The Spirit of Giving

Many Bigs cite “wanting to give back” as their main reason for getting involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. It’s not surprising then that they inspire this volunteer attitude in the Littles they mentor as well. On any given week you will find BBBS matches volunteering at animal shelters, working in community gardens, donating food to families in need, and doing many other service-oriented projects. So, after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, Bigs and Littles were ready to lend a helping hand.

Little Sister Tyranee and her Big Sister Janice have been matched for almost a decade. Spending time giving back to the community and to those in need is something that has become second nature to the pair. So, when they heard about ways the community could help hurricane victims, they got busy.

“Mayor Adler was on the news encouraging Austin to donate kits to the Hurricane Harvey evacuees,” Janice said. “My church was getting involved and I asked Tyranee if she wanted to help. Without hesitation she said, ‘Sure, I’d like to do whatever I can,’ and that just melted my heart.”

The two went shopping to get supplies for the hurricane relief kits as one of their regular outings. “I wanted her to have the opportunity to help someone else,” Janice explained. “We had a good time together gathering the items, but it also really helped Tyranee understand what was going on. She kept asking questions about what had happened. She said, ‘Where are the people?’, ‘They lost their homes? Oh, wow, I can’t imagine that.’”

“After we were finished she said, ‘It felt really good to help out.’ This project helped her realize that even when you don’t have a lot of resources, there are always things that you can do to help someone else.”

Tyranee, who is 18, also contributed some of her own money from her part-time job to the cause. A powerful demonstration of the impact the experience had on her – and an example of how someone who has overcome her own obstacles is helping others to overcome theirs. “Tyranee has been through a lot,” Janice continued. “She’s moved almost every year since we’ve been matched. She and her younger brother had opportunities to choose a different path in life that did not include completing high school and college. But they didn’t, and I’m so proud of them! They’ve been able to overcome difficulties of their own.”

Getting involved in the hurricane relief effort is just one example of how Janice has seen Tyranee grow since they’ve been matched. “I’ve seen Tyranee change tremendously, from being afraid of venturing out to try new things to now speaking up and getting involved,” Janice said. “My church, Wesley United Methodist, has offered her opportunities to speak in front of people through their different programs. That’s something Tyranee said she would never, ever do… but she has. The last time she spoke, I was sitting there video recording her and becoming very emotional at the same time. It’s just been amazing to see her growth.”

As they watch their Littles grow, Bigs often comment that their Littles will make good Big Brothers or Sisters one day. It’s something that frequently happens as former Littles pursue the opportunity to make a difference for others the way their own Bigs have made a difference for them.

Tyranee is now a high school senior and she wants to go to college, as does her younger brother. She plays on her high school’s volleyball team and is very interested in cosmetology. She is currently taking courses on the subject.  “It’s all because of BBBS that we were put together,” Janice remarked. “What an awesome organization.”

For Tyranee and Janice, as for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, it’s all about turning tough situations into something positive. “Tyranee has been through a lot, but she is moving forward in a positive way, that’s what is so awesome about her,” Janice said. “She has a beautiful heart. I know she’s going to do well in life.”

The Stages of a Match Relationship

You hear the stories, you see the results, and you’re interested in becoming a Big Brother or Sister. What is one of the most important things you need to know before becoming a Big?

It takes time.

“It takes time,” said Ellen Harsch, enrollment supervisor at BBBS. “It takes time for any person to build a relationship with someone else, but it especially takes time for kids to build trust and to form meaningful relationships, particularly with new adults that they don’t know at all.”

This is something new Bigs can easily forget at the beginning of a match as they get caught up in their enthusiasm to help, to mentor and to make a difference. The time factor can also get lost behind preconceived notions regarding how a match “should” progress. Consequently, BBBS holds training sessions for Bigs to help them understand the common stages of match relationships.

