Kristie Gonzales on The Power of Mentoring

There are thousands of TV stations across the country, but only 16.5% of them have female general managers, and very few of them are minorities since less than 8% of all general managers are minorities. One of these talented women is KVUE-TV President and General Manager Kristie Gonzales. Kristie is a community leader who will tell you that her success is due, in large part, to having a mentor.

“Mentors have had a huge impact in my life,” said Kristie. “Those of us who are in leadership roles in this business have had a lot of people who have opened doors for us, lifted us on their backs, and made the difference in our careers. If I hadn’t had mentors early in my career, there’s no way I’d be sitting where I am today.”

Kristie started her professional life as a college student working as a production assistant for the local PBS station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A straight-A student in high school, her favorite pastime was painting but she soon realized that that was not going to pay the bills. “I didn’t recognize my own potential. I was following the path of least resistance,” said Kristie.

“As a student, I wasn’t worried about money because I had a full scholarship, but then I graduated and started looking for a job. I’d always been interested in journalism and television, so I took a TV 101 class. The teacher was an executive producer at KNME-TV and he said, ‘You have a real knack for video editing.’ He then hired me for my first television job when I was 19 years old, and it was a paid position, which was rare. That experience was pivotal, and it is why I am sitting in the general manager’s chair now. Early on, someone saw a talent in me and changed my path forever.”

After graduating, Kristie got hired at a local news station in Albuquerque where she became one of the best editors despite facing enormous challenges in her personal life. At 23, Kristie left an abusive marriage. A few weeks after her divorce, her younger brother died. “At that point I felt like my life was over, not just beginning,” said Kristie. “To deal with my personal struggles, I worked. It was a distraction and it filled up my time. As a result, the station made me chief editor.”

Kristie’s editing skills ultimately took her to one of the strongest TV stations in the country, WPVI in Philadelphia. She was hired for her production skills, but needed to write for the promotion department as well. “They didn’t know I couldn’t write,” laughed Kristie, “because I told them I could. I just had to figure it out on the job. I had to have some confidence to be able to do that, and I think it came from surviving some of the violence I experienced growing up. Those early struggles taught me that I could survive, and even thrive.”

It was in Philadelphia that Kristie connected with another mentor who influenced her career. “The general manager there, Rebecca Campbell, is someone I looked up to,” said Kristie. “I finally had a chance to have lunch with her and I said, ‘I want to find out how you became a general manager. How did you get to where you are in your career?’ Rebecca then took me under her wing and became my career sponsor for the next 10 years.”

As Kristie climbed the corporate ladder, Rebecca gave her a challenge. “She said, ‘You know what I did for you. Now, go and do that same thing for other women and minorities.”

It’s a challenge Kristie took to heart. Looking back at her high school years, she says she didn’t realize that she needed to maximize what she was learning in school. She didn’t know what she needed to do to succeed. It’s why she sees such value in mentoring today.

“In order to develop your own potential, you need to have conversations with people who can teach you how to get to where you want to go and who can show you new paths.”

“That’s why BBBS is so important,” Kristie continued. “BBBS exposes kids to different lifestyles and to new opportunities, and that is huge. Otherwise, kids have no idea that life can be different from what they experience every day.”

Kristie is quick to point out that mentoring is not a “taking,” but rather a reciprocal, relationship. She encourages young people in mentoring relationships to do their homework, to identify goals and to try to be specific about what they want to achieve. “When you’re younger, just being exposed to different paths that are open to you is important,” said Kristie. “For instance, it’s important to understand that you may start a media career as an editor, but that you don’t have to be an editor forever. You can become the news director or the general manager one day, because the people in those roles started out in the same place you did. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that without having someone there to show you what you are capable of and how to get where you want to go.”

Kristie also encourages kids to ask adults about their lives and careers. “If you see someone doing something interesting, ask them how they did it. Be curious and interested in the people and the larger world around you. You never know what kinds of doors your questions might open.”

Even though she is currently a general manager, Kristie is still working with mentors in the media business and still has goals to achieve. “My CEO is now mentoring me,” said Kristie, “because I’ve told him that I want to be a CEO one day.”

Being responsible for the ins and outs of a TV station is a demanding position, but Kristie says she handles it by having a good circle of friends and by giving back to the community and mentoring others, which is where her kinship with BBBS surfaces. Kristie will be speaking to BBBS’ high school graduates and incoming freshman as the keynote speaker for the agency’s 2018 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony on June 16th.

