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

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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!

Spotlight on Candace Bunkley: BBBS’ Scholarship Program Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Changers: Olivia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become a Game Changer here

BBBS’ 2017 Bigs of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith and Takeria

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy and Dylan

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

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

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

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

Vanessa, Dixon and Fred

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on Diana Hernandez

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From the outside Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas may seem “low key,” but behind the scenes there are a lot of moving parts. One of the people who keeps these moving parts flowing is match support supervisor Diana Hernandez.

A 4-year BBBS veteran, Diana came to the agency after interning at Texas Health and Human Services. “I’d heard about the organization while there and had some families connected to both groups,” Diana said. “I started reading about BBBS. I really liked the goals of the agency and applied for a position.”

Diana is responsible for supporting the Match Support Specialists at BBBS – the team who oversee and facilitate all of BBBS’ mentoring relationships. “I’m there to support and encourage the team,” Diana continued. “I assign new matches to specialists, answer questions, oversee schedules and help balance the workload.”

It can be an extensive workload as staff are tasked with overseeing hundreds of mentoring matches and preparing numerous reports. As a supervisor Diana understands the workload and is there to help. “One of the skills needed for this job is that of being super organized,” Diana explained. “I work on making sure there is a system in place to help staff and communicate with the team to make sure no one is overwhelmed.”

Having support systems in place will be very important in the coming months as the department has challenged themselves to try to make 140 new matches by the end of the calendar year.

“I know we can do it,” Diana said. “And we are working to make the challenge fun, rewarding the team with prizes along the way as we achieve our goals.”

With all the hard work comes a lot of satisfaction. “I get satisfaction from hearing the stories of our Littles. For example, when a Little doesn’t have a positive female role model in her house, but I hear that her new Big Sister is fulfilling that role in her life, or I hear from a mom how a Little is doing so much better since being matched with a Big Brother or Sister. That keeps me going. I know we are making a difference.”

When she’s not at BBBS, Diana enjoys spending time with her own two children – Julieta, age 8 and Israel, age 5 – and her husband, Ever. “We enjoy going to the park, playing board games and having movie nights,” she said. Diana also spends free time helping youth outside of BBBS as the youth coordinator for her church.