Ashley and Justin Yarborough: Our Ice Ball 2018 Chairs

When Ashley and Justin Yarborough agreed to be the Chairs for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Ice Ball gala, it was a fast response that had been building over a lifetime. The lifetimes of three people, actually – Ashley, Justin, and Justin’s Little Brother, Jermaine.

“When Brent Fields approached us about chairing the 2018 Ice Ball Host Committee, it was a quick ‘yes,’ but it wasn’t,” Justin said. “For a long time we’ve wanted to have as big an impact as we can with BBBS. I think about the mark BBBS has made on me, and on us as a family, and about how much the agency has contributed to our understanding of ourselves, our city, and how to give to our community. We wanted to find a way to do more.”

BBBS made its mark on Justin when he was in his early 20’s and freshly returned to Texas after stints working in eco-tourism in the Brazilian rainforest and in financial services at Morgan Stanley in New York. He had relocated to Austin to work at the Capitol and was looking for an opportunity to connect with a local nonprofit. “I was a self-absorbed, 25-year-old,” Justin laughed. “BBBS was a breath of fresh air.”

Justin was matched with a 9-year-old Little Brother, Jermaine. And 13 years later, the two are still close. Jermaine even served as a groomsman in Justin and Ashley’s wedding.

“I grew up in West Texas, near the border,” said Justin. “Like Jermaine, I was raised by a single parent. My dad left home when I was 8 years old. The first summer Jermaine and I were matched was so powerful for me, and I’ve learned so much from him. We could identify with each other right away because I had to assume the role of ‘man of the house’ at an early age, and Jermaine has had to grow up faster than many people his own age as well.”

Justin and Jermaine’s match also made an impact on Ashley, especially early in her relationship with Justin. She jokes that Justin and Jermaine were “testing” her when she traveled with them to West Texas to meet Justin’s family for the first time. “Justin and I had only been dating for about three months when we got into a car in Austin, along with Jermaine and his four siblings, and traveled six and a half hours to the ranch,” said Ashley.

“We were traveling to spend time with my family,” Justin added, “and as a Big Brother, my ‘family’ was extended, so it was only natural for Jermaine and his siblings to be there.”

That trip is one of many special experiences Ashley, Justin, Jermaine, and Jermaine’s family have shared over the years. “To think of all that has transpired since that day,” said Justin, “is just astounding.”

Justin and Ashley met when he was in law school and she was the reigning Miss Texas. Ashley grew up in Pennsylvania, but moved to Texas when she was in high school and fell in love with the state. “As Miss Texas my duties included visiting schools, and I came to recognize the need for kids to have people to look up to and to engage with,” said Ashley. “That helped me understand Justin’s desire to be a Big Brother.”

That understanding deepened at Ashley and Justin’s wedding. “Jermaine’s family was at our wedding rehearsal dinner,” Ashley continued. “They had been a little uneasy about it before that night, but then Jermaine and his older sister got up on stage to share their love and adoration for Justin and they were both in their element. Everyone was blown away by their sincerity and warmth.”

“It was a powerful moment,” Justin agreed. “By that point all of our friends knew Jermaine and his family, and they all doted on him. Jermaine has been an important part of our lives.”

It’s a relationship that has had a profound impact. Ten years ago, Justin’s younger brother, Taylor, passed away. “There was a moment after the burial when Jermaine and I looked at each other and he said ‘Hey, I’m your Little Brother. I’m here for you,’” said Justin. “That meant a lot.”

Unfortunately, it was a moment that was destined to repeat itself as Justin lost his sister, his mother, and his father over a two-year period. “In a short time, my biological family of five was reduced down to just me,” said Justin. “Having Jermaine there was important. There’s a unique part of our relationship that has always been a source of strength for me.”

“It wasn’t always easy, but Jermaine was always there… through the good times and the bad.” Ashley added.

Justin and Ashley reflected on the joys and sorrows they have shared with Jermaine as they scrolled through a digital album of photos that included everything from Thanksgiving dinners, to Easter celebrations, a ski trip, Jermaine’s and his siblings’ first experience with snow, ballgames, graduations, and more. “We’ve done a lot of life together,” said Justin.

It’s this “life” experience with mentoring that inspired Ashley and Justin to play such a major role in the upcoming Ice Ball gala. The couple had just welcomed their infant daughter Ava into their lives at the time of last year’s gala when they agreed to become the 2018 Ice Ball Host Committee Chairs. “The Ice Ball does such a great job of connecting BBBS’ mission to the crowd,” said Ashley. “There are a lot of great events in Austin, but every time I leave the Ice Ball my heart is on fire for the mission. I hope that we can be part of making people feel connected to the agency and the important work it is doing.”

