Spotlight on Joe Strychalski

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas provides, coordinates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships for almost 1,000 children each year. BBBS’ program team consists of 19 staff members who work with each child, family member and volunteer to make and monitor these match relationships on an ongoing basis. Managing this activity for BBBS is Joe Strychalski, the agency’s Vice President of Programs.

“I’ve always had a heart for working with underserved youth,” said Joe.

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Indiana, Joe came to BBBS of Central Texas from Dayton’s BBBS agency. He’d worked for a small youth ministry where he helped to establish and manage a thrift store, and then worked at a bank before joining his local BBBS agency as a youth enrollment specialist, putting Bigs and Littles together.

“I love the BBBS organization and its mission,” said Joe. “After I joined BBBS in Dayton, I started looking for opportunities to gain new skills and take on new responsibilities.” Some of these new skills involved working on the development side of the agency with fundraising and events.

“I wanted to do even more at the agency, so I went back to school to get my MBA,” said Joe. After that, he took on additional responsibilities managing the agency’s finances and handling the organization’s human resources activities.

One day, a friend at the national BBBS office called Joe to tell him about the Vice President of Programs job opening in Central Texas. After visiting the city and going through a lengthy interview process, Joe and his wife Carol made the move from Ohio.

BBBS of Central Texas is a larger agency than the one in Dayton, but Joe still oversees a variety of functions – customer service, enrollment, match support and the agency’s scholarship program.  “BBBS is a fun place to work,” said Joe. “We have great leadership, a new building, and I have an amazing team. Our staff are always looking for ways to improve. Their enthusiasm and the heart they bring to our mission are amazing.”

Joe’s favorite part of his job involves seeing the impact that mentoring makes. “The first meeting of a match, the introduction of a Big and a Little, is just the coolest thing,” said Joe. “The Little is super-excited, awkward and nervous, and the same is true of the Big. The new Big is ready to launch into a new relationship and have an impact on a child and their family, but they are also nervous. The program staff get to see Bigs and Littles interact, find shared interests, and discover how exploring life together can make a difference. We also get to interact with matches that have been together 8 or more years and that truly feel like real brothers and sisters. Seeing the ways that mentoring benefits children, families and volunteers, and helping to create and strengthen these relationships, is really rewarding.”

Joe and Carol, and their dog, a 90-lb Goldendoodle named Murray, are enjoying the Austin area, especially all of the outdoor activities available. Joe has also become the agency’s BBQ connoisseur. Once a month he organizes staff visits to BBQ restaurants in the Central Texas area.

BBBS’ 2018 Bigs of the Year

 

An experienced and trusted adviser, someone who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time” –  that is the dictionary definition of a mentor. But at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, our mentors, our Bigs, are that and so much more as they build deep friendships that change children’s lives for the better.

Consequently, when National Mentoring Month arrives in January, BBBS is ready to celebrate and honor the amazing volunteers who give their time and energy to help children succeed.

“As we enter a new year, it is only appropriate to pause and consider the importance of volunteerism at BBBS. National Mentoring Month is a good reminder that we can only realize our vision of helping children achieve success in life because of the service of our volunteer mentors – our Big Brothers and Sisters,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas.

“This past year our Bigs contributed almost 60,000 hours of volunteer service to our Littles.  You can’t put a price tag on that kind of contribution and it’s critical to everything we do.  On behalf of our staff, board, donors, and about 1,000 kids served last year – I want to say a big “THANKS” to everyone serving (past, present or future) in this transformational way!”

“National Mentoring Month is a great time for BBBS,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs. “Not only are we able to thank and recognize our amazing volunteers, but it’s also a terrific opportunity for us to share more about the power of mentoring, spread awareness of all the work that BBBS is doing in the community, and recruit new volunteers for the program!  January is by far our busiest time for inquiries from both prospective parents and volunteers, which is great – we are always in need of new volunteers, especially men and bilingual Bigs!”

