How Do We Know Mentoring Works?

“The single greatest predictor of a child’s future success is the presence of a consistent, supportive adult in their life.”

Changing kids’ lives for the better, forever is Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission. But how do we know that mentoring, and that our one-to-one mentoring model, works? How do we determine that positive changes are taking place in children’s lives and that our efforts are truly making a difference?

For over 46 years, BBBS of Central Texas has gathered and tracked a variety of data, feedback and information to evaluate the impact of our work. Measuring our effectiveness is something we take seriously. We look at a wide range of factors to ensure that the mentoring relationships we create are producing positive results for the 1,000 matches we serve each year.

Many of the kids in our program face challenges that can adversely affect their success. Sixty-seven percent of the kids we serve come from single-parent homes, 34% have an incarcerated family member, and 85% live at or below the poverty level. Many of our kids are dealing with several of these issues, and others, at once.

“The presence of these circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean a child will go down the wrong path or make poor life choices,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs, “but these factors – among others – can significantly impact their progress and their opportunities for the future. The presence of a supportive, caring mentor can make a world of difference.”

Research shows that the longer a match lasts, the stronger the relationship between a Big and a Little becomes, the better the results of that relationship will be. Consequently, we monitor match length, strength, and outcomes.

To get things off on the right track, BBBS staff go through a very careful and deliberate process to make the best matches possible between prospective Bigs and Littles. When a match is made, the Little’s individual needs are assessed to determine areas the match can focus on improving. A tool called the Risk and Protective Inventory (RPI) helps BBBS staff assess risk areas so that goals and support strategies can be established at the beginning of each mentoring relationship.

“We do set goals with each match,” said Joe. “We monitor the length of the match and the strength of the match relationship with an annual survey completed by both the Big and the Little. Plus, we are consistently communicating with all parties involved to ensure child safety, troubleshoot any problems that might come up, and to nurture the ongoing development and progress of the relationship.”

With regard to outcomes, BBBS staff monitor impacts in three specific areas: socio-emotional development, academic performance, and avoidance of risky behaviors. Socio-emotional measures examine a Little’s relationships with family and peers, their self-confidence, and their attitudes about the future. The academic assessment looks at a Little’s grades, school attendance, and educational aspirations, including their intention to pursue post-secondary education. The behavioral survey evaluates the Little’s attitudes towards drugs, alcohol and fighting, and their avoidance of interactions with the juvenile justice system, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school.

So what does the data show? The results are overwhelmingly positive. More than 99.9% of BBBS-mentored youth avoid juvenile justice involvement; 99.9% avoid early pregnancy; and 98% stay in school, maintain or improve their grades and move on to the next grade level. In addition, BBBS youth complete high school and pursue post-secondary education at rates that are almost twice the national average for their peers.

Ninety-four percent of Littles report feeling close to their Big Brother or Sister, 97% say that their Big is very important to them, and 84% indicate that they have maintained or improved their sense of trust with their parents since being matched.

The numbers, however, are only part of the story. In addition to collecting data, we solicit and receive personal feedback from Bigs, Littles and family members regarding their experiences with our program on an ongoing basis. Bigs and Littles regularly comment on the joy they share in trying new activities, eating new foods and visiting new places. Littles say that they love having someone to talk to who isn’t part of their family, someone they can have one-to-one time with, and someone who provides a different way of looking at things. Parents say that they see improvements in their child’s attitude, in their self-confidence, and in their life goals. And Bigs, Littles, parents and caregivers are frequently pleasantly surprised by how quickly they come to feel like ‘family.’

Andrea Campaigne knows all about the difference a mentoring relationship can make. Andrea is a former a Little Sister who eventually became a Big Sister and then served on BBBS’ board of directors. “My Big Sister, Bert, and I were matched for more than 7 years,” Andrea recalled. “That was a wonderful relationship in my childhood. Bert was the first person in her family to go to college. She put herself through the University of Texas. She never discussed those things with me, but at that important time in my life, she was the right kind of role model for me. When I grew up, I became the first woman in my family to go to college as well. Having had a mentor at that age is not something I take lightly.”

When she became a Big Sister, Andrea inspired her own Little to be the first woman in her family to attend college. “There’s a beautiful continuity to our story which is so subtle,” said Andrea. “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ program works, not because it forces any one measurable outcome or result but because the outcomes just follow from the mentoring relationships themselves. Putting a caring, committed person in an at-risk child’s life leads to their positive development.”

