Trevlyn and Briana

It was exactly as they expected. Big Sister Tevlyn and Little Sister Briana both knew what they wanted when they were first matched. Six years later, their friendship still lives up to their expectations.

“I was looking for a volunteer opportunity and Big Brothers Big Sisters just sounded really appealing,” said Trevlyn. “I was excited about the chance to form a connection with someone and to become lifelong friends and sisters – exactly as we have done.”

Little Sister Briana echoed the sentiment. “I like that I am able to have a best friend, and someone I can hang out with a lot.”

Seeing the joy on their faces when together, it’s not surprising the two have always been close. Through the years they’ve shared many adventures while exploring all the different experiences Austin has to offer. One special activity has turned into a tradition for the pair. “Most summers we’ve gone to the Zilker outdoor theater and seen the summer musical,” said Trevlyn. “It’s been fun to sit in the front row and watch the singing and dancing and see the costumes.”

Briana’s favorite outings are going to see movies, but she does remember one special event they attended after being matched. “We went to the circus and that was really cool,” she said.

A more recent outing was to a Round Rock Express baseball game, where Briana was the recipient of a Minor League Baseball Rising Star scholarship check.  The pair were joined by friends and family as Briana got to throw out the “first pitch” of the game. Briana will use the scholarship money to further her education at the University of Houston.

“I want to become an interpreter and translator for the hearing impaired,” said Briana. “I am already taking sign language classes.”

Trevlyn has encouraged Briana with her career choice, but proudly points out that her Little Sister did all of her own research regarding post-secondary education. “I didn’t have any experience with sign language other than a class project in high school,” said Trevlyn. “It’s something Briana pursued when she got into high school. She took classes and then started researching the colleges and universities that have good sign language programs to determine what would work best for her.”

Briana was an excellent student throughout high school. Something that was not always easy considering that she helped with her younger siblings after school when her mom worked. That is not the only responsibility Briana has taken upon her young shoulders. She also works about 20 hours a week to contribute to her family’s finances.

Having a Big Sister to confide in and get support from has been important in Briana’s life. “Trevlyn has impacted my life a lot by helping me decide what I want to do for my career and encouraging me to do what I really love,” said Briana, “and by just being there for me when I need advice.”

Big Sister Trevlyn has also been impacted by the match. “We’ve been matched a long time. It’s something I’m very proud of, our relationship,” said Trevlyn. “I’m proud of the way we’ve gotten to know one another and each other’s families. We’ve all become really close. It’s been a really exciting and beautiful experience.”

It is an experience that will last well past Briana’s high school graduation as the two plan to be part of each other’s lives for a long time. It’s something they expected from the beginning.

Your support makes 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

Ellen and Montse: A Transformational Year

Over the past twelve months we’ve shared stories of some of the matches your support has made possible. As 2017 comes to a close, we followed up with one of these matches to learn more about their year. They have experienced some exciting changes.

When we introduced you to Big Sister Ellen and her Little Sister Montse last spring, Montse was trying to adjust to a new school as a high school freshman. At the time, one of Ellen and Montse’s primary goals was to help Montse become the first person in her family to graduate from high school.

Now, months later, with a year of high school behind her and encouragement from her Big Sister, finishing high school is not her only ambition. Montse has particularly enjoyed studying psychology and learning about the emotional and physical aspects of the human brain. This has inspired her to want to become a physician and she knows that to achieve this goal she will need to attend college.

It is a dream that she has been working toward even though she is only a sophomore. “Montse went on a school-sponsored trip to Louisiana to visit colleges last year,” said Ellen. “This year’s trip is to Washington, D.C. and she really wants to go because she wants to visit one of the schools I attended. However, this trip costs a lot more.”

Montse didn’t think that making this year’s trip was a possibility. She knew that her parents couldn’t afford to send her and she wasn’t sure she could raise the money. She sold popcorn as a fundraiser through her school, but was only able to raise about $100.

“That’s when we decided to set up a fundraising website that I shared through my network,” said Ellen. “We posted a lovely letter Montse wrote explaining who she is and what her aspirations are. I think both of us had low expectations.“

“The response was incredible,” Ellen continued. “We raised almost $800. Even people I work with whom I’ve never actually met donated. I work for a very generous company and the people there always want to help out.”

To make her dream of becoming a doctor a reality, however, the obstacles Montse faces are not only financial. She must also overcome her family’s doubts. Though her family is proud and supportive of her, some members do not believe that she can achieve her dreams. “She has family members who still joke that she will probably just drop out of high school and get married,” Ellen said. “Montse says, ‘I don’t listen to them anymore. They are wrong.’”