During National Mentoring Month BBBS recognizes its volunteers by announcing the agency’s 2018 Central Texas Bigs of the Year.  Winners at the local level go on to be considered for statewide, and then possibly national, Big of the Year honors. BBBS of Central Texas’ 2018 Bigs of the Year are Big Sister Maggie Johnson and Big Brother Nicholas Johnson (no relation). Maggie Johnson has also been recognized as the 2018 Big Sister of the Year for the state of Texas.

Maggie & Kirida

“When I met my little sister, Kirida, in 2012, she was initially pretty shy with me,” said Maggie. “So, we spent most of our time together in the beginning just doing fun activities to try to help her relax and have a space where she didn’t have to worry so much.”

Kirida was struggling at school when she first met her Big Sister and was often in trouble for fighting due to bullying from other students. She was very reactive, struggling to manage her emotions, and the other students knew she could be taunted into fighting. She was suspended from school almost weekly.

“I could tell that Kirida was bright and had amazing potential,” said Maggie, “because despite the trouble that she frequently was in at school for her behavior, she consistently made really good grades. Since academics were not a problem, I knew that we had to work on the other things that she needed to successfully reach her goals of graduating from high school and attending college. My focus became that of helping her increase her self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and coping strategies.”

“When I was having a rough time we would just sit in Maggie’s car in front of my house and map out my day. We would talk about how I felt and positive ways to react,” said Kirida. “Maggie was the main reason I kept from fighting during those times. Everyone told me that I would wind up dead or in jail, but Maggie was the one who asked, “What is the root of all of this? What and who are you angry at?”

“When I was battling depression, one thing that always kept me from self-harm was Maggie’s comment, “There are people out here who love you, whether you know it or not, and who are willing to help,” Kirida continued.

The two became much like actual sisters as Maggie offered support and encouragement, eventually helping her Little Sister find her niche on the school’s wrestling team. Being part of the team provided Kirida with a physical outlet that helped her manage her emotions while gaining confidence and self-control.

Kirida’s mom was working two jobs and going to school at night, so it was Maggie who often took Kirida to and from practices. Both women were standing side-by-side, however, as Kirida walked across the stage at her high school graduation. Kirida recently completed her first semester at Texas A&M as a first-generation college student.

“Our match gave her someone to support her and to cheer her on when things got tough,” said Maggie. “Kirida is one of the most resilient and determined young women I know and she has been an inspiration and a wonderful addition to my life. She has told me that she feels like we are “family” and always will be. I feel the same way and think that we will be connected for a very long time.”

Nicholas and Tiy

“I can still remember my first meeting with my Little Brother Tiy (short for Mi’Tiy) who was 11,” said Nicholas. “Honestly, I didn’t really know what to talk about. I’d never hung out with an 11-year-old for longer than 10 minutes before. I was nervous and awkward, but Tiy either didn’t notice, or didn’t care – or it might have been the shortest match in history.”

Throughout the next months and years Nicholas learned that he didn’t need to dazzle Tiy with brilliant conversation or flashy activities, he just needed to be there. “With both of his parents working multiple jobs to support him and his 4 siblings, he spent a lot of time at home and didn’t get a chance to do much. After I figured that out, I stopped stressing about outings as much. I realized that I didn’t need the “perfect” activity, I just needed to show up,” said Nicholas.  “The most memorable, random activity we ever did together was going to Dick’s Sporting Goods and walking around the store for over an hour. We went into each section and just played with the equipment: baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse. We even got to use their golf simulator!”

As the pair’s relationship grew, Tiy became more open and asked more questions about complicated topics. “It took some time, but I discovered that I didn’t need to have all the answers; sometimes I just needed to listen,” said Nicholas.

Being there and listening impacted Tiy in a deep way.  “I don’t know where I would be if Mr. Nick was not in my life,” said Tiy.  “He is always there for me at my football games, when I need help understanding something at school, or even if I just have a question about something.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nick, for your time, for all the new activities we have done together, for encouraging me and helping me think about the future.  Thank you for being my Big Brother… for real.”