“There are so many kids born into adversity and challenge,” said Justin. “There’s such a need in our city for those who are capable to engage with those who have less, and to engage in such a way that these kids know they are not just important to the city, but that their talents and contributions are essential to it. I believe in mentorship. I want people to know that it doesn’t take much to change someone’s life.”

Ashley and Justin have seen first-hand the difference mentoring can make. It is why they hope this year’s Ice Ball will be another high-water mark in BBBS’ history.

“I don’t think Jermaine or I will ever let the other get too far away from our relationship. I came in to the relationship as a Big Brother thinking ‘I’m going to impart so much wisdom on this young fella, all the valuable lessons I’ve learned,” Justin laughed. “Turns out, he taught me a lot more.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Ice Ball Gala will take place August 25th at the Fairmont Austin. Go to www.AustinIceBall.org for details.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony

The room was filled with excitement, pride and joy at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ 32nd annual Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony. More than 150 family members, friends and Big Brothers and Sisters gathered to honor Little Brothers and Sisters who were receiving college scholarships and scholarship promise medals as part of BBBS’ Scholarship Program.  Kristie Gonzales, President and General Manager of KVUE-TV, was the keynote speaker for the event, which took place June 16 at Austin Community College’s Eastview campus.

“Turn the challenges you face in life into opportunities for growth and success,” said Gonzales, who shared her own personal and professional experiences with attendees. “Let your mentors help you achieve your dreams, and never stop asking their advice on how to get where you want to be. It’s evident from all the people in this room that you have a community standing behind you. And remember, as you climb – lift others.”

Kristie shared her story of becoming a television executive and how mentors made a difference for her. “I’m standing where I am today because mentors helped me find my talent and my path early in life,” said Kristie. “And I still have mentors who are helping me as I move toward my next goals.”

Students received scholarships that will be applied to a variety of institutions and fields of study. This year’s graduates will be attending the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Blinn Junior College and Franklin University in Switzerland, among others. Graduates plan to pursue studies in forensic science, computer engineering, biochemistry, nursing, social work, music, counseling and business.

“The promise of a scholarship means commitment to me,” said Chris, a scholarship promisee. “This medal reflects a commitment to my education. It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to complete my studies. That’s my plan.’ I’m thinking about becoming a robotic programmer or an engineer.”

With the help of his Big Brother Scott, Chris has attended several engineering and programming events in the area. “We wanted to see what is happening here in Austin and what you can do with skills in robotics and artificial intelligence,” said Scott. “We wanted to learn what is available.”

One event they went to involved learning about self-driving cars. The pair had the opportunity to program a car’s speed and determine its direction. “It was really cool because that’s in line with what I’m going to need to know in the future,” said Chris, who just completed his freshman year of high school. “To pursue the fields I’m interested in, I’ll need to know programming like the back of my hand.”  BBBS’ scholarship promise is a first step on Chris’s journey to realizing his dreams.

BBBS’ scholarship program offered similar support to other Littles as well. BBBS awarded and promised more than $700,000 in scholarship funds to 210 Littles this year.

Graduating seniors who have been matched with a Big Brother or Sister for more than a year, and who are enrolling in a two or four-year college, university, or accredited trade or technical school, are eligible to receive scholarships of $2,000 – $4,000. Students who are at least 14 years old and who remain matched with a Big Brother or Sister for one year or longer are promised scholarships upon high school graduation.

“This is absolutely one of my favorite events of the year,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. “Pursuing a post-secondary education opens so many doors and opportunities for the kids we serve. Many of our high school graduates are first-generation college students. This ceremony brings our students together and allows us to celebrate their academic achievements and aspirations. When we put that medal around their neck or hand them their scholarship certificate, it is often a game-changer for these young people.”

Cheers and camera flashes greeted the graduating seniors and promisees as they crossed the stage to receive their awards from Thessaly Startzell of the BBBS Foundation Board. Lauren Petrowski of Fox 7 Austin was the emcee for the event, with speeches given by KVUE-TV President and General Manager Kristie Gonzales, Virginia Murillo Fraire, Vice President of Student Services for Austin Community College, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas CEO Brent Fields.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Scholarship Program began in 1986 when the agency received a contribution from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program designed to encourage Little Brothers and Sisters to complete high school and pursue post-secondary education. The program was the first of its kind throughout the nearly 350 BBBS chapters.