“Every match is different and moves through the stages at their own pace,” Ellen continued. “But when you look at matches across the board, there are a lot of similar patterns. And it is important for Bigs to understand these stages so that they know what to expect and that they are not alone. For example, if your Little doesn’t immediately trust you, this is normal. Other Bigs experience this too.”

The first stage of a match relationship – the “Early Development Stage” – is about building trust. At this point, Bigs and Littles are trying to figure each other out. Littles may try to get their Big’s approval or to impress them.

“At the beginning of any relationship you’re nervous, excited, and unsure but committed to the relationship,” said Christina Snell, match support supervisor. “There’s an emphasis on getting to know one another, talking, asking questions, and being consistent in the time you give. If you don’t see each other and get to know one another, it’s hard to build a strong relationship.”

Being consistent with communication and time is critical during this early stage, especially during the first 3 months. For Bigs with younger Littles, it’s even more important, as parents are working to feel comfortable with the Big/Little relationship as well.

“We had 8 and 9-year-old siblings in a match who were home-schooled by their mom and the match had to adhere to a rigid schedule,” said Christina, “because younger kids work better with a schedule and so do parents. With every match, the parent or guardian, the Little, and the Big all need to work together to find the rhythm and pace that works best for them so that they are all on the same page.”

“At the beginning of a match, if the parent doesn’t offer as much support, a Big may also need to be prepared to take the initiative to keep match activities and plans going,” Christina added.

After the initial stage, matches move into what is described as the “Growth Stage.” This is probably the most crucial period in the development of the Big/Little relationship, possibly even a turning point in the relationship. It is common during this stage for Littles to test their Bigs to learn more about them and to find out how much they can get away with. The Little may also be observing the Big to find reasons not to not trust them or to determine whether the Big will leave.

“During the Growth Stage matches often say, ‘Okay, we know each other. We’re in an established relationship. Now what?’” Christina said.  “This is when they need to start exploring interests and activities, and doing new things that might be outside of their comfort zone, just to keep the excitement alive and the relationship moving forward.”

“This is also when Bigs may start wanting and needing more input from their Littles. Bigs will sometimes say ‘I’d like my Little to give me ideas for match activities,’ ‘I need them to say thank you,’ or ‘Does my Little really like me?’” Christina said. “At this point Bigs sometimes start to question the match. For example, if a match is doing the same thing all the time – going out to eat or to the movies, the Big may tell us ‘There’s got to be more to the match than this.’ But when we ask the Little about the match they’ll say ‘This is everything to me. This is just what I need.’ So, we remind Bigs that their Littles just enjoy being with them. They don’t care as much about the type of activities they do with their Bigs as they do about the time spent together. This is also a stage at which BBBS’ match support team can offer suggestions and recommend new activities.”

The next stage in the match relationship is the “Maturity Stage,” a point at which the match relationship has become more positive and realistic, and where activities are often less structured. By this point most Bigs have shed their preconceived notions regarding the match and their Littles. Bigs have also often seen their Littles grow and develop.

“This is the coolest level. This is when they really get it,” said Christina. “By this point the Big has shown that they’re committed to the relationship, that they are not going anywhere, and that they know they’ve just got to keep the conversation going. Both Big and Little realize that they are in the match relationship to be friends, and that the Big needs the Little as much as the Little needs the Big.”

According to BBBS’ match support team, this is also the point when both Bigs and Littles need to be reminded of the importance of their relationship. “People get really comfortable in relationships and may feel taken for granted,” said Christina. “At this stage, we offer a lot of positive reinforcement and feedback. We let the Big know that their Little’s family has a lot of good things to say about them and that they are so grateful for the time they give. And we let the family know how much the Big looks forward to spending time with their child. This support reinforces and validates the relationship so that Bigs and Littles know they are on the right track.”

Helping Bigs, and families, understand the natural stages of a match relationship is another way BBBS provides match relationships with the support they need to thrive. “We want happy participants,” said Ellen.

Happy participants lead to positive mentoring relationships, which lead to more kids succeeding in life. It’s all just a matter of time.