Mentoring Month is a time for all of us to remember and thank our mentors – people who took the time to be there for us, to guide us and to make a difference in our lives forever. At BBBS we are proud to continue this rich tradition of giving back, and we are honored to work alongside the Bigs, children and families who enrich our lives – and each other’s – every day.

BBBS Today: A Conversation With Brent Fields

2017 has been a year of awards for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, with the most recent award going to BBBS’ CEO Brent Fields, who was just named the Austin Business Journal’s Non-Profit CEO of the Year. In the past twelve months, BBBS of Central Texas has received recognition as an Austin Business Journal Best Place to Work, a BBBS National Gold Standard Agency award winner, a BBBS National Agency of the Year finalist, and a recipient of BBBS’ National Board of the Year award.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this recognition has been great,” Brent said. “We – the staff, the board, our donors, our volunteers, our families, and our community partners – have been working hard for years. We didn’t just suddenly start getting it right. We’re just fortunate that at this moment in time we are really seeing the fruit of our labor.”

“This recognition means a lot to me personally because I think for years now a number of people have been trusting me, trusting our team, and trusting our vision,” Brent continued. “I love that so many of our supporters can feel they’ve made the right investment, and that our work provides a good return on their trust and support.”

Brent became CEO of BBBS of Central Texas in 2008 at a critical time for the agency. “When I came on board the agency had been in existence for 35 years and was well respected in the community. I found there was tremendous passion for the mission and that the agency had just come through an aggressive growth period relative to the number of kids served,” Brent explained. “Unfortunately, that growth was not sustainable. It required more infrastructure than the agency could afford, so we were immediately in crisis repair mode.”

To get the agency onto stable financial ground Brent utilized what at the time he considered his greatest strength – knowing what he didn’t know. “When I came on board, I spent a lot of time listening, observing and assessing,” Brent said.  “During my first days I was just trying to get my arms around the state of the organization, even bringing in an outside group to do an audit. That helped me quickly identify what our business should be, and what was most urgent in my role.”

In the decade since, the agency has evolved into a stark contrast of it’s former self. “Ten years ago we were in a building in need of repair, and now we’re in this amazing, beautiful, intentionally designed facility that not only suits our needs today, but will for decades to come,” Brent continued. “When I started, we had unpaid bills and little cash on hand. Now, we have what are considered to be best operating practices, operational reserves, and a $5 million dollar building that is paid for.

According to every metric you look at, whether related to staff, board, infrastructure, performance, morale, or programmatic outcomes, we’ve seen an amazing transformation. And this is not just because of my tenure. It’s because of all of the things that staff, donors, board members, volunteers, families and supporters have contributed to our work over the years.”

Some of Brent’s most meaningful memories at the agency revolve around those who have contributed. “I’ve been serving in some sort of leadership role for several decades, and some of the most treasured experiences I’ve had are things I’ve seen and experienced at BBBS,” Brent recalled. “I remember staff and board members and supporters enduring some really difficult days. People who hung in there with us and who showed they cared. Who believed that we would come out of the storm and that we would see better days. I remember that.”

Another memorable event occurred soon after Brent became the new CEO and decided to become a Big Brother. “I was semi turned down,” Brent laughed. “When I joined the agency I was immediately struck by the power of mentoring. So, it seemed logical that I should become a Big. I wanted to walk the talk. I told the program staff that I wanted to become a Big Brother and they said, ‘We’ll begin the process.’ In one of the enrollment interviews I noticed that the interviewer wanted to say something, but that she was uncomfortable. I finally said, ‘I feel a tension here. Could you just say what’s bothering you?’ And she said, ‘Well, Mr. Fields, I’m not sure you should be a Big Brother right now.’”

“I said, ‘Really? Could you tell me more about that?’  and she said, ‘You just became our new CEO, you’re a new dad to your third child, and you have a lot going on. Is this really the right time for you to take on a mentoring relationship with a vulnerable child who needs your full attention?’” Brent said. “And you know, the minute she uttered those words, I knew she was absolutely right. I went home that night disappointed that I shouldn’t be a Big at that time, but I’ve never been more proud of our program and of how we put kids’ needs first. That is a great example of the thought and intention that goes into what we do.”