“The depths of the relationships that form between Bigs and Littles are incredible to me,” Andrea continued. “It’s hard to describe or to show on paper. You can try to tell a new Big, ‘In 5 years you’ll be so close that your Little will probably be in your wedding.’ To them it will sound strange, but connections like that happen in this program.”

And she adds, “That’s what I love about BBBS. When you’re matched, you don’t always realize the magic that’s happening in your relationship as it’s taking place, but it does. That’s the beauty of mentorship.”

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.

Finding Joy

Joyful. That’s the word used to describe the match between Big Brother Denver and his Little Brother Juan. What started as an encounter between an adult and a somber, shy child has become a joyful reunion every time the pair get together.

“There was not a lot of excitement in Juan’s life, or a lot for him to look forward to, when we were first matched,” said Denver. “Now, it’s the neatest thing!  When I pick him up his face looks like fireworks going off. He has this radiant smile and he’s so excited about whatever we’re going to do.  And we have a blast.”

The pair feel like they are “a match made in heaven” as their personalities seem to be a perfect fit for one another. Denver has always loved working with kids and claims he is just a big kid himself. “Juan would say I’m funny and silly, with an overall playful personality,” said Denver. “He hasn’t had anyone like that in his life. He lives with his grandmother and doesn’t have any other male role models.”

The two have enjoyed going to movies, playing games at Dave & Buster’s, and road trips. “We go everywhere,” Denver continued. “To places he’s never been. We went to the Alamo and the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and we’ve been to Sea World. He loved that because he’s 9 years old and he’d never been outside of Austin before.”

Denver and Juan have a great time with all of their outings, but it is not all play time. “I get serious when it comes to school and his health,” said Denver. “I’m teaching him lessons about life, about the foods he eats, about taking care of himself, and about the importance of education. I hold him accountable for his homework.”

This accountability has impacted Juan’s success in school. “He loves to build things. He loves Legos, science, dinosaurs,” said Denver. “He’s smart as a whip. He’s doing so well in school. I will sometimes go and have lunch with him at school and I think that actually gives him additional confidence in that environment.”

Having a Big Brother who listens and who provides a consistent presence gives Juan confidence and stability as well. The match came at an important time in Juan’s life when his grandmother became his full-time guardian.

As so often happens with mentoring relationships, the impact is not just one-way. “Being a role model for Juan has made me a better person,” Denver admitted, “because he looks up to me. I probably get much more out of the match than he does.”

Someone else who gets a lot out of the match is Denver’s biological son, Denver Jr., as he and Juan have become good friends. At first, he was a little jealous of the amount of time his father spent with Juan. Denver Jr. was 4 years old when the match began, but now, a couple of years later, he is the one who often asks his dad if they can pick Juan up to go on outings together. “It has been important for my son to learn that people can come from different backgrounds and situations,” said Denver, “but that we all have similar needs and that we can all help one another.”

Juan is enjoying having an adult to spend quality time with.  For Denver the joy comes from knowing he’s giving back.  “During my 30’s I worked a lot,” said Denver, who owns his own real estate business. “But when I turned 40 I did some self-reflecting and realized I was not really giving back. Oh, I’d give some money here or there, but I wasn’t really making an impact.”

A woman at Denver’s church noticed how good he was with children and suggested he volunteer to work with kids. At that moment Denver said the lightbulb went off and he applied to be a Big Brother. That decision has changed Denver’s life.

“I’ve learned that giving back is so rewarding it makes me want to give more,” he said. “Being a Big Brother has helped me so much personally. This is one of the greatest achievements in my life, other than the birth of my own son. It trumps my financial success and my graduation from college because I know I’m making such a difference in Juan’s life and in my own life too.”

Denver also credits the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. “This program is the most important program. There are so many kids who need help. And when they don’t have a role model or a strong relationship with a caring adult they get into trouble,” said Denver. “Providing that one-to-one support is more important than ever because these are difficult times for kids.”

Experiencing joy goes a long way toward helping kids deal with difficult times. Denver and Juan expect to be sharing joyful experiences for a long time to come. “Juan loves me like a dad and I care for him like a son,” said Denver. “It’s just so incredible. I knew the first day we were matched that we would be matched for the rest of my life.”

Look What You Helped Us Achieve in 2017!

2017 was a banner year for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. As we head into 2018, our 47th year of service in the community, we have just experienced an exceptional year of fundraising success, exposure, and support for the agency, along with the honor of having won a number of important awards. Most important, however is the growth we achieved in the number of children served – a terrific 5% increase over the previous year, which amounts to almost 1,000 kids and families served, about 300 new matches made, and approximately 60,000 hours of volunteer service given by Bigs.