“I’m very excited to share my story at the Scholarship Ceremony,” said Kristie. “I feel a connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. I grew up in a difficult, and often violent, household. I know what it’s like to face hard circumstances and to have to figure out how to survive and thrive. That’s when mentors can make the greatest difference and offer hope.”

Kristie was able to find hope and strength despite her struggles. And, with the help of her mentors, she developed survival and work-related skills that have helped her later in life. “In this industry you have to have a strong voice,” said Kristie. “As a child, I developed a strong voice in response to the violence I saw at home. I have turned that into a gift because now I’m not afraid to be on stage, to face a room full of people, or to fight against social injustice.”

“I refuse to be limited by my past. And that keeps me pushing forward and sharing my story.”

And, as Kristie continues to move forward in her own life and career, she is committed to making it possible for others to do the same.

Spotlight on Astoria Aviles

With our signature Ice Ball Gala just a few months away, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ new Special Events Director, Astoria Aviles, has hit the ground running!

“I am so excited to get out there and get to know volunteers and donors,” she says.  “I’ve had a lot of great support from the Ice Ball Host Committee and BBBS staff.”

As a self-described “people person” who appreciates the importance of building relationships, Astoria has the energy and enthusiasm to keep the momentum going.

“I’m really looking forward to telling BBBS’ story and helping people feel that they can truly be a part of our life-changing mission,” she says.

After initially planning for a career in marketing, Astoria unexpectedly discovered a passion for connecting people with causes while interning at a theater after college. Inspired by the generous philanthropists who wanted to give back, her professional focus soon turned toward the non-profit development field.

“I love it,” she says. “I love working with people who want to use their assets to reinvest in the community.”

Coordinating the agency’s two most significant fundraising events, Bowl for Kids and the Ice Ball Gala, gives Astoria the perfect opportunity for connecting with supporters of BBBS. While her job requires substantial logistical and planning skills, Astoria also recognizes that the success of Bowl for Kids and Ice Ball ultimately relies on building strong partnerships.

“I want to help donors feel empowered and excited about the work that BBBS is doing,” she says. “To  bring them along and make them a part of the mission.”

Complementing Astoria’s specific commitment to BBBS’ mission, is a passion for working in the non-profit industry in general. She welcomes the opportunities to learn that are found in non-profit environments where staff members often wear a “variety of hats.”

“I’m someone who is constantly trying to learn, gain new skills, and have new experiences,” she says, “so I think the non-profit industry is definitely the best fit for me.”

As a recent transplant to Austin, her work at BBBS also gives Astoria an opportunity to learn about her new city. She considers herself a bit of a coffee explorer and has made her favorite discovery so far at local roaster, Greater Goods. Bringing together her two passions for non-profits and quality coffee, Greater Goods donates $1 from each bag it sells to local charities, making the coffee taste even better!

Overall, she’s thrilled to be a part of the BBBS team and is looking forward to preparing for the Ice Ball Gala.

“Working in this role is such a great opportunity,” she says enthusiastically. “I get to serve a great organization like BBBS while also representing the agency to the larger community of potential supporters.”

Spotlight on Emily Burdette

Just a few years ago, while working in the online marketing field in Nashville, Emily Burdette realized she was ready to make a change.

“I started thinking about how I wanted to be remembered,” she says, “and how I wanted to make a difference.”

Seeking time and space to consider new possibilities, Emily left Tennessee to teach English in South Korea and travel throughout Asia. Discovering meaningful and enduring new friendships along the way, she ultimately felt drawn to follow a new professional direction in the non-profit world.

Her move to Austin set her on the path that eventually led to her current position as a Customer Relations Specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

Serving as the initial point of contact for the families and volunteers reaching out to BBBS, Emily gets the ball rolling logistically when people want to become involved with the agency. By keeping these first steps moving smoothly, she plays an essential role in supporting BBBS’ mission to help all kids succeed in life.

“I find a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I’m starting the process that ultimately leads to good outcomes,” she says.

Families and potential volunteers rely on her to learn the essentials about BBBS and to decide if the agency’s programs fit their needs. If so, Emily guides them through the necessary application and screening processes, finally bringing together clients and Enrollment Specialists in-person for intake interviews.

In her customer relations role, she generally sees just the beginning of a match relationship. After helping families and volunteers move on to the interview process, her first-hand contact with them lessens. Even so, she remains enthusiastically engaged in BBBS’ progress, proudly watching the numbers on the waitlist decrease and knowing that she’s played an essential role in helping Bigs and Littles find each other.