A year or two later Brent did become a Big, when the time was right. “To this day, being a Big has been one of the most transformational experiences of my life,” Brent continued. “But it does say a lot about fit and timing. And we’re really good at figuring that out and at helping people determine when the time to volunteer is right.”

Getting it right. Making an impact in a child’s life. It’s one of the things Brent loves about BBBS. “So many non-profits define their success in terms of how big their budget is or how many clients they serve,” Brent said. “I love that we don’t just count activities and clients, but we count impact. I think it’s crucial in this day and age when there is so much need and it’s so important to use every dollar wisely, that you know what kind of impact you’re having. It’s not enough that we serve 1,000 kids a year, it’s important that we know we’re making a difference in their lives. I love that about this organization. It’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me excited about being here.”

“And I love sharing with people that at the end of the day our highest calling, our greatest obligation is to these students and their family members,” Brent concluded. “We can’t afford to get it wrong. We can’t take shortcuts. I’m really proud of that.”

“In the past year, we have moved into a new facility. We have developed some new programs and initiatives. We have a dedicated, highly skilled staff in place. Our model of mentoring provides life-changing benefits for children, families and volunteers, and our program metrics are at an all-time high. With all of these ingredients in place, our greatest challenge, and our greatest opportunity, is to raise the funds that will allow us to serve more kids.”

“We have a lot to be thankful for, and much to look forward to.”

See our video interview with Brent Fields here

Spotlight on Sergio Guzman

“There are always ways to grow,” says Sergio Guzman, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ bilingual match support specialist. It’s a comment that sums up Sergio’s work philosophy and his focus on creating growth opportunities for matches.

“You wear a lot of hats in this job,” Sergio explained. “In addition to assisting and monitoring 85 matches, I coordinate the workplace mentoring program we have with Rackspace. We work with Webb Middle School and I maintain a good relationship with the vice principal and counselors there. I also work on planning activities with our Rackspace contacts and organizing BBBS’ Brother 2 Brother match activities.”

It’s a lot of responsibility. “I just try to step in and help whenever I can,” Sergio said.

A University of Texas grad who’s been in Austin for over 10 years, Sergio started as an English major, but after working with a program called Longhorn Scholars, which reaches out to kids who wouldn’t normally consider attending college, he realized he had a heart for social work. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work he stayed in Austin and is now celebrating his five-year anniversary at BBBS.

With a variety of duties and a large case load, one of the challenges Sergio faces is that of trying to make face-to-face contact with all of his clients. “I’m a firm believer that support is best delivered in person,” Sergio said. “When you can put a face to the person you’re talking with on the phone, that really helps to establish a good relationship. I still get to meet with families and Bigs; however, it’s not as often as I’d like it to be.”

Sergio clearly has a passion for his work and for BBBS. “The thing I enjoy most about working here is BBBS’ mission,” Sergio continued. “During these times when there is a lot of chaos in the world, it’s important to remember that our kids are the future. Mentoring provides that extra support that kids need to face the obstacles they have in their everyday lives. I find comfort in knowing that I am doing work with a purpose, and that my work is helping to strengthen the community as a whole.”

Sergio has experienced the positive impact of mentors in his own life. His high school band director pushed him to strive to reach his highest potential, which resulted in his not only being the first in his family to leave his hometown of Laredo, but also the first in his family to graduate from college.

When Sergio is not at work he loves to explore the Austin music scene. “I have an eclectic taste in music,” he said. “Everything from attending electronic rock venues to listening to the Austin Symphony Orchestra at the Long Center.” He also enjoys travel and video games such as The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Smash Brothers.

“BBBS is a great place to work. I love our team mentality. Everyone is supportive of, and helpful toward, one another,” Sergio said. “And, with the addition of some new staff members, I also have the opportunity to be a workplace mentor.”

It’s the perfect opportunity for Sergio, who is always looking for ways to grow and to help others do the same.