Since the program was founded, the agency has awarded more than $5 million in scholarship funds to 2,500 Little Brothers and Sisters in Central Texas.

“For these students and families to know that there is already an investment in their future is a big deal. What’s not to like about that?” said Brent. “BBBS’ Scholarship Program has a powerful impact on the lives of our Littles and their families.”

Following the ceremony, attendees were treated to hummus, chips, fruit, cheese, and chicken hors d’oeuvres provided by Primize Catering. Additional treats were provided by Chick-fil-A and Edible Arrangements. Families were also able to create memories in an onsite photo booth provided by MyEventIsTheBomb.

Special thanks to representatives from the College of Health Care Professions, Texas State University, The Financial Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, and the United States Army who provided graduates and promisees with additional information.  Thanks also to the volunteers who joined us from IBC Bank and the Young Men’s Service League.

See event photos in our Flickr album here

See MyEventIsTheBomb photo booth photos here

Spotlight on Astoria Aviles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s New at Ice Ball 2018?

As temperatures hover around 100 degrees in Austin these days, it’s a perfect time to think about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ frostiest signature event – the upcoming Ice Ball Gala. Complete with an amazing ice sculpture, the Ice Ball is a night of elegance, inspiration and revelry that makes a lifetime of difference for children in our community. It may be in the hottest month of the year, but this year’s event will be the coolest ticket in town offering many new elements and surprises, from a new location to the newly launched fall line of Kendra Scott jewelry.

“The first new element is the Fairmont Austin Hotel – a new location for this year’s gala,” said Lauren Portley, Vice President of Development at BBBS. “The Fairmont is a 37-story, luxury hotel in downtown Austin. We have the entire fifth floor and ballroom for the event.”

The downtown location offers a central gathering spot, as BBBS supporters come from all across the Central Texas area. Plus, the new location offers more room. This is critical as the event grew by 100 participants last year and is on tap to grow even more this year. “The Fairmont is a location that can grow with us. This year the hotel is also offering a limited room deal for participants who want to turn the gala into a ‘staycation’ to enjoy the event, the great hotel, and the downtown area,” Lauren added.

The event also has two new event chairs: Ashley and Justin Yarborough. Justin is the president of Big Bend Brewing Co. and serves as a captain in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He is also a former Big Brother who truly understands BBBS’ mission.

Prior to joining Big Bend Brewing Co., Justin was a director at Kayne Anderson Capital, a leading manager of investment strategies specializing in oil and gas, real estate, credit, and growth private equity. Ashley is a former Miss Texas winner and a graduate of Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Journalism. She has served as an ambassador for the state of Texas and traveled to numerous communities speaking on issues involving culture, politics, and community.

This year’s Ice Ball Host Committee includes a generous mix of new and returning members as well. The larger group is currently working on securing new and exciting silent and live auction items. “We are working to put together special experiences that you can’t just go out and buy,” said Lauren. “Our donors get very excited about the gala. Often it’s because they purchased one of the auction trips the previous year and had such a great time that they can’t wait to see the new items.”

Helping to move these auction items along is another newcomer, auctioneer Heath Hale and his cowboys. This group has worked special events across the state including the Andy Roddick Foundation Gala, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the annual Mack, Jack and McConaughey fundraiser. “Each auction has its own unique goals, challenges and personality. This wide variety of experiences makes galas and fundraising auctions a specialty and a passion for me,” said Heath, who was born into a family of auctioneers. “Through my experience, I have learned what works… and what doesn’t.”

Hale brings with him some experienced “ringmen.” They’re the cowboy bid spotters, who he says are the best in the business. “They love auctions, always have a great time, and people love to watch them in action,” said Heath.

The cowboys will be rustling up plenty of excitement during the auction, but attendees will also enjoy fun activities before they ever enter the main ballroom, including another new addition to the evening… a Kendra Scott pop-up store. This new feature will offer guests the opportunity to try on and shop for select items from the 2018 fall line of Kendra Scott jewelry. As described in People magazine, Kendra Scott’s jewelry is known for its beautiful gemstones and timeless, affordable, chic styles that individuals and celebrities love.

“Kendra Scott has donated jewelry mystery boxes for the past several Ice Ball events,” said Lauren, “and those sold out within the first 30 minutes. I wanted to expand that experience for this year’s Ice Ball and asked if they would provide the pop-up store. They not only agreed to do that, they are also donating a piece from the Kendra Scott Fine Jewelry Collection for our raffle.”