“That’s my favorite part of the job– connecting people,” says Emily.

At other times, however, her work is more challenging. Families approaching BBBS for the first time are often facing difficult circumstances and strong emotions. “They come to us for help in all kinds of situations,” she says.

As a result, at times she finds herself offering not only information, but also an empathetic ear.

Balancing work with a variety of outside interests, Emily makes time to travel, upcycle furniture, listen to live music around town, and spend downtime with her husband and their Rottweiler. Currently, however, her favorite way to relax is to float in a sensory deprivation tank.

“I wish I had one in my home!” she says.

She and her husband also pursue a shared interest in indoor and outdoor aquaponics, enjoying a bountiful harvest of kale, spaghetti squash, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers!

Relaxing and recharging helps Emily maintain her energy and enthusiasm for her vital role as BBBS’ first point of contact with families and volunteers. Creating a positive first impression, instilling confidence and extending empathy, Emily is undeniably helping to set the course for life-changing relationships.

Playing The Long Game

For 19 years Brandon Christensen has been on a roll, participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids bowl-a-thon. And he’s not about to go on strike. He continues to be, in his words, “relentless,” in raising funds and forming teams for the event.

“I really like helping an organization that I feel has a direct impact,” said Brandon. “The first year I participated, I organized a group of 5 friends and we began collecting money. When I do a campaign or fundraiser, I’ve always been the type of person who goes pretty big. Especially if it’s something I believe in. That first year I think I raised $1,700.”

The reason he is passionate about BBBS? He can relate to the kids benefitting from this event. “Growing up, my mom worked really hard to raise my younger brother and me. We definitely struggled at times,” he continued. “I didn’t have a father figure in my life. I know what it’s like to have hard times, so I can relate to the cause and the kids BBBS supports.”

It was while he was in the Air Force that Brandon experienced a pivotal moment in his life. One that instilled in him a desire to give back. He was “volun-told” by his sergeant to sell raffle tickets to provide a Christmas party for local low-income families. Brandon took the project to heart and sold a lot of tickets, but he also took the assignment one step further and attended the event. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “It was great to see these amazing kids enjoying the food, the clowns and the gift exchange. At that point I knew I was going to be active in giving back and providing community support for a long time.”

Brandon has been true to his word, as he has not only participated in BBBS’ Bowl for Kids, he has steadily raised awareness of the event at the company he works for, SHI International. He’s encouraged co-workers to form bowling teams as well, and even established a competition to see which team could raise the most money. The winner received a very nice dinner provided by one of the company’s partners. “These are sales teams so they’re very competitive,” Brandon laughed. “My team won last year, and we’re in the lead this year. I take this very seriously.”

He takes fundraising seriously, but Brandon has also upped his game with BBBS, becoming a Big Brother himself two years ago. It is another part of his life that he feels passionate about. “I was matched with Javon,” said Brandon, “and he is awesome. He is a fun kid and very outgoing. He’s also artistic and very creative.”

The two share a love of comics and comic book movies, and Brandon has nurtured Javon’s interest in robotics, programming and art. They have visited Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art and the Art on 5th gallery.

“On our one-year match anniversary, I gave Javon a collage of pictures of our outings, and he sent me the nicest card about how he values our friendship and our relationship,” said Brandon. “I think it is critical for Littles to have adults (Bigs) in their lives who they know have made time just to be with them.”

Time with Javon has intensified Brandon’s commitment to raising money for BBBS and participating in Bowl for Kids. He now serves on the planning committee for the event and he works to help people understand that the event is not a bowling tournament or competition – it’s an event where participants can dress in costume, have fun, eat pizza, do a little bowling, and raise money for a great organization and cause.

“As a Big, I see how the money we raise allows BBBS to create mentoring relationships for more children in Central Texas, and I know, first-hand, what the campaign is truly about and what it means to be matched. Being a Big myself, I understand how the money raised affects kids from single-parent or low-income homes, as well as kids who need additional motivation or positive reinforcement to be successful.”

Bowl for Kids is a fun event but, for Brandon, it is more than an annual celebration and tradition. It is about forming, and sustaining, mentoring relationships that create lasting change, growth and opportunity for children and adults alike.

Bowl for Kids is coming soon, but there’s still time to get in the game. Join Brandon in making a positive impact in our community. Donate or form a team and participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids 2018 – an event that makes a lifetime of difference.

