Amplify Your Support for BBBS: Rain & Elissa

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Amplify Austin is a 24-hour day of community-wide online giving, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is excited to be participating again this year!  Funds raised through Amplify will allow us to create more life-changing mentoring relationships for children in Central Texas.

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Rain & Elissa

Big Sister Elissa and her Little Sister Rain have been matched for so long they say they’ve done just about every activity in the Austin area.

At first they went to parks so Rain could ride her bike. Then their outings shifted to going to the mall and doing “cooler” things. Then things changed again to their current pattern of going to dinner and talking for hours. “I’ve seen the relationship evolve from Rain being a little girl to growing into this young woman who is now my peer,” said Elissa.

Rain lives with her grandmother. When she was first matched with Elissa she was very shy and was having trouble with a few classes in school. But just as their outings evolved, so did their relationship and its impact. “Rain became more outgoing and more willing to reach out to me when she had a problem,” said Elissa. “I’ve seen a level of maturity in her that wasn’t there in the early years.”

Being matched has provided Rain with a sense of security that has allowed her to set goals for the future, goals she’s been working towards for several years as her schoolwork has improved. She now plans to attend a junior college in Texas to focus on academics while pursuing her passion, which is studying dance. She then intends to transfer to an out-of-state college to finish her degree.

“Rain always tells me that our match is very important to her,” said Elissa. “She’s grateful and thankful to me for providing the consistency and support that have allowed her to dream and to grow.”

Your contribution makes relationships like this possible, and changes children’s lives for the better, forever. 

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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.”

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.

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.

Waiting To Be Matched – The Impact

 

 

Kids process time differently than adults do, especially when they are waiting for something special. For kids wanting a mentor, a friend, or someone to help them, being on a waiting list can feel like it takes forever.

“Waiting to be matched with a Big Brother or Sister can seem like it takes a long time,” said Adriana Adams, BBBS Customer Relations Supervisor. “And they take it personally. Kids think ‘There’s something about me that means I can’t get a mentor.’  Parents are more understanding and have better perspective.”

Though they’re understanding, however, waiting is hard on parents as well. “We have parents who are looking for help, who are going through a hard time,” said Adriana. “And they have nowhere else to go. It is really hard to have to tell them that we can’t match their child right away.”

“People will call and tell us stories that show just how much their child needs a Big,” said Ellen Harsch, Enrollment Supervisor. “For example, a mom will say, ‘My child is having a real hard time in school and getting into trouble,’ or ‘My child has been getting into fights since his dad went to jail,’ or ‘My child seems lonely since his dad died.’ Sometimes it can be one hard story after another. And everyone who calls deserves a Big. The family may be going through something that is so hard for them, and one way we can support and help them is to provide a friend, but it’s not something we can just snap our fingers and do immediately because the demand exceeds our staff capacity.”

BBBS’ staff members let parents and children know about the expectations for getting matched, but that doesn’t always make it any easier for families, or for staff, when children are put on the waiting list. “It’s always hard and sad to say ‘No.’ And it’s hard on us as staff because we know how much good a mentor can do,” Ellen continued. “We know that if we could get these kiddos matched we could really make a difference in impacting their lives in a positive way.”

The kids waiting to be matched know that having a mentor can be positive too, as their comments reveal. “One Little Brother said that he wants a mentor because he wants someone he can hang out with and talk to,” said Christina Eisenlord, Enrollment Specialist. “Another Little is the oldest child in his family with a lot of responsibility and he needs some space away from the chaos within the house.”

“One Little Sister is super excited about the possibility of getting a Big Sister because she says she really needs help in school,” Christina continued.

For some of the kids on the waiting list it’s about the companionship of having an adult friend. “One Little Sister hopes to get a Big Sister because she doesn’t want to be lonely,” Christina added. “Her mother has breast cancer and she really wants someone to talk to. She wants more than just fun activities because she’s struggling with what is going on with her mom.”

As new matches get started, it’s exciting to imagine what their futures might hold.

“Once a match begins there’s so much good that can come from it. We see that over and over as Bigs, Littles, and family members move through life events together. While the wait can be a challenge, the benefits, opportunities and relationships that come from being matched can truly last a lifetime,” Ellen said.

Big Brother Chris agreed. “When we first got matched, Keon was a little shy,” he said about his Little Brother Keontray. “He’d talk about his day and I’d ask him all sorts of questions about his life and he’d share if he wanted to.”

“The wait to be matched with Keon was definitely worth it. Since Day One, seeing Keon once a week is the highlight of my week, every single week. The best part is that Keon adds just as much to my life as I do his. He inspires me to be a better person, and to keep pushing through school and work and life. He’s a brilliant kid and I believe in him 100%. I’d do anything for him and his family on any day.”

Is being on the waiting list hard? Yes.

Is it worth the wait? Absolutely!

The Spirit of Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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