Kendra Scott’s impact extends beyond Ice Ball, however, as the organization is also planning to sponsor a Sister to Sister event for BBBS matches where Bigs and Littles can create their own jewelry pieces at a Kendra Scott store ‘color bar.’ Afterwards, matches will get to meet some of Kendra Scott’s female executives to hear their stories.

“It’s all about women empowering women. It is important for our kids to see how these successful women have gotten to where they are. So often our kids see people in cool jobs but have no idea what it takes to get there,” said Lauren. “Finding ways to help our Littles understand what it takes to get certain jobs, helping them expand their knowledge and experiences, these are opportunities we look for when collaborating with companies. That’s why Kendra Scott is such an exciting partner. They are not only supporting BBBS in terms of revenue, which is wonderful, but they are also supporting our mission by providing learning experiences for our kids.”

It’s this type of direct impact that is a highlight of BBBS’ Ice Ball and one that shines a light on the best new element of the 2018 gala – the BBBS mission moment, an opportunity for everyone in the room to hear from a Big and a Little about the impact mentoring has had on their lives.

“The mission moment is the most exciting new thing for me,” said Lauren. “I love seeing the new match story we are featuring for the evening. We talk about what we do, but for our guests to be able to meet a match, to hear the Little’s story, and then to see people who are really touched and impacted by our work, is powerful. It really is what the event is all about. This event exists to help us create mentoring relationships that change children’s lives. The gala brings people together who care about making a difference for children in our community. We love being able to share the impact of our work during the evening itself.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Ice Ball Gala takes place Saturday, August 25th at 6:00 pm at the Fairmont Austin Hotel, 101 Red River St., in downtown Austin. With ice sculptures, live auctions, silent auctions, dinner and dancing, it’s a fun event, with a life-changing purpose. Go to www.AustinIceBall.org for details.

Bowl for Kids 2018: A Win-Win for Everyone!

It was all hands on deck for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ pirate-themed Bowl for Kids celebration at Highland Lanes April 27th and 28th!

There were eye patches and hooks aplenty as the annual event raised over $136,000 to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas match more kids with caring adult mentors, changing their lives for the better, forever.

More than 1,000 participants enjoyed the spirited festivities complete with costumes, refreshments, souvenirs and prizes. A generous crew of fundraisers– including businesses, individuals, families, volunteers, staff members, and Bigs and Littles, all joined in for two days of bowling fun.

“Bowl for Kids is a good time that ultimately makes a huge impact for kids and families in our community,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas. “This is one of our signature events that gets children off our waiting list and connected with mentors who can make a positive difference in their lives. With over 400 children waiting to be matched, every contribution matters.”

Pirate flags, parrots, mermaids and other buccaneer décor contributed to the festive mood, while a large-scale pirate ship constructed by Rhonda Karcher-Logan of Pape-Dawson Engineers and her merry crew provided a creative photo backdrop for capturing memorable moments.

Even the youngest of participants took part in the fun, donning tricorn hats and wielding foam sabers as junior pirates-in-training. Everyone came together, including many bowlers who have participated in this event for years, to have fun and help kids.

Essential to the event’s success, Bowl for Kids’ 2018 business sponsors included financial consulting firm RSM US LLP – the event’s Kingpin Sponsor, computer technology company ARM, Wells Fargo bank, and Bridgepoint Consulting, as well as our generous host, Highland Lanes. RSM, ARM, Wells Fargo and Bridgepoint Consulting all fielded bowling teams as well, and were joined by a variety of other teams and sponsors from Central Texas architecture, printing, construction, gaming, healthcare, technology, legal and media companies, among others.

“This is the first time my co-workers and I have participated in Bowl for Kids,” said April Justice of General Motors. Her team, Jolly Roger and the GM Gals, really got into the spirit of things by dressing up in pirate hats and specially decorated bowling shirts.

“Wearing the group costumes helped us become more immersed in the event. We had a great time learning more about Bowl for Kids, interacting with other companies, and learning why they are involved with BBBS,” said April. “It also gave us the opportunity to bond outside of work and to do it all for a great cause. It was really the best of all worlds.”

It was especially exciting to see so many fundraisers earn ‘Very Important Bowler’, or VIB, status by raising $1,250 or more.

“This year we had eighteen fundraising teams earn VIB status, which was really great” said development associate, Sara Grauerholz.