Register or donate at www.bowlforkidsaustin.org

All About The Team: This Former Little is ‘Playing it Forward’

Years ago, he was credited with being a Little Brother in one of the longest-lasting matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. Today, Dave Rappold serves on BBBS’ Board of Directors and is heading up the agency’s 2018 Bowl For Kids event.

“When I was 4 years old my dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly,” said Dave. “That set the stage for BBBS becoming part of my life.  I went through the next few years in a sort of daze. When I was about 7 years old my mom talked to me about an organization that helped kids by matching them with adults. My first response was ‘I’m getting a dad,’ but she explained how BBBS worked and asked what I would look for in a mentor. My only thoughts were that I wanted him to like bicycles, to like tennis, and to have a mustache. That’s when I met Dale Wiseman.”

Dale became Dave’s Big Brother, and it turned out that he not only liked bicycles, he also liked motorcycles, was a spelunker, played tennis (which he taught Dave), and didn’t live far from Dave’s house. He also had a “wonderful Tom Selleck mustache.” “Having Dale in our lives was great medicine for me and my mom,” said Dave. “I didn’t have the deck stacked against me like a lot of the kids in our program do, but Dale came in fresh and he took me away from all the stuff going on at home. He never knew about everything I’d been through. We never talked about the loss of my dad. We just went and did fun stuff that kids are supposed to do. And I think that’s one of the main things it takes to heal and move forward.”

Dave’s Big Brother helped him cope with the difficult loss of his father. There were still negative things in his life, however. He says he stumbled through school, and that he was distracted and angry, but that having a Big Brother kept him engaged in constructive activities with someone who was a really good person and a wonderful influence. A situation that reduced the chances of his getting into trouble.

When a child loses a parent at such a young age, Dave believes that that loss is always with them in some way… that the sense of loss never leaves. But for Dave, that sense of loss is combined with a deep love for BBBS. “They were there for me,” Dave said of the agency. “And it never really left my mind to re-engage with BBBS at some point.”

Dave has always felt that he should have become a Big himself, but his life changed as he went through college, military service, got married and became a father to two kids of his own. He has found other ways however, to plug in and to advance BBBS’ mission. In 2016 he joined BBBS’ Executive Board. Now, he is leading the campaign for BBBS’ 2018 Bowl for Kids event set for April 27 & 28 at Highland Lanes.

“Last year we had a record-setting Ice Ball gala,” said Dave. “This year, I’d like BBBS to have a record-setting Bowl for Kids event. That would really help reduce the agency’s 600-kid waiting list.”

For Dave, the opportunity to participate in Bowl for Kids cuts across all socioeconomic lines. “Corporate donations are important and get the fundraising ball rolling,” he said. “but everyone can participate. Individuals giving $20 of their gas money are just as important.”

Creating a successful Bowl for Kids event is a team effort that embodies the BBBS spirit. “Bowl for Kids provides a great opportunity for a different type of social mingling and camaraderie,” said Dave. “Participants get together for pizza, beer, water, sodas, and to cheer each other on. There are no diamonds and high heels at Bowl for Kids. It’s just a bunch of folks getting together to support BBBS’ mission and to have a great time in the process. There are participants from corporations, from the community, Bigs, Littles, Board members and staff. All these people come together with one thing in common, they believe in BBBS and want to help the agency serve more kids.”

Dave challenges everyone to participate. “Come and make an impact,” said Dave. “At BBBS we’ve proven ourselves. We’ve proven that our one-to-one mentoring model works. We have a new building. We have a great staff and board. We have all of these important tools and processes and people in place to take care of kids and to serve them really well. We also have a long list of children waiting for the life-changing opportunities that a Big Brother or Sister can provide. What we need to be able to serve more kids is money.”

“Bowl for Kids is a wonderful way to impact BBBS’ ability to serve more kids in a quality manner and to reduce the waiting list for children in need.”

Dave knows all about the difference BBBS can make in a child’s life. He’s been there. Now, he wants to extend that same opportunity to more children whose lives would be impacted, just as his was.

Spotlight on Saul Espinoza

He’s from El Paso, but Saul Espinoza, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas enrollment specialist, knew he wanted to end up in Austin. Though his path to BBBS is unusual, Saul is committed to helping at-risk kids. He works hard to make the best mentoring matches possible so that BBBS’ kids can achieve success.

“As a kid, I’d always looked up to military personnel. So, I signed up for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Socorro High School in El Paso,” said Saul, “and I enlisted in the Army as a combat engineer upon graduation. I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado and served two deployments.”

