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.

Spotlight on Adriana Adams

One of the first groups you’ll talk to if you want to sign up with BBBS, whether as a Little or a Big, is the Customer Relations Team. This group will help you get started on the path to being matched. The person who supervises this team is Adriana Adams.

A 5-year veteran of BBBS, Adriana began work at the agency as a Match Support Specialist. For a year now however, she has been the customer relations supervisor. She and her team are there to answer questions about the work BBBS does, to help people find out about resources, learn how to get involved, and determine the steps to take if they want to be part of the mentoring process.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at El Paso,” Adriana said. “After college, I started working at another non-profit and liked it, but I wanted to explore other career options.”

It was while exploring that she found BBBS and discovered that the agency was a good fit. “I knew I wanted to work at a non-profit and I liked the work BBBS was doing,” Adriana explained, “but I also really liked the people – the BBBS team. The agency also has good leadership.”

Adriana and her team are the first point of contact for people who want to volunteer to be Bigs and for those who want to find a mentor for their child. “Some people don’t have a lot of knowledge about BBBS. We help them understand how BBBS works, and what is involved in being in a match. We also help them with their applications,” Adriana continued. “Our work helps the process go faster and more smoothly.”

Helping is at the forefront of what Adriana does. “I really like helping the families for whom English is a second language,” Adriana said. “I also like talking to the volunteers. They are so excited and they want to make a difference. I have a lot of respect for their desire to do that and I want to make sure they know what to expect.”

“One of the challenges in my job is hearing about the difficulties some of the families we work with are facing,” Adriana admitted. “Every family’s situation is unique. They all have good reasons for wanting to have a mentor in their lives, and every child deserves to have a mentor.”

In her spare time, Adriana enjoys many hobbies. “I like photography, and I also take Salsa and Cumbia dance classes,” she said. She and her husband of 9 years also enjoy having friends over and fixing BBQ.

Spotlight on Christina Snell

Christina Snell fell in love with human behavior in college. In her words, she “just like[s] people”, especially kids. That passion resulted in her not only changing her college major, but in literally walking out of a college classroom and into a Big Brothers Big Sisters office. Ten years later she is still sharing her love for people and kids, but she is now in BBBS of Central Texas’ office, where she works as a match support supervisor.

Starting out as a pharmacy major at UT Arlington but soon switching to child psychology, Christina found herself working at a women’s and children’s shelter one summer. “It was too tough. There were many things there that I couldn’t shake off,” Christina said. “I realized I wanted to be on the light end of the tunnel. I wanted to be on the positive side of things where I could see healing happen.”

As a senior, she’d just left one of her UTA classes when she saw a girl wearing a BBBS t-shirt and asked her about the program. Following that encounter, she walked to the local BBBS office a few blocks away, asked if they had any openings – they had 3 – and a week later interviewed for all three positions and was hired. “I started there and never looked back,” she said. “I fell in love with it.”

Today, Christina oversees a staff of 5 match support specialists. She supports her team with any match-related issues: giving guidance, making sure compliance measures for national standards are met and that special events are staffed. In addition, she has elected to keep supporting many of the matches she started when she first joined the Austin office as a match support specialist. “I have had a long-standing relationship with these Littles’ families and these Bigs,” Christina explained. “Continuing to support these matches helped me maintain a balance when I made the transition from being a match support specialist to becoming a supervisor.”

Understanding both sides of the job is a real plus according to Christina because she knows what her team is going through every day, all the different “hats” they have to wear in their jobs, and the load that they are carrying. Much of her team’s success depends on the responsiveness of the families they are working with – families that are often dealing with significant difficulties.

These challenges fit well, however, with another of Christina’s passions. “I love empowering people,” she admitted. “Whether it’s encouraging a Big when a match gets difficult, or reminding parents that we’re here to help, or empowering staff to help a match through difficult times.”

One of the toughest challenges in her position is having to explain the unexplainable. “It’s hard when I have to explain to a child that I don’t know why their Big left,” Christina continued. “I have to explain it in a safe way. I have to let them know that sometimes life happens to people and that it happened to their Big, but that we’re going to find another Big for them.”

To help balance the challenges, Christina enjoys spending time with her husband and four kids – three girls and a boy.  She also loves singing karaoke, hiking, and creating special wall hangings. “I make things out of reclaimed fence wood. Neighbors will call my husband and say, ‘Your wife is in the driveway with a circular saw, what is she doing?’” Christina laughs. “But I love building things with old wood just for fun.”

Just don’t ask her to cook. “It’s still a New Year’s resolution that has never grown legs,” Christina said. “So luckily, my husband grills a lot.”

Since she’s been with BBBS for 10 years, people often ask her what her plans are. “I don’t have any plans to leave,” Christina said. “BBBS is like a family to me and the mission of the work we do is still alive for me. It’s been great.”

A Real “Roll” Model

mike-mcshaffrey

He only bowls once a year, but when he does, Mike McShaffry makes it count. He bowls at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids event, and he challenges others to “keep gaming” for a great cause.

Mike has been a part of BBBS’ Bowl for Kids for many years.  A senior software engineer with mobile gaming company ArtCraft Entertainment, he was recruited to the event 7 or 8 years ago by another local gamer who challenged all gaming company employees in Austin to participate.