By reaching, or surpassing, this fundraising level, VIBs provide the funds needed to support a mentoring relationship between a Big and Little for an entire year. In recognition of their exceptional fundraising efforts, and the difference their contributions make, VIBs enjoy special perks and prizes.

Although the pirate flags have come down, the swords have been put away, and many of our participants’ ships have set sail for other lands, BBBS’ Bowl for Kids 2018 isn’t quite finished. Team fundraising pages will remain online to accept donations for another week or two, meaning there’s still time to contribute to the important work of helping children achieve success in life.

By any measure, Bowl for Kids is a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

Special thanks to our event sponsors: RSM US LLP, iHeartMedia, KVUE, ARM, Highland Lanes, Wells Fargo, Bridgepoint Consulting, Austin Emergency Center, HDR, IE2 Construction, Moody National Bank, O’Connell Robertson, Pape-Dawson Engineers, The Portley Family, Twisted Pixel Games, The Austin Chronicle, Do512, Los Comales on 7th Street, Mueller Living Magazine, and MyEventIsTheBomb.

To make a donation, go to www.bowlforkidsaustin.org

See our 2018 event photos here

See our 2018 photo booth photos here

BBBS & RSM: A Winning Partnership

Giving back is something accounting firm RSM takes seriously… Taking themselves seriously, is another matter.

“In general, somehow, it’s in the DNA of people who are accountants to be very competitive,” laughs Scott Haigler, Office Managing Partner for RSM US LLP. “So, the best thing we can do is make a competition out of our fundraising events.”

And RSM has some competitions that are real doozies – everything from sumo wrestling in over-stuffed “sumo suits,” to winning the opportunity to put a pie in the boss’ face, to finding out who the champion will be in a 10-key type-off event. “We did the sumo wrestling one year and I was one of the two wrestlers,” said Scott. “But we only did it once. I had this idea I would run across the room and knock the other wrestler down, but I’m a CPA, not an engineer, and it backfired. I bounced and crashed.”

All of this activity is in good fun and for a good cause, creating a win-win for everyone involved. “It’s a slam-dunk to be involved with an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Scott. “Our relationship with BBBS has grown over the years and we certainly get more out of it than we give.”

RSM’s involvement with BBBS has grown into a partnership that lasts year-round. RSM is the Kingpin Sponsor for BBBS’ annual Bowl for Kids event, they are involved in BBBS’ Ice Ball gala, the company provides backpacks filled with school supplies for Littles at the beginning of the school year, and they help sponsor BBBS’ annual Holiday Party for Bigs and Littles, among other things.

For RSM, this extensive involvement provides a lot of pluses. “From a business perspective, we’re a service provider,” said Scott, “and part of that service is making Austin a better place to live. We do that through our work with BBBS.”

Another plus for the company is connecting with new job candidates. “The generation coming into the job market now is very interested in public service. It’s a question that is high on the list when we interview potential hires. They want to know what we are doing to give back to the community,” Scott continued. “And BBBS is a respected organization with a proven track record. Our association and involvement make a meaningful difference.”

A third corporate advantage relates to the year-round nature of RSM’s involvement with BBBS. “Partnering year-round allows our employees to be involved in activities that don’t have anything to do with auditing, consulting or tax work, and that’s always a good thing,” said Scott. “The average age of our employees is 26. BBBS’ activities get them energized, and that’s what we want. Doing taxes and audits like we do, especially during the busy season, can take a toll on everyone so we need to do something to recharge our batteries. Working with BBBS gives us ample opportunity to do that”

Scott also sees great value in the team building that occurs among employees who participate in BBBS’ activities and events, especially Bowl for Kids. He likes the camaraderie and socializing the event provides, plus the opportunity to give back that the fundraising offers. “And, everyone loves bowling. It’s all just a lot of fun.”

RSM is the 5th largest accounting firm in the country with over 90 offices around the world, but their Austin employees are giving back locally. At RSM, giving back and working with BBBS is something they are passionate about. It is part of their corporate culture.

“We are able to give even more to BBBS because our corporate foundation matches employee gifts,” said Scott. “This means that employee contributions are doubled and go twice as far.”

He added, “Working with BBBS is invaluable. It’s priceless. I can’t put a price on what the agency does and the incredible impact they have on kids and the community. Investing in BBBS’ work makes the community a better place for everyone. We are proud to be part of that.”

Playing The Long Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register or donate at www.bowlforkidsaustin.org