedals himself so he had to be whisked around the track by me (not cool). Then we went again this last April, stopping in on a whim. As we walked up to the go-karts I said, ‘I hope you’re tall enough little guy.’ With a deep breath of confidence, he walked up to the height stick and, luckily, he was just tall enough.”

The outing proved to be a memorable one. According to Jennifer, Kaden’s was the first go-kart in the lineup. As soon as he pushed the pedal down he raced forward and crashed straight into the retaining wall.  The attendant had to help him back onto the track.

“I yelled, ‘What happened?’” Jennifer said, “and he yelled back ‘Hey now, I’ve never driven before!’”  We raced around the track for two whole rounds since there were not a lot of people at the park that day.  I captured the best pictures of Kaden as we crashed into each other on the track. I will cherish those photos forever!”

Theirs has been a great match, though not a conventional one. “I am so thrilled with my relationship with Kaden,” Jennifer added. “My fear has always been that at some point he wouldn’t think it was cool to hang out with a 30-something-year-old woman, but that hasn’t happened. Kaden is always excited when we go on our outings. We talk about life, school, college, and the kind of job he might want to have when he grows up.”

Go-karting is just one of the outings the pair has had where Jennifer has emphasized that Kaden can do anything he sets his mind to. “Kaden is a smart, smart kid,” Jennifer continued. “He’s going to take this world by force as he grows because he’s not afraid to try new things. If an activity is not his thing, then at least he has attempted it and we check it off the list. On one of our first outings we went to a rock climbing wall. Kaden was nervous about climbing too high, but by the end of the day he was ringing the bell at the top and had the biggest smile.”

Jennifer recognizes the value of having a mentor when she thinks of her grandmother. “I spent my summers with her in New York City, and those months were the best in my life. She told me the most fantastic stories, and took me on little adventures all over the city,” Jennifer recalled. “She taught me the importance of giving children memories that last a lifetime.”

“I have seen Kaden grow and change, and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to experience life with him. We only have one shot to set kids up for success and to give them the memories and skills that childhoods should be filled with. Our time is special.”

Monthly contributions to BBBS make relationships like this possible.  Become a Game Changer.

Learn more at www.gamechangersaustin.org

The Ice Ball 2017 Host Committee: Having A Ball

As the Texas summer heats up, there’s one cool thing you can count on – Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2017 Ice Ball gala set for August 26 at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Austin. The Ice Ball Host Committee has been hard at work making plans and preparations for this major event – one of the largest fundraisers for the organization.

Christine and Blake Absher are chairing this year’s Ice Ball gala and have been involved with the organization off and on since 2008. “Our connection with BBBS began in Austin when I was a Big Brother for about 4 years,” said Blake, Austin market president of BB&T, the Diamond sponsor of this year’s event. “We moved to Houston for a few years, and then, when we returned to Austin, we knew we wanted to be involved with BBBS in some way. The Ice Ball Host Committee sounded interesting, and we’d never done anything like that before.”

Now, having been involved with Ice Ball for several years, Christine and Blake felt the moment was right to become even more involved in the event. “2017 is a great time to be event chairs,” Blake continued. “The agency has great momentum, the organization’s program metrics are at an all-time high, and we’ve been groomed for the last couple of years to further carry the Ice Ball baton.”

In accepting the leadership role, they’ve found themselves working with a great team. “The Ice Ball Host Committee is made up of an extraordinary group of people,” said Christine. “And they’ve become family. They are creative and selfless, giving out of the goodness of their hearts. They’ve been so inspiring and their enthusiasm is contagious. For many of them, this is their first connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They are raising money for a cause they’ve just come to care about, and they’re doing it so well.”

Team members heartily agree. “The members of the committee are focused, engaged and eager to contribute to the success of this year’s event,” said Connie Nelson. She and her husband Bill have been a Big Couple since 2011, worked as bid spotters for the Ice Ball that year, and subsequently served as Ice Ball Chairs in 2014 and 2015.