Chris & Jeremiah: Growing Together

Little Brother Jeremiah could hardly contain his excitement when he finally got to meet his Big Brother Chris three years ago. Despite his enthusiasm however, Jeremiah was not completely ready to trust in this new relationship. In fact, according to his guardian, it was hard for him to trust any adult since he felt most adults in his life had walked out on him. However, his new Big Brother began to change all of that.

“He had no self-confidence,” said Chris. “He’d moved around between homes and hadn’t had any stability. He didn’t have anyone who was giving him attention for any extended time. I began talking to him about the things he was great at and the things I loved about him. I told him about ways I had failed in the past and ways that I had overcome adversity, helping him to see that it’s okay to fail and that failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad person.”

One activity that stands out as a huge confidence builder for Jeremiah is the reading the two have done together before their regular outings. When the match began, Jeremiah could barely read and had been held back for his second grade year. “So, I shifted the focus of our outings to education,” Chris explained. “During the first 45 minutes of each visit we would get kolaches, go to my house and spend time reading and writing. Then we would go swimming.”

Chris often took a creative approach to helping Jeremiah learn.  “I noticed that he loved technology and always wanted to play with my phone,” Chris continued. “So, I started having him text members of my family, pranking them into thinking it was me. Jeremiah loved it and came up with the most off-the-wall-texts, but he was reading and writing.”

The creative approach plus the structured reading time paid off as Jeremiah passed his grade level and made all A’s and B’s this past year. “He’s proud of himself and I let him know that I am proud of him too,” said Chris. “I’m especially proud of him for continually trying, and working, and overcoming adversity.”

The pair also spend time going to video arcades, bowling, roller skating and swimming. Jeremiah has gotten to know Chris’ wife and son as well.

“Jeremiah is a great kid. He’s become family,” said Chris. “Sometimes I’m a father figure, or a brother, uncle, or friend. There’s a lot to love about him.”

“My upbringing was less than ideal, and spending time with Jeremiah helps me reframe my childhood. It helps me see it through the eyes of an 8 or a 10-year-old,” said Chris. “This is one of my closest relationships. I’m glad Jeremiah’s in my life.”

Your support makes life-changing relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about our Game Changers program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here

Ice Ball 2017 An Unprecedented Success

Thirteen proved to be a lucky number as Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 13th annual Ice Ball gala raised a record-breaking $670,000 for the organization, with donations still coming in and final numbers expected to exceed this early total.

Despite inclement weather, the largest fundraising event for BBBS drew a capacity crowd of over 800 people to the JW Marriott on Saturday, August 26. The black-tie affair was an elegant evening focused on raising funds to create life-changing friendships between at-risk youth and caring adult mentors.

“The 2017 Ice Ball Gala was a big success on every level, far exceeding our expectations,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS. “We had record attendance, amazing energy and an unprecedented amount of funds raised to support our mission of helping children succeed in life. The funds raised at Ice Ball, and throughout the year, allow us to serve and support close to 1,000 mentoring matches and to move as many children off our waiting list as possible. A big ‘thank you’ to all those who attended and to our sponsors for helping create an event that will be forever changing lives.”

Bigs and Littles were on hand to welcome guests as greeters. The festive evening began with a number of exciting activities including a silent auction, a raffle, a Big Board mini live auction, Kendra Scott Mystery Boxes, and a photo booth with the signature Ice Ball ice sculpture.

The Big Board auction was new to this year’s event and featured an assortment of special items such as a golf flag autographed by PGA champion Jordan Spieth, SXSW interactive badges, a Uchiko dinner for 4, and a San Antonio Spurs VIP experience, among others.

Guests were lead into the ballroom by The Memphis Train Revue, a Dixieland band, where they enjoyed a seated dinner, the evening’s program, and a live auction, which offered opportunities to win exclusive experiences and trips including a UT tailgate party, flag football with Colt McCoy, trips to Paris and Cabo San Lucas, tickets for the 2018 Dell Match Play Golf Championship, and a “choose your own adventure” passport package featuring a choice of trips to 25 different world-wide destinations. Excitement filled the room as the crowd participated in games and the live auction led by auctioneer Gayle Stallings and emcee Mike Barnes, KVUE Sports Director.

