Sometimes it takes two. That’s what some of our Bigs have discovered when they’ve volunteered as Big Couples. It’s an option in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mentoring program that many people aren’t familiar with; the opportunity to enrich a child’s life as a team, as a couple. It’s what couple Vanessa Ordones and Dixon Hankins did when they signed on with BBBS.
“We both had a passion for, and thought about our careers in terms of, helping the community,” Dixon said. “We thought mentoring as a Big Couple would be a really focused way to direct our efforts. We’d be able to do it together and support each other in the process. By combining our skills, we thought we could really make a difference in a meaningful way.”
Vanessa had volunteered with BBBS in college and really enjoyed her experience. The couple has now been involved as a Big Couple for about six years, since their Little Brother, Fred, was in middle school. Initially, it was challenging to find time in their busy schedules to be mentors, but as their relationships grew, the mentoring became something more.
“If there’s a difference between when we started and now, it’s that now that we have established strong relationships, it’s just really fun,” Vanessa explained.
“When you commit to being a mentor you’re committing to providing consistency and to making another person an important part of your life,” Dixon continued. “What I’ve enjoyed most is building that close relationship with Fred and seeing the comfort level grow between us. Now we have a friendship as well as a mutual understanding of how we all work together.”
Part of that understanding comes from having the benefit of two mentors as opposed to one. “We have a lot of laughs,” Dixon said. “In addition, Fred gets to see the dynamic between Vanessa and me as a couple. I think it’s been really positive for him to witness a healthy relationship and the ways that Vanessa and I interact with one another.”
“Being a Big Couple also provides some built-in flexibility,” Dixon added. “We spend as much time together as the 3 of us can, but if there’s an occasion when Vanessa can’t participate, then Fred and I can go hang out, and vice versa. It really gives us more opportunities to spend time with Fred. And after we spend time together, Vanessa and I can reflect on that experience and share information, ideas and reactions, which adds another dimension to the experience as well.”
“Having two mentors also offers additional benefits for our Little because we both bring unique personalities and skills to the relationship,” Vanessa explained. “I instill structure and future thinking. I’m constantly checking in about academics, and I help with homework and with applying for jobs and college. Fred and I talk about how to make Fred’s future goals more attainable. Dixon and Fred share a love of basketball. They play pickup games together at the UT Rec Center and can talk endlessly about what’s happening in the NBA or with their own school and rec league teams. Dixon also models for Fred what it means to be a respected and respectful man.”
Vanessa and Dixon have been an integral part of their Little’s life. “Fred has been involved in sports and it’s been great to have shared that with him. He didn’t have many other people to watch him play and cheer him on, but we have always been there and I know he has really appreciated that,” Vanessa said. “More recently, we helped him get a driver’s license, which was huge for him. That has given him a little more freedom and a sense of self-worth.”
The couple has also supported Fred’s academic progress. “Academics are not a high priority in Fred’s home so it can be easy for him to focus on other things,” Vanessa explained. “Our emphasis on education has helped him to be more successful in middle and high school.”
Now that Fred is a high school senior, it’s a poignant time as the couple reflects on their experiences together. “I work at UT and I’ve taken Fred to campus to walk around and to play basketball in the gym,” Dixon said. “After listening to his questions about college life, I think it was important for him to get a sense of what college might be like. And, I think that’s how you change a person’s life, by exposing them to new things, little by little.”
Being a Big Couple has been a positive and meaningful experience for Dixon and Vanessa as well. “I feel we’ve had an impact on Fred’s life and he’s definitely had an impact on ours,” Dixon continued. “Fred has had plenty of challenges, and it’s been inspiring to see his positive outlook on life. It’s neat to think that this relationship has come about because of BBBS.”
“With us and Fred, this is life-long,” Vanessa concluded. “We’ll be a part of his life, and he’ll be a part of ours, forever… I think… I hope!”