Montse has backed up her statement with action this year. “I’ve always encouraged her to do well in school, and she has always been a good ‘B’ student, but she was young and she was dealing with a lot as a kid,” Ellen remarked. “But this year, she has been so much more motivated to be at the top of her class. I’ve never seen that kind of determination in her before. She is now number 1 or number 2 in her class. She loves talking about psychology and about how the brain works. She’s just super excited about it.”

“Eight months ago, Montse wanted to be a special effects makeup artist. That has changed into her wanting to become a doctor,” said Ellen. “I think that’s a really cool transition. She knows what she likes and as she’s exposed to more things, her interests are evolving. It’s super cool to watch.”

Montse has also established some personal goals. She is starting to think about college resumes and is working toward gaining more leadership and service experience than is required by her school. “She really wants to get the Gold Standard for service hours,” said Ellen.

In the past year, Montse has come a long way from simply trying to adjust to a new school. “I actually think that moving to a new school was a blessing,“ said Ellen. “Montse had a lot of friends at her old school and it was a comfortable place. She moved to this new school where she didn’t know anyone, and she put her energy into excelling academically.”

“She is so much more confident now that she’s gained a sense of purpose and a passion. She seems so much more centered and calm,” said Ellen. “This is new. When we were matched three years ago Montse had issues with aggression and she was angry at everyone. Now she knows what she wants to be and she is taking steps to get there. And I will always support her through graduating high school, attending college, and becoming a doctor. It’s been a great year.”

Your support makes matches, and possibilities like these, possible. Montse’s Big Sister has provided her with the support and encouragement to envision and pursue a future that she could not have conceived of before. Thank you for helping Montse, and more children like her.

Teri & Nancy: Quality Time

They were matched at the beginning of the summer, just as school was ending. Big Sister Teri and her Little Sister Nancy have wasted no time, however, in becoming good friends and spending quality girl time together.

“Nancy is naturally quiet and shy,” Teri said, “But we have no trouble talking about all sorts of things.”

Nancy, who is 12 years-old, is one of four children and the only girl in her family, so girl bonding is important. Her mom has worked hard to get her into a lot of good programs, but as a single parent, she doesn’t always have time to give her children individual attention. “Nancy just needs some one-on-one time,” Teri explained. “She likes playing with my mom’s dogs, and sometimes she just wants to have dinner and watch Dancing with the Stars.”

Dance is something Nancy is very interested in and Teri has been researching free dance programs through the Austin Ballet. The pair have also enjoyed exploring other facets of the arts, including painting on canvas, decorating pumpkins, and participating in a Big Brothers Big Sisters Sister 2 Sister event at Café Monet. “Nancy is a very good artist and I try to encourage that at every opportunity,” Teri added.

An employee with the Austin Police Department, Teri has always had an interest in working with kids. BBBS recently launched a new ‘Bigs in Blue’ program that engages law enforcement personnel as mentors, benefiting Bigs and Littles alike.

Halloween was another adventure for this match. They planned a trick-or-treat outing with one of Teri’s friends and her daughters who are Nancy’s age. “This was a chance for Nancy to have some time with me as well as with some other girls her own age. Her mom has said that Nancy has friends, but that she tends to keep to herself because she feels that there is always drama surrounding her friends from school.”

Having a mentor who can provide a break from the drama is important for a child who is naturally shy. “Nancy has a very kind heart,” Teri said. “I showed her the portable donation library in my neighborhood and she thought it was great. She’d never seen anything like it. She said, ‘It’s so nice for people to provide books for others when they don’t have to.’”

As a result, Teri discovered her Little’s love of reading and they’ve been discussing favorite books. “Nancy is reading the book ‘Wonder’ and she has been telling me all about the story.”

“I cannot imagine a better match,” Teri concluded. “BBBS’ staff are so good at what they do. There is no better match for me than Nancy. We get along so well, we have the same sense of humor, and we enjoy a lot of the same things. I’m a little surprised at how amazing the match has been. I see Nancy once a week, but between visits I’m always, always looking forward to the next time I’ll see her.”

Your support makes relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about BBBS’ monthly giving program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here

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

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.”

The Ride of a Lifetime: Kaden and Jennifer

Bigs often say that they get as much, if not more, out of their mentoring relationships as the Littles they mentor. A part of that can be attributed to the pleasure of watching their Littles grow up to experience new and exciting adventures. Big Sister Jennifer recently witnessed such a change when her Little Brother Kaden finally grew tall enough to be in the driver’s seat.

“The first time we went go-karting was in August of 2015,” Jennifer said. “Poor Kaden wasn’t tall enough to touch the pedals himself so he had to be whisked around the track by me (not cool). Then we went again this last April, stopping in on a whim. As we walked up to the go-karts I said, ‘I hope you’re tall enough little guy.’ With a deep breath of confidence, he walked up to the height stick and, luckily, he was just tall enough.”