“Our focus has always been on serving a lot of kids, really well,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS. “We always want to maintain our emphasis on building quality mentoring relationships, while at the same time striving to help more and more kids get that one-to-one one mentoring support that can change their lives forever. We were able to achieve the success we experienced in 2017 because of our incredible volunteers, families, staff, donors, board members, community partners and other BBBS supporters.”

In addition to growing the total number of children served in 2017, BBBS launched several new initiatives designed to expand the organization’s impact and reach. A Bigs in Blue program was launched in partnership with the Austin Police Department. Bigs in Blue is a national initiative aimed at recruiting law enforcement personnel to serve as mentors to youth in their communities.

BBBS also initiated a Big Futures program that offers matches the opportunity to continue their relationships with one another, and with BBBS, beyond high school graduation. This new program provides on-going support to Bigs and Littles, helps them fully utilize the current Scholarship Program, and offers resources and guidance regarding post-secondary education and career readiness.

BBBS’ Promising Futures Scholarship Program is beginning it’s 32nd year of awarding scholarships to Littles in our program. In 2017 BBBS promised $445,250 in new college scholarships to graduating Littles.

“We are also using our new mentoring center to bring people together in new ways. We offer monthly Youth Activity Center (YAC) nights for our matches that allow them to come together to enjoy games, events and quality time together. We hold a big Fall carnival for matches on site, and we host numerous community meetings and gatherings in our mentoring center, strengthening our relationships and partnerships within the community.”

BBBS has also worked hard to maintain its strong financial status. In a new building that costs twice as much to operate as the old one, the agency came in under budget on expenses in 2017. BBBS’ Board of Directors gave and raised about $275,000 for the agency, which accounted for about 14% of the agency’s total budget. The agency also raised almost $200,000 more in funds over the previous year via special events such as Ice Ball and Bowl for Kids. The Ice Ball Gala alone achieved an unprecedented $670,000 in funds raised.

Helping more kids, launching new initiatives, utilizing our space for community events, engagement and benefit, and increasing overall revenue resulted in the agency receiving numerous awards in 2017. The agency received Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s (BBBSA) National Gold Standard Award, BBBSA’s National Board of the Year Award, was a BBBSA National Agency of the Year award finalist, was selected as an Austin Business Journal Best Place to Work, received a 3-star energy rating, and our CEO, Brent Fields, received the Austin Business Journal’s Non-Profit CEO of the Year award.

So, what will 2018 bring?

“We are excited about the future. We have an engaged, mission-driven team in place,” said Brent. “We also have a beautiful new space that can handle more staff and offer more resources and support to our matches and to the community as a whole. We are ready to move up to the next level. Now we need to achieve an even greater level of financial support in order to move the 600 kids who are waiting into the life-changing, one-to-one mentoring relationships they need and deserve. Quite simply, we want to continue to serve more kids. Our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity lies in finding the resources to do so.”

As we look to the new year, we deeply appreciate your ongoing support, participation, and engagement. Thank you for all that you have helped us achieve, for all the children, families and volunteers whose lives we have been able to affect, and for all of the great things that we will continue to do together to help children and families in our community moving forward.

Together we can do great things. We already have. And there is still much great work to do.

Corporate Matching Gifts: An Easy Way to Double Your Impact

Thinking about supporting the great work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas? Or are you already participating? If so, you may be able to double your impact with one simple step – finding out if the company you work for matches donations to nonprofits. Many do. It’s an easy way to instantly double your contribution.

“It’s a gift that frequently goes unclaimed,” said Lauren Portley, BBBS Vice President of Development. “Often employees don’t realize their company will match their contribution to a nonprofit dollar for dollar. Regardless of whether you are a potential donor or a current donor, check with your Human Resources department and find out your company’s policy. It can make a huge difference to your nonprofit of choice.”

An employee matching gifts program is a win-win for all involved. “As an employee, it makes me feel empowered to be able to leverage my money, to double it,” said Thessaly Startzell, Counsel and Board Liaison of Dell Corporate Legal, Dell Inc., and a member of BBBS’ Foundation Board of Directors.  “Which is great! For me, it’s helping the nonprofit I care most about, which is empowering.”

It’s also a way for employers to demonstrate support for their employees. “If you’re an employer, it’s a great way to build morale,” said Thessaly. “It shows employees that you care about what they care about. Plus, it’s a simple process to put in place.”

This type of program also adds to the local community. “It strengthens the community where your employees live and work,” Thessaly continued, “which, from a Dell perspective is huge, because this (the Round Rock/Austin corridor) is one of the company’s largest communities.”