During the ‘Fund A Friendship’ portion of the evening guests were invited to make donations to help fund more mentoring relationships. A moving video told the story of Big Sister Maggie, and her Little Sister, Kirida’s, relationship. Kirida, a recent high school graduate who is beginning her first semester at Texas A&M University, thanked the crowd for helping to make life-changing friendships like the one she has enjoyed with Maggie possible. Their story provided a powerful example of the impact BBBS’ mentoring program has on children, families, volunteers, and the community as a whole.

“I was absolutely amazed by the turnout and by the enthusiastic support our Central Texas community showed at Ice Ball!” said Carlos Barbosa, BBBS’ Board Chair. “We were bracing for the rain, but what an amazing show of support we received! Huge thanks to all who came out, and to those who couldn’t make it but still found ways to support our agency!”

Following the auction, the celebration continued with dancing to music provided by The Memphis Train Revue. It was the perfect end to an evening that will make a lifetime of difference for children and families in Central Texas.

Special thanks to our lead sponsors:

BB&T; Connie and Bill Nelson, RSM, Toni Schach and Michael Forte, US Micro Products; Henna Chevrolet; Gustavo Artaza, ASK Charitable Foundation, ATX Life Coaching, Sam Bassett, Chilligence, General Motors, Heather and Dominick Granato, HEB, Pamela and Will Hurley, Maxwell, Locke & Ritter LLP, Pape-Dawson Engineers, Parsley Energy, ScaleFactor, Wells Fargo, and the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation.

See our Flickr album of event photos here

See Kirida and Maggie’s story, produced by Castleview Productions, here

BB&T: Making A Difference

It’s been 3 years since BB&T bank signed up to be a Diamond Sponsor for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Ice Ball gala. During that time, the company has not only seen BBBS grow and change, the company’s relationship with BBBS has grown and changed as well.

“Three years ago, we were looking to further support the community by partnering with an organization that aligned with our values, and whose mission fit well with BB&T’s mission – part of which is to make the world a better place to be,” said Blake Absher, BB&T’s Austin Market President and a former Big Brother. “BBBS was near and dear to us. We liked that funds raised for BBBS would go back to our community and to supporting youth.”

The relationship between BB&T and BBBS proved to be a perfect match and each year BB&T’s impact on, and support for, BBBS has grown. Over the past three years, the company has increased annual donations for the Ice Ball Gala through an employee-led fundraising campaign, spread the word about BBBS’ work and mission to the organization’s employees, clients, friends and associates, and recruited others to support BBBS as volunteers, mentors and donors. It’s a growth no one really saw coming.

“In the beginning, we knew we wanted to connect our associates with BBBS. We wanted to be more than a gala sponsor. We wanted our team to feel invested in the agency’s mission,” Blake said. “But seeing how things have grown, and how passionate and involved our employees have become, is really amazing,”

“We have employees who have taken leadership roles in fundraising and advocacy, joined committees, and who want to become Bigs themselves. We have associates who are out there championing BBBS’ work while also championing BB&T’s mission. I didn’t think it would grow like this,” Blake admitted. “The snowball effect has been incredible. Our partnership has affected our organization, our employees and our clients. In addition to our own team members, we now have clients coming in as Ice Ball sponsors, joining the Ice Ball host committee, and then leveraging their own networks to fundraise for BBBS. Seeing this evolution has really been rewarding.”

“I think our involvement with BBBS has brought our organization together city-wide,” said Cathy Haines, BB&T’s Retail and Small Business Leader, and a former Big Sister. “We have 15 branches in Austin. Fundraising for BBBS has fostered friendly competition among all our teams and teammates. We look forward to giving back to BBBS, and we gain as much as we give. BBBS is a wonderful organization that we have all got behind, and our partnership with BBBS makes us proud.”