The outing proved to be a memorable one. According to Jennifer, Kaden’s was the first go-kart in the lineup. As soon as he pushed the pedal down he raced forward and crashed straight into the retaining wall.  The attendant had to help him back onto the track.

“I yelled, ‘What happened?’” Jennifer said, “and he yelled back ‘Hey now, I’ve never driven before!’”  We raced around the track for two whole rounds since there were not a lot of people at the park that day.  I captured the best pictures of Kaden as we crashed into each other on the track. I will cherish those photos forever!”

Theirs has been a great match, though not a conventional one. “I am so thrilled with my relationship with Kaden,” Jennifer added. “My fear has always been that at some point he wouldn’t think it was cool to hang out with a 30-something-year-old woman, but that hasn’t happened. Kaden is always excited when we go on our outings. We talk about life, school, college, and the kind of job he might want to have when he grows up.”

Go-karting is just one of the outings the pair has had where Jennifer has emphasized that Kaden can do anything he sets his mind to. “Kaden is a smart, smart kid,” Jennifer continued. “He’s going to take this world by force as he grows because he’s not afraid to try new things. If an activity is not his thing, then at least he has attempted it and we check it off the list. On one of our first outings we went to a rock climbing wall. Kaden was nervous about climbing too high, but by the end of the day he was ringing the bell at the top and had the biggest smile.”

Jennifer recognizes the value of having a mentor when she thinks of her grandmother. “I spent my summers with her in New York City, and those months were the best in my life. She told me the most fantastic stories, and took me on little adventures all over the city,” Jennifer recalled. “She taught me the importance of giving children memories that last a lifetime.”

“I have seen Kaden grow and change, and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to experience life with him. We only have one shot to set kids up for success and to give them the memories and skills that childhoods should be filled with. Our time is special.”

Monthly contributions to BBBS make relationships like this possible.  Become a Game Changer.

Learn more at www.gamechangersaustin.org

Taking Risks: Audrey and Lizzet

Sometimes it’s something as simple as going ice skating that reveals and releases the inner potential of a child. Big Sister Audrey made that discovery when she took her Little Sister Lizzet to the local ice skating rink to experience an activity she’d enjoyed as a child. She saw Lizzet’s “can-do attitude” overcome uncertainty and help her skate across the ice without help.

“She’s such a great kid. She’s so curious about things in life,” said Audrey, who’s only been matched with Lizzet for a couple of months. “On one of our first outings we went to Starbucks because as an 8-year-old she’s very grown up and thinks she drinks coffee. So, we sat down and made a list of a lot of things we wanted to do. Ice skating is something I wanted to show her and Lizzet was excited to try.”

Lizzet’s willingness to try new things made the experience particularly meaningful for both of them. “Thank goodness that curiosity stuck with her even after she’d been struggling to learn to skate for almost an hour,” Audrey said.

The rink has a wide section at one end where there are no handrails to hang onto and skaters must venture across the ice on their own, or try to hang onto the wall or a helper. “The first few times we crossed that part Lizzet was nervous and held onto my hand the whole way, which frankly I just loved because she is the cutest,” Audrey laughed.

After that, Lizzet would let go of her Big Sister’s hand, fall, get help to get back up, and go again. “Finally, she felt ready to try this section on her own. She let go of my hand and it was just awesome,” Audrey recalled. “She made it to the middle of the ice and I could tell that she had started to panic. I told her that she could do it, to slow down and take a breath. She stopped, took a deep breath, and then she looked forward, and I could just see the fire in her eyes that said ‘I’m going to do this!’”

Making one little movement of her skate at a time, Lizzet made it across the ice and didn’t fall. “We had a party on the other side of that rink,” Audrey said. “People must have thought she’d landed an Olympic-type jump because I was jumping up and down and she was so excited. It was a really great moment, a moment of seeing her determination to succeed really pay off.”

“She was so afraid of falling,” Audrey continued. “One of the big discussions we had was that everyone falls, even those experienced skaters doing spins and jumps. One thing I constantly reiterated was that falling is not failing. If she never wanted to skate again that would be okay, but at least she would have tried it.”

Once Lizzet realized that falling was okay, she was willing to try skating by herself. “I can’t tell you that she learned to ice skate completely or that she’s going to want to go again,” Audrey said, “But I can tell you that by the end of our outing she was not afraid to try something new and risk being unsuccessful.”

Contributions to BBBS create relationships like this, changing children’s lives for the better, forever. Learn more about how you can support BBBS with a one-time or monthly gift here