“Bill and I are honored to be serving on this year’s Ice Ball Host Committee,” Connie remarked. “The Ice Ball is SO important! It’s the largest BBBS fundraiser and monies raised help get kids off the waiting list and into the life-changing mentoring relationships they deserve. Guests attending the Ice Ball walk away with greater appreciation for everything BBBS does for Central Texas’ youth. Our 2017 chairs, Blake and Christine, are natural leaders with a passion for BBBS.”

Lauren Petrowski, news anchor for Fox 7, shares that passion for the agency and the event as well. “I look forward to the Host Committee meetings, seeing the other committee members, and knowing we’re making great things happen,” she said.

Lauren served as a Big Sister for 5 years and is still in contact with her Little Sister. “I was fortunate to have two loving, supportive parents growing up. Not every child has that, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same opportunities to be happy and successful in life. Even with two parents, many kids can benefit from having additional positive influences in their lives. That’s what BBBS provides through mentorships, and I’m honored to help support an organization that does that.”

“As part of the Ice Ball Host Committee, it is also incredible to see the community and local businesses stepping up to help BBBS.”

Joanna Just of RSM, a Gold sponsor for the event, adds, “Ice Ball is a signature event that has grown over the years. To see where the event started and what it has become, is astonishing.  Ice Ball supports the wonderful things that BBBS does for children in our community.”

Not only is the team working to raise more dollars, new community connections are being made as well. “There are a lot of new people involved in this year’s event,” Christine continued. Blake agreed, adding, “We have a significant number of new donors. We are grateful for donors who’ve supported this event for years. It’s also a testament to the 2017 Host Committee members’ efforts that they have reached out to their own personal networks and friends to establish new relationships on behalf of the gala and BBBS.”

“I appreciate how the committee members have come together to support this event personally because of their dedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work,” Joanna added.

This year’s Ice Ball not only has new sponsors, it also has a new location at the J.W. Marriott. “There’s an excitement and a freshness with the new venue and the move downtown,” Christine said. There are also new live auction packages and new programming.

And make no mistake, it is a fun night for all involved. “It is such a fabulous night. Without a doubt, you’re going to have a good time,” Lauren said. “But for me, I love to see the room full of hundreds of people all coming together because they care about kids in our community having the best opportunities, and the brightest futures, possible.”

“The Ice Ball is the coolest place to be in August,” Connie added. “Great food, entertainment, incredible silent and live auction packages, and so much more. Bill and I love seeing friends at the Ice Ball year after year, and meeting new people who will enjoy a wonderful evening and learn more about BBBS!”

How does the Ice Ball differ from other galas around town? “Every dollar raised impacts children and families here in our community,” said Christine. “The fundraising is so local.” “It’s all about supporting underprivileged youth, having a positive impact on children’s lives, and educating people about BBBS” Blake added.

After months of planning and preparation, the night itself is a culminating celebration. “The event is a crescendo of a lot of work,” Blake said. “At the gala itself you reminisce about what everyone has done to make the event happen. I enjoy visiting with all of these amazing people and sharing what we’ve done collectively. It’s like going and seeing 800 of your closest friends,” he laughed.

In a word…

“Ice Ball is unforgettable,” said Lauren.

“It’s amazing,” said Joanna.

“It’s inspiring,” said Connie.

Don’t miss this cool, spectacular, life-changing event set for August 26, 2017 at the J.W. Marriott. You can learn more and get your tickets now at www.austiniceball.org.

The Importance of Male Mentors: Building Futures

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas became a reality due to the work in the early 1960’s of several men who recognized the need for adult mentorship for boys without fathers and boys in the juvenile court system. The men realized that these boys lacked, and needed, positive male role models in their lives.

Fast forward 50 years and the need for male mentors is as great today as when the agency first began. For every male who signs up to be a mentor, two more are needed. Over 80% of the kids who are actively looking for Bigs are boys, and we are running out of men to match them with (currently only 15% of volunteer inquiries are from men). Male mentors are essential to helping boys achieve a positive sense of their own strengths and identities, whether it’s playing catch with a baseball or, as one match discovered, building a coffee table for the house.