Contact your Human Resources group to find out how to set up a matching gifts program, and check to see if there are other ways your company can help within the community. An additional way that Dell Inc. contributes is through a Volunteer Reward Card program that makes donations based on employee volunteer hours.

“You simply enter your volunteer hours and if you have at least 10 hours of volunteer work in a quarter, Dell will contribute $150 to the nonprofit of your choice,” said Thessaly. “I can volunteer at 5 different nonprofits, but the money goes to the one nonprofit I select. And it doesn’t have to be the one where I volunteered. If you’re a Dell employee and you’re a Big or someone who’s interested in BBBS – that volunteer service could amount to a $600 donation to BBBS in a given year.”

Whether it’s a matching gifts program or a volunteer matching program, find out how your company supports nonprofits in the community, and see how you can take advantage of these opportunities to increase your impact for the causes you care about.

Spotlight on Joe Strychalski

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas provides, coordinates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships for almost 1,000 children each year. BBBS’ program team consists of 19 staff members who work with each child, family member and volunteer to make and monitor these match relationships on an ongoing basis. Managing this activity for BBBS is Joe Strychalski, the agency’s Vice President of Programs.

“I’ve always had a heart for working with underserved youth,” said Joe.

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Indiana, Joe came to BBBS of Central Texas from Dayton’s BBBS agency. He’d worked for a small youth ministry where he helped to establish and manage a thrift store, and then worked at a bank before joining his local BBBS agency as a youth enrollment specialist, putting Bigs and Littles together.

“I love the BBBS organization and its mission,” said Joe. “After I joined BBBS in Dayton, I started looking for opportunities to gain new skills and take on new responsibilities.” Some of these new skills involved working on the development side of the agency with fundraising and events.

“I wanted to do even more at the agency, so I went back to school to get my MBA,” said Joe. After that, he took on additional responsibilities managing the agency’s finances and handling the organization’s human resources activities.

One day, a friend at the national BBBS office called Joe to tell him about the Vice President of Programs job opening in Central Texas. After visiting the city and going through a lengthy interview process, Joe and his wife Carol made the move from Ohio.

BBBS of Central Texas is a larger agency than the one in Dayton, but Joe still oversees a variety of functions – customer service, enrollment, match support and the agency’s scholarship program.  “BBBS is a fun place to work,” said Joe. “We have great leadership, a new building, and I have an amazing team. Our staff are always looking for ways to improve. Their enthusiasm and the heart they bring to our mission are amazing.”

Joe’s favorite part of his job involves seeing the impact that mentoring makes. “The first meeting of a match, the introduction of a Big and a Little, is just the coolest thing,” said Joe. “The Little is super-excited, awkward and nervous, and the same is true of the Big. The new Big is ready to launch into a new relationship and have an impact on a child and their family, but they are also nervous. The program staff get to see Bigs and Littles interact, find shared interests, and discover how exploring life together can make a difference. We also get to interact with matches that have been together 8 or more years and that truly feel like real brothers and sisters. Seeing the ways that mentoring benefits children, families and volunteers, and helping to create and strengthen these relationships, is really rewarding.”

Joe and Carol, and their dog, a 90-lb Goldendoodle named Murray, are enjoying the Austin area, especially all of the outdoor activities available. Joe has also become the agency’s BBQ connoisseur. Once a month he organizes staff visits to BBQ restaurants in the Central Texas area.

BBBS’ 2018 Bigs of the Year

 

An experienced and trusted adviser, someone who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time” –  that is the dictionary definition of a mentor. But at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, our mentors, our Bigs, are that and so much more as they build deep friendships that change children’s lives for the better.

Consequently, when National Mentoring Month arrives in January, BBBS is ready to celebrate and honor the amazing volunteers who give their time and energy to help children succeed.

“As we enter a new year, it is only appropriate to pause and consider the importance of volunteerism at BBBS. National Mentoring Month is a good reminder that we can only realize our vision of helping children achieve success in life because of the service of our volunteer mentors – our Big Brothers and Sisters,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas.

“This past year our Bigs contributed almost 60,000 hours of volunteer service to our Littles.  You can’t put a price tag on that kind of contribution and it’s critical to everything we do.  On behalf of our staff, board, donors, and about 1,000 kids served last year – I want to say a big “THANKS” to everyone serving (past, present or future) in this transformational way!”