All In The Family

Big Brothers Big Sisters has always been about relationships, whether between Bigs and Littles, between the agency and the Littles, Bigs and families we serve, or between the organization and its donors and community partners. Like biological families, these relationships are built on trust, love, compassion and commitment. It’s no wonder then that such strong bonds often influence the family members of Bigs to become involved with the agency as well, creating impacts that affect not just individuals, but generations.

“I know the commitment to a Little requires flexibility, creativity and compassion,” said John Nelson, whose wife Claire is a Big Sister. “I’ve watched my wife develop strategies to keep her Little Sister entertained, engaged and challenged. It was really great seeing her excitement after she and her Little connected during a particular outing.”

Claire has been matched with her Little Sister, Lizette, for a year. “I do talk about the program sometimes, and John sees me leave each week for the outings, but I didn’t have to encourage him to get involved,” Claire said. “He’s the type of person who wants to make a difference. That’s why he joined the Austin Police Department. When I let him know that APD was partnering with BBBS, he took the initiative to become a Big himself.”

John is one of the first APD officers to sign up for Bigs in Blue, a new BBBS program that matches law enforcement officers with Littles. “The personal relationship between a Big and a Little provides a nice contrast to my professional work as a first responder,” John explained.

As an officer, John has brief contacts with youth in emergency situations. “Being a Big will allow me to develop a longer-lasting relationship with a young person and to have a significant impact,” he said.

“BBBS brings people from different parts of the community together and helps to build bridges and connections, which is important.” Claire added. “Relationships formed through BBBS shatter ‘us-vs-them’ thinking, encourage empathy, and foster deeper understanding. These things create a greater sense of community.”

Claire has experienced this in her own match. She and Lizette come from different backgrounds. In trying to understand and reconcile their differences, Claire said that she became a better listener. As a result, she and Lizette developed a bond that has helped Lizette open up.

“Having one family member pave the way and set an example as a Big definitely eases the anxiety other family members might have about taking on such a responsibility,” Claire continued. “It also allows other family members to see the benefits that a mentoring relationship can have for the Little and Big alike.”

Another Nelson family is sharing the BBBS experience through generations. Connie and Bill Nelson and their three children have been connected to BBBS for almost 15 years. Their relationship with the organization began when their oldest son, Bill Jr., became a Big Brother right out of college and was matched for 5 years.

“I had a great experience as a Big,” Bill Jr. said. “I enjoyed being a mentor and watching my Little Brother grow up.” This positive experience had an impact on Bill Jr.’s younger brother, John, as well.

“I hung out with Billy and his Little Brother when I was in college here and I learned a lot about BBBS then,” John explained. “I was impressed with the agency’s mission and success.”

Both sons suggested that their parents, Connie and Bill, get involved with the organization as well. “Mom and dad love supporting young people who have goals,” Bill Jr. continued. “BBBS seemed like it would be a natural fit for them.”

And, indeed, it was. Connie and Bill have not only been a Big Couple to their own Little Brother, Thomas, they have also been tireless workers and champions for the Ice Ball gala, BBBS’ largest fundraiser. Their son John has now joined the Ice Ball Host Committee as well.

“People might think that, due to our age difference, we wouldn’t have that much in common with our Little Brother,” Connie said. “Surprisingly, we do! We love to do things outdoors, go to movies, play mini golf, and ride in go karts.”

Thomas and John also “clicked” right away and spend time playing video games together and watching movies.

And it hasn’t just been the boys. The Nelson’s daughter, Kristen, has also been involved in match activities whenever the family has gotten together. “We’re Thomas’ Big Family,” Connie laughed. “He feels comfortable talking with all of us, and our experience with him and his family has enriched our lives and our relationships with one another.’

Sometimes just being around a family member’s match can prompt other family members to get involved, but usually it’s seeing the impact that the mentoring relationship has that motivates other family members to volunteer. This was the case for father and son Ron and Lawrence Nourzad.

“The best recruitment tool is the power of example,” Lawrence said. “Seeing my dad (Ron) and his Little Brother Zach get along so well was inspiring. When a match relationship is successful and both parties are enjoying their time together, it prompts those who are watching to want the same thing.”