“When my friend moved on to other things I kind of picked up the baton,” Mike said. “Now I send emails out to game companies and try to recruit teams.” One of his recruits was Stefan Sinclair who not only ended up bowling at the event, he eventually became a Big Brother and was named Texas’ Big Brother of the Year in 2015.

Why has Mike been so focused on helping with Bowl for Kids? Like any good gamer, he knows the program on several different levels.

Mike first became involved with BBBS as a Little Brother. “I was a Little in 1979 in Ft. Worth when BBBS was just getting started in the state of Texas,” Mike recalled. “My mom was recently divorced and she reached out through our church and found Big Brothers Big Sisters. My brother, sister and I were all paired with a Big Brother who was a senior at Texas Christian University.”

Although they were only matched for a year, the connection had lasting impacts for Mike. “Al was our Big Brother and all three of us had a great experience in the program,” Mike added. “Al took us on outings, just like matches do today. We went to get pizza and we went swimming. I attribute my interest in computers, in bicycles and in community service to him. He took us to the computer center at TCU and a lot of our outings were bike-related. He introduced me to all these things.”

Mike’s interest in giving back has not only turned into fundraising for Bowl for Kids, but also into being a Big himself.  “My wife Robin and I were paired with an older child,” Mike said. “Being his Big for a year was very rewarding and very heart-wrenching at the same time. Bigs sometimes want to solve all of the problems in a Little’s life, and that’s hard because some of these kids face challenges that are very complex.”

Mike and his wife worked to provide their Little with positive experiences and encouragement, introducing him to a variety of job possibilities such as riding with a firefighter at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, and rewarding him with special outings as an incentive to stay in school.

“The experience taught us how important it is for kids to see something other than what they think is a fated future for themselves,” Mike continued. “Many of these kids think ‘This is my only reality and I can’t get out of it or change it,’ but a Big can open new doors for a child and help them see that there is something more for them if they apply themselves and try to overcome the problems or obstacles they face.”

The Big and Little relationship is one Mike sees as having “forever” impacts. “I think if you help one kid, then that kid becomes an adult who can pass that on to so many other people. That is what’s so important about Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Mike added. “With BBBS you don’t just help one kid, you help every single person that child interacts with for the rest of their life. And that’s a big impact.”

That’s why Mike continues to be a major supporter of BBBS’ Bowl for Kids. “I love it,” he said. “It is such a fun event. I love seeing colleagues at the lanes in costumes, having a great time and, on top of that, raising money for BBBS to help children stay in or get into the program every year.”

Of course, being a gamer, there is competition involved. “I love the competition aspect, because game companies always like to one-up each other. Typically, we’ll all be watching our phones during the event looking at everyone’s fundraising,” Mike laughed. “And we’ll see ‘Oh, Certain Affinity (another game company) just broke $3,000. Everyone put in another $50.’ That definitely happens.”

In Mike’s experience, it all combines for a very positive result. “Having groups of people compete to fundraise for such a great cause is such an easy way to do something really good,” he said.

Plus, for this leader of team “Strikeadelic”, BBBS’ Bowl for Kids event fits his general philosophy of life. “No matter how you choose to use your time,” he said, “try allocating a little bit for making the world a better place than you found it.”

Game on, Mike.

BBBS’ Bowl for Kids is set for March 3 – 5, 2017 at Highland Lanes. To sign up go here.

Dale Murphy on Bowl for Kids

 

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Dale Murphy is another long-time bowler and supporter of Bowl for Kids. We recently sat down with Dale to hear more about his involvement and his advice for others.

 When and how did you get connected with Bowl for Kids?

After becoming a Big Brother in 2005, I attended a couple of BBBS events and was asked whether I was interested in becoming more involved with the agency.  Bowl for Kids sounded like a great fit, and I joined the organizing committee for the 2006 event.

Why have you participated for so long?

The first year I participated (2006), I recruited several friends/colleagues from my industry (the American Society of Civil Engineers – ASCE), and folks from a young professionals group I was active in, not really knowing what I was getting us into.  Turned out the event was a ton of fun, was super easy to do, and I was pretty dang excited that the teams I recruited raised over $14,000 that year!

With that first bit of success, I felt encouraged to try a bit harder to get the ASCE members and companies more involved, as it really benefited both BBBS and ASCE.  We turned it into a fundraising competition among the various engineering companies, and with word of mouth from those who had already participated, it really started to take off.  On average ASCE gets 20+ teams and 100+ participants each year, most of whom are folks who come back year after year.  I can’t imagine anything else I could be doing that would have such a positive return.

Why do you feel the event is so important?

The event is a great way for people who might be younger or who are not in the financial position to be donating significant sums of money themselves, but who are passionate about BBBS and its mission, to have a positive impact on the organization.  Through a little bit of work recruiting folks and fundraising you can really make a big difference, and you get to have a blast doing it.

What would you want people to know about this event?

First, absolutely NO BOWLING SKILL is required! The bowling is just for fun and your score doesn’t matter in the slightest…That is pretty much always my first line when I try to recruit folks.  Second, it is shockingly easy to fundraise for this event, and most everyone far exceeds the goal with minimal effort.  Last, get your team to dress up according to the theme of the event. Costumes are a huge part of the fun!