“National Mentoring Month is a great time for BBBS,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs. “Not only are we able to thank and recognize our amazing volunteers, but it’s also a terrific opportunity for us to share more about the power of mentoring, spread awareness of all the work that BBBS is doing in the community, and recruit new volunteers for the program!  January is by far our busiest time for inquiries from both prospective parents and volunteers, which is great – we are always in need of new volunteers, especially men and bilingual Bigs!”

During National Mentoring Month BBBS recognizes its volunteers by announcing the agency’s 2018 Central Texas Bigs of the Year.  Winners at the local level go on to be considered for statewide, and then possibly national, Big of the Year honors. BBBS of Central Texas’ 2018 Bigs of the Year are Big Sister Maggie Johnson and Big Brother Nicholas Johnson (no relation). Maggie Johnson has also been recognized as the 2018 Big Sister of the Year for the state of Texas.

Maggie & Kirida

“When I met my little sister, Kirida, in 2012, she was initially pretty shy with me,” said Maggie. “So, we spent most of our time together in the beginning just doing fun activities to try to help her relax and have a space where she didn’t have to worry so much.”

Kirida was struggling at school when she first met her Big Sister and was often in trouble for fighting due to bullying from other students. She was very reactive, struggling to manage her emotions, and the other students knew she could be taunted into fighting. She was suspended from school almost weekly.

“I could tell that Kirida was bright and had amazing potential,” said Maggie, “because despite the trouble that she frequently was in at school for her behavior, she consistently made really good grades. Since academics were not a problem, I knew that we had to work on the other things that she needed to successfully reach her goals of graduating from high school and attending college. My focus became that of helping her increase her self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and coping strategies.”

“When I was having a rough time we would just sit in Maggie’s car in front of my house and map out my day. We would talk about how I felt and positive ways to react,” said Kirida. “Maggie was the main reason I kept from fighting during those times. Everyone told me that I would wind up dead or in jail, but Maggie was the one who asked, “What is the root of all of this? What and who are you angry at?”

“When I was battling depression, one thing that always kept me from self-harm was Maggie’s comment, “There are people out here who love you, whether you know it or not, and who are willing to help,” Kirida continued.

The two became much like actual sisters as Maggie offered support and encouragement, eventually helping her Little Sister find her niche on the school’s wrestling team. Being part of the team provided Kirida with a physical outlet that helped her manage her emotions while gaining confidence and self-control.

Kirida’s mom was working two jobs and going to school at night, so it was Maggie who often took Kirida to and from practices. Both women were standing side-by-side, however, as Kirida walked across the stage at her high school graduation. Kirida recently completed her first semester at Texas A&M as a first-generation college student.

“Our match gave her someone to support her and to cheer her on when things got tough,” said Maggie. “Kirida is one of the most resilient and determined young women I know and she has been an inspiration and a wonderful addition to my life. She has told me that she feels like we are “family” and always will be. I feel the same way and think that we will be connected for a very long time.”

Nicholas and Tiy

“I can still remember my first meeting with my Little Brother Tiy (short for Mi’Tiy) who was 11,” said Nicholas. “Honestly, I didn’t really know what to talk about. I’d never hung out with an 11-year-old for longer than 10 minutes before. I was nervous and awkward, but Tiy either didn’t notice, or didn’t care – or it might have been the shortest match in history.”

Throughout the next months and years Nicholas learned that he didn’t need to dazzle Tiy with brilliant conversation or flashy activities, he just needed to be there. “With both of his parents working multiple jobs to support him and his 4 siblings, he spent a lot of time at home and didn’t get a chance to do much. After I figured that out, I stopped stressing about outings as much. I realized that I didn’t need the “perfect” activity, I just needed to show up,” said Nicholas.  “The most memorable, random activity we ever did together was going to Dick’s Sporting Goods and walking around the store for over an hour. We went into each section and just played with the equipment: baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse. We even got to use their golf simulator!”

As the pair’s relationship grew, Tiy became more open and asked more questions about complicated topics. “It took some time, but I discovered that I didn’t need to have all the answers; sometimes I just needed to listen,” said Nicholas.

Being there and listening impacted Tiy in a deep way.  “I don’t know where I would be if Mr. Nick was not in my life,” said Tiy.  “He is always there for me at my football games, when I need help understanding something at school, or even if I just have a question about something.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nick, for your time, for all the new activities we have done together, for encouraging me and helping me think about the future.  Thank you for being my Big Brother… for real.”

Mentoring Month is a time for all of us to remember and thank our mentors – people who took the time to be there for us, to guide us and to make a difference in our lives forever. At BBBS we are proud to continue this rich tradition of giving back, and we are honored to work alongside the Bigs, children and families who enrich our lives – and each other’s – every day.