BB&T’s support for BBBS extends far beyond the walls of the company. “I help manage the annual fundraising campaign from the branch level, and I would definitely say that we do take it home with us,” said Susan McNeight, BB&T’s Market Leader, Onion Creek Branch. “Many of our team members not only try to raise funds through their interactions at the bank, but they also go home and tell their friends and families what they’re doing. They go on social media and say ‘Hey, I’m fundraising for BBBS. Would you consider donating?’”

“One of our tellers was a former Little, and our relationship with BBBS really means something special to her. And again, she talks to everybody she knows and tries to raise funds,” Susan said.

BB&T’s employees are also committing to more personal involvement with BBBS as well. “Every year, I’ve gotten more involved,” said Susan, who is currently a member of the Ice Ball Host Committee. “Ultimately, I’d like to become a Big Sister.”

BB&T’s support for BBBS not only brings their employees together, it also brings the company closer to its clients. “I reached out to my personal network when I was fundraising last year and I got a response from a company that donated $3,000, which I was not expecting at all,” Susan continued.  “The owner said ‘I just wanted to donate. I hope this contribution helps you reach your goal. My daughter is a Big in San Antonio, and BBBS is an organization I’m really proud of and believe in.’ He and his wife have been mentors to young kids in the past, so our campaign really touched him, and I’d had no idea. I was just making a request and his response was a surprise. This year, when I reached out to them again, they bought a table at Ice Ball. They’re coming to the gala from San Antonio and bringing some of their clients with them.”

Through all of the fundraising and networking however, BB&T never loses sight of the fact that the real goal of their activity is to get kids off of BBBS’ waiting list and into positive mentoring relationships. “That’s really been a motivating, driving factor,” Blake said. “We know that there are still 600 kids out there who are waiting to be matched with mentors of their own, and that’s something that drives us to tell every client who comes through the door about our partnership with BBBS.”

“BBBS has just moved into a new building that will give them room to grow. The agency’s program metrics are at an all-time high, and the organization has won a number of awards for program quality and impact. Now BBBS needs to increase its financial resources in order to serve more kids. We want to help make that happen.”

“I handle weekly calls with the captains of each branch and we talk about how much we have raised and how many kids those funds will get off the waiting list,” Susan said. “That makes the impact of our efforts very real and very personal. We know our activities are affecting kids’ lives.”

“When you look at the impact that BBBS makes on an individual basis, the difference a one-to-one relationship can make in a child’s life, it is very powerful,” Cathy added. “As former Bigs, Blake and I have witnessed this first-hand. To me, communicating that message is really important. Helping children, helping community members, and making the world a better place is an important part of what we do at BB&T. Working with BBBS allows us to put our mission into action.”

“At BB&T we have a saying that ‘No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.’  Blake concluded, “But, as our relationship with BBBS shows, by working together, we can do even more.”

Hobie Day 2017

Sun, water, boats and fun! Big Brothers Big Sisters’ recent Hobie Day was a big hit with Bigs and Littles alike. Set at Bob Wentz Park on Lake Travis, BBBS matches enjoyed the unique experience of sailing on catamarans courtesy of the Austin Hobie Cats, a group of sailing enthusiasts who have hosted the event for almost 40 years. Over 300 matches, families, volunteers, and staff turned out for the special event.

“It was a great new experience with my Big,” said Little Brother Adonis. He and Big Brother Russell enjoyed being out on the lake together.

Big Sister Jessica and her Little Sister Nadia also enjoyed their first experience on a catamaran, though Nadia said she was a little scared at first. Both found the ride to be different than they were expecting but still a lot of fun.

“It was very interesting. They explained about the different parts of the boat and different sailing techniques,” said Big Sister Kemisha. “I asked a lot of questions because I’d never been sailing before and it’s something I’d always wanted to do.” Her Little Sister Lia added that the ride was really nice.