Lawrence is now in the process of becoming a Big Brother, just like his dad. “I’ve yet to meet my Little, but the information I’ve received from my Match Support Specialist makes me think we’ll be two peas in a pod. It sounds like we have a lot in common,” Lawrence said.

“It’s definitely the power of example,” Connie agreed. “Bill and I learned from Billy’s very positive experience as a Big 20 years ago, and his siblings are learning from us. They may not all become Bigs, but I’m sure they will be involved and will continue to give back.”

“Getting to know Thomas and his family over the last 6 years has been a humbling, learning and inspiring experience for us as a family,” Connie said. “We have developed a deeper understanding of some of the challenges others in our community face. We’ve always believed that we gain much more from a relationship than we give, and that’s certainly been true of our relationship with Thomas. It’s a blessing to be part of his life.”

Traditions, togetherness and support. Mentoring is a gift that benefits not only Bigs and Littles, but those around them, creating a virtuous cycle that moves through generations and that, ultimately, impacts and strengthens the community as a whole.

Spotlight on Christina Eisenlord

She loves kids and believes in community. This year Christina Eisenlord celebrates 10 years of pursuing both of these passions as an enrollment specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

“My job is to interview and assess those coming into our program, from volunteers to family members to kids,” Christina said, “in order to make sure the program is a good fit for them. Then, with all of the information gathered during the interview and intake process, I work to make the best matches possible between new Bigs and Littles.”

It’s a responsibility Christina loves. “There are two things that keep me here,” she continued. “First, I love kids. I think they are amazing. I feel blessed to be able to be a part of their lives. They inspire me.”

“Second, I’m a big believer in community, and a strong community is built with strong kids,” she added. “Mentoring is a key component to building strong kids. I think BBBS helps kids become stronger members of the community.”

Christina takes the individual personalities and preferences of those she meets into account when forming a match. “The stronger the foundation a match has, the better the relationship will be,” she said.

Creating successful matches is not just Christina’s goal, it is one of her favorite things about her job. “I often hear stories of Littles whose behavior changed significantly after becoming part of our program,” she said. “For instance, several years ago a young man who entered our program was being disrespectful to those around him. He was having trouble managing his anger and was not doing well in school. I found a fantastic Big Brother for him and he is now treating his mom well, doing better in school, and being a better brother to his siblings. Stories like that motivate me. I know that mentoring works. Getting kids into positive mentoring relationships can make a world of difference for everyone involved.”

Even with its inspirational elements, the job has its challenges. One of the hardest for Christina is that of interviewing boys who want to have mentors, but not having enough men signed up as Big Brothers to match them with. The agency is continuously recruiting volunteers and raising funds to get as many children matched with Big Brothers and Sisters as possible.

The other challenge Christina experiences is that of being very involved with families and volunteers when they enroll with BBBS, but having less involvement with them once they are matched. “I only get to touch a part of their lives,” Christina said. “I get to interview these amazing kids, and then, when they’re matched with a Big and assigned their own match support specialist, I don’t see them as often.”

She works to make up for this by helping with monthly events held in BBBS’ new Youth Activity Center. “That’s when I get to see the kids and watch them interact with their Bigs,” Christina explained. “That’s always really fun.”

Christina is also part of BBBS’ Big Futures committee which is developing strategies to support Littles as they make the transition from high school to college and career.

She knows a thing or two about transitions herself since her father was in the military. “We lived in California, Texas, Japan and Michigan,” Christina said. She ended up attending college in Michigan where she received two degrees – one in social work and one in small business entrepreneurship. She tried working in the business world until she realized that her true calling was in social work and in helping kids, which is when she joined BBBS of Central Texas.

What does she do when she’s not working? “I’m a music freak,” Christina laughed. “It’s easy to catch me listening to music in my car, at my house, at my desk. I love rap and hip hop. And one of my favorite things is going dancing.” She also enjoys working on functional and creative projects around her house. As she says herself, she doesn’t get bored easily.

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.