Following his military service, Saul enrolled at UT El Paso to pursue a degree in social work. “I talked with a lot of social workers who did mental health assessments when servicemen and women returned from deployments,” said Saul. “I liked the work they did, but I disliked the fact that they couldn’t relate to some of the things we were going through. As such, I felt that promoting mental health in the veteran division would be a good fit for me.”

While pursuing his degree, Saul worked as a college tutor at a local high school for at-risk kids. He also volunteered at his local church, helping elementary school children with their homework. “I realized that there was a huge need to provide guidance and mentorship to youth. I also knew I wanted to head to Austin upon graduation,” said Saul. “So, I looked for a place where I would be a good fit. I’d helped with the Bowl for Kids event for BBBS in El Paso, so that’s why BBBS of Central Texas came to mind, and it turned out that the agency here had some job openings.”

Saul interviewed for two positions at BBBS in Austin, but gravitated towards the enrollment specialist role. He realized that he liked the interaction with people and that his interest was in matching kids with mentors and putting the right pairs together. “It makes me feel good when I see that the matches are successful,” said Saul.

As an enrollment specialist Saul interviews volunteers (potential mentors), children, and their families. He then writes assessments based on these interviews, initiates background checks for volunteers and, once that is complete, starts the match-making process. As BBBS’ track record shows, this is a process that the enrollment team works very hard to get right. “I will not make a match if I’m uncertain about it or if I feel the child will not benefit,” said Saul. “I make sure the volunteer is a good fit, and then confirm that the parent and child think the match is a good fit as well. If they are happy, we’ll proceed.”

The greatest challenge Saul sees is that of getting enough volunteers to fill the need. “The hardest part is the shortage of male mentors,” said Saul. “We have a lot more Little Brothers looking for Big Brothers than we have Big Brothers.”

Saul challenges other veterans to help solve this problem. “I would challenge veterans to think about becoming Bigs.  In a way, it’s sort of like being a squad leader or platoon sergeant who looks out for younger soldiers,” said Saul. “Our Littles are a lot younger, but they just need someone to talk to, someone to teach them skills, and someone they can count on to be there. Reliability and stability are things a lot of kids don’t have in their lives.”

While passionate about his work, Saul also enjoys music and playing acoustic, electric, and bass guitar.  He enjoys the outdoors, going to movies, and going to local shows with friends. In addition, he has explored playing video games as a way to increase his ability to relate to the kids he works to help.

“Helping these kids can seem like a daunting task, but it’s really not. They just need someone to help them know the difference between right and wrong, and to help them get on the right path. And helping them is a lot of fun,” said Saul. “I just want these kids to be able to be good, productive members of society. And I want to know that we looked out for these kids, and that in turn, they will look out for others as well.”

Amplify Your Support for BBBS: Rain & Elissa

Amplify Austin is Almost Here – Your Gift Today Can Change A Child’s Life For the Better, Forever!

Amplify Austin is a 24-hour day of community-wide online giving, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is excited to be participating again this year!  Funds raised through Amplify will allow us to create more life-changing mentoring relationships for children in Central Texas.

Amplify your impact for children in our community by donating today. Give now!

Rain & Elissa

Big Sister Elissa and her Little Sister Rain have been matched for so long they say they’ve done just about every activity in the Austin area.

At first they went to parks so Rain could ride her bike. Then their outings shifted to going to the mall and doing “cooler” things. Then things changed again to their current pattern of going to dinner and talking for hours. “I’ve seen the relationship evolve from Rain being a little girl to growing into this young woman who is now my peer,” said Elissa.

Rain lives with her grandmother. When she was first matched with Elissa she was very shy and was having trouble with a few classes in school. But just as their outings evolved, so did their relationship and its impact. “Rain became more outgoing and more willing to reach out to me when she had a problem,” said Elissa. “I’ve seen a level of maturity in her that wasn’t there in the early years.”

Being matched has provided Rain with a sense of security that has allowed her to set goals for the future, goals she’s been working towards for several years as her schoolwork has improved. She now plans to attend a junior college in Texas to focus on academics while pursuing her passion, which is studying dance. She then intends to transfer to an out-of-state college to finish her degree.

“Rain always tells me that our match is very important to her,” said Elissa. “She’s grateful and thankful to me for providing the consistency and support that have allowed her to dream and to grow.”

Your contribution makes relationships like this possible, and changes children’s lives for the better, forever. 

GET STARTED NOW!

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Schedule your Amplify Austin gift to BBBS today!

The impacts of our program are great, but the need is even greater. With your help, we can provide more children with the opportunities for success they so richly deserve.

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