“I’ve never gotten to build anything before. It was pretty fun. I thought I would just be attaching a few pieces (for the coffee table),” said Little Brother Keontray. “I didn’t know I was going to do everything.” And he does mean, everything. Keontray soon discovered he would be sawing, planing wood, attaching the pieces, and assembling the whole table. The result was a hand-made coffee table that is so sturdy it can bear the full weight of his Big Brother, Chris.

“When we were done I stood on the table to show him how solid it was,” Chris said. “Keontray couldn’t stop smiling. He kept saying ‘I can’t believe I made that, I can’t believe I made that.’  The table is in his living room where he sees it every day and it reminds him of this one solid thing that he has done. He tells me he’ll be sitting with his mom and she’ll smile and point at the table and say, ‘You built that!’”

Learning to build things is one of many life lessons Chris is sharing with his Little Brother – life lessons that come from his own experiences, but also from his dad. “My dad came from El Salvador and he is an electrical engineer,” Chris continued. “I used to watch him build stuff like alarm clocks or pieces for computers, and it was always fascinating to me. When I was 11 I started helping him around the house. We replaced a fence that was old and rotted. That experience taught me that hard work pays off. When you build something, you can put in hours and hours, plus a lot of sweat, and have something to show for it. I look at that fence now and say ‘My dad and I did that.’”

The skills of creating, of making something with your own hands, and of enjoying hard work are all things Chris wants to pass along.  “Keontray had a rough 2016. His grandfather passed away and that was tough. His dad got out of jail, but he’s never been in Keontray’s life, so to lose a male role model like his grandfather was hard,” Chris said.

Chris understands the importance of mentoring. “When I was Keontray’s age I had both parents and I still went through a lot – fighting at home with my mom, dealing with very bad relationships with friends,” Chris explained.  “I went through many of the same things he’s going through, but my family wasn’t really there for me when I needed to talk about problems or when I had general questions about the opposite sex or about relationships.”

Consequently, Chris’ favorite part of the match is being there for Keontray, listening to his questions, and discussing the answers. The two talk about things that have gone wrong and how those things can be made better the next time.

“I just look forward to seeing Keontray and hearing about all that has gone on during the week,” said Chris, who is a senior at Texas State University. “He’s as much my friend as he is my Little Brother.  Our relationship is not just about him coming to me for advice. Our relationship gives him the opportunity to form his own opinions and thoughts.”

Another skill Chris is teaching Keontray is that of cooking. The pair have made lasagna and enchiladas and Chris has even taught him how to season and prepare chicken. “That way, when he does go out into the world, he’ll be able to fend for himself,” Chris laughed.

In Chris’s mind, their relationship is all about providing Keontray with a blueprint and the tools for success. “In addition to passing on skills and values, male mentors give boys an idea of what they can become, what to aim for, and how to act in the world,” Chris said.

“It’s important for boys to have someone in their lives who can say, ‘It’s okay to not be fine. At one point things were not fine with me, but I got through it and here’s how I did it.’ Boys need men who can serve as examples, and who are willing to invest in, and listen to, them.”

Chris acknowledges that he and Keontray are from very different backgrounds. Chris is a white young man from the suburbs and Keontray is an African-American teenager who has lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. “Keontray has experienced racist slurs from white kids at school,” Chris added. “In our match, it’s really important for him to see that not everyone is like that and that people of different races can care about each other.”

Chris encourages other men to become Big Brothers as well. “If you have experienced anything,” Chris says, “it’s your duty to pass that experience along to someone who needs it.”

Chris believes this so strongly that he has decided to put his plans to enter medical school on hold in order to remain a mentor to Keontray until he graduates from high school. It’s no wonder the two say they will be brothers for life. “When I first met Chris it was awkward,” Keontray admitted, “but now I actually see him as family.”