A few matches who sailed last year, like Angel and Patrick, got to have some new adventures. “I got to hang out on the trapeze over the side of the boat and drag my feet in the water,” said Little Brother Angel, who conquered his fears, put on the safety harness, and enjoyed the new experience.

“I’d like to thank all the guys who came with their boats and volunteered,” Patrick added. “That was wonderful.”

The AustinCats supplied the catamarans and have also donated countless hours preparing for and hosting the event.  The Young Men’s Service League Cavaliers Chapter provided volunteers who helped with tasks like equipping attendees with life jackets, assisting people as they got onto the boats and cleaning up after the event.

Hobie Day is one of the few BBBS-organized events where Bigs and Littles get to spend time with the Little’s family members as well. In addition to sailing, attendees enjoyed swimming, playing games and lounging along the shoreline.

Big Sister Liz and Little Sister Angel enjoyed their first year at Hobie Day. “Whenever they turned the boat we were getting splashed with water,” Liz said, “and a big wave came and splashed Angel.” Little Sister Angel wasn’t bothered in the least. She had a big smile on her face after finishing the ride.

Special thanks to the AustinCats, the Young Men’s Service League Cavaliers, Hapi Drinks, Yeti, and Zilker Boat Rentals for their support and involvement. We couldn’t do hold this annual event without such great partners, staff, volunteers, Bigs, Littles and their families. Events like these are where memories are made.

Opening Doors: Joe and Brian

Recognizing the role of mentors in your own life is a step toward understanding BBBS’ mission and impact. Having benefited from mentoring himself, Joe Gomez is now seeking to “pay it forward” as a Big Brother to his Little Brother, Brian.

“My father, like Brian’s, was incarcerated during most of my youth,” said Joe. “We have both been raised by single moms. As busy as his mother is, it’s really difficult for her to spend time on academics and athletics.”

Joe considers himself a “personal trainer” who is helping his Little Brother work harder in school and on the field so that he can see the positive results of his efforts. “Our time together gives Brian the opportunity to challenge himself. We work on basic skills, motivation, and on refining what he’s focusing on.”

“When we were first matched, college wasn’t something Brian looked forward to or thought about,” Joe continued, “so I took him to visit the University of Texas campus where we walked around, met some of the staff, checked out the football field, and ate in one of the dormitories.”

“I wanted him to see how everyone on that campus is different – different races, different backgrounds. I wanted him to know that the people there are people just like us who are going to a university, graduating, and going on to the next stage of their lives. Our tour made college seem real and tangible, rather than like an unattainable pipe dream.”

College is the reason Joe became so focused on the importance of mentoring himself. Growing up without a father figure, Joe was influenced by an uncle who went to college, and who inspired Joe to follow in his footsteps. “Having a relative who went that far and who believed in me is the reason I am where I am today,” said Joe, who is now an account executive with The HT Group. “The circumstances I grew up in didn’t define my future as much as having someone in my life who told me that I could do, and be, more.”

Joe is passing this knowledge and encouragement on to his Little Brother. “I’m seeing a growth in his self-confidence,” Joe said. “I saw the biggest breakthrough when we were working out because it was the first time Brian could really see that he was getting better, that he was getting stronger, and that his efforts were making a difference. Once he saw some progress, the value of his efforts, and his ability to change things, became real. Plus, it created some momentum. I hope that no matter where he goes in life, if there’s ever a door that seems beyond his grasp, he’ll take a shot at opening it. That he won’t accept limiting beliefs or circumstances.”

“The kids who enroll in BBBS’ program are hungry for attention and hungry to grow. They will listen and they will try. They just need a little push.”

“Mentoring is a living, breathing process that never ends…. A constant giving back and paying forward,” Joe concluded. “So far, I’ve learned three main things – one, I’ve gotten just as much out of being a mentor as I’ve given; two, we really need support from other people in the community to do this; and three, it’s amazing how little it takes to change somebody’s life for the better.”