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

The Importance of Male Mentors: Building Futures

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas became a reality due to the work in the early 1960’s of several men who recognized the need for adult mentorship for boys without fathers and boys in the juvenile court system. The men realized that these boys lacked, and needed, positive male role models in their lives.

Fast forward 50 years and the need for male mentors is as great today as when the agency first began. For every male who signs up to be a mentor, two more are needed. Over 80% of the kids who are actively looking for Bigs are boys, and we are running out of men to match them with (currently only 15% of volunteer inquiries are from men). Male mentors are essential to helping boys achieve a positive sense of their own strengths and identities, whether it’s playing catch with a baseball or, as one match discovered, building a coffee table for the house.

“I’ve never gotten to build anything before. It was pretty fun. I thought I would just be attaching a few pieces (for the coffee table),” said Little Brother Keontray. “I didn’t know I was going to do everything.” And he does mean, everything. Keontray soon discovered he would be sawing, planing wood, attaching the pieces, and assembling the whole table. The result was a hand-made coffee table that is so sturdy it can bear the full weight of his Big Brother, Chris.

“When we were done I stood on the table to show him how solid it was,” Chris said. “Keontray couldn’t stop smiling. He kept saying ‘I can’t believe I made that, I can’t believe I made that.’  The table is in his living room where he sees it every day and it reminds him of this one solid thing that he has done. He tells me he’ll be sitting with his mom and she’ll smile and point at the table and say, ‘You built that!’”

Learning to build things is one of many life lessons Chris is sharing with his Little Brother – life lessons that come from his own experiences, but also from his dad. “My dad came from El Salvador and he is an electrical engineer,” Chris continued. “I used to watch him build stuff like alarm clocks or pieces for computers, and it was always fascinating to me. When I was 11 I started helping him around the house. We replaced a fence that was old and rotted. That experience taught me that hard work pays off. When you build something, you can put in hours and hours, plus a lot of sweat, and have something to show for it. I look at that fence now and say ‘My dad and I did that.’”

The skills of creating, of making something with your own hands, and of enjoying hard work are all things Chris wants to pass along.  “Keontray had a rough 2016. His grandfather passed away and that was tough. His dad got out of jail, but he’s never been in Keontray’s life, so to lose a male role model like his grandfather was hard,” Chris said.

Chris understands the importance of mentoring. “When I was Keontray’s age I had both parents and I still went through a lot – fighting at home with my mom, dealing with very bad relationships with friends,” Chris explained.  “I went through many of the same things he’s going through, but my family wasn’t really there for me when I needed to talk about problems or when I had general questions about the opposite sex or about relationships.”

Consequently, Chris’ favorite part of the match is being there for Keontray, listening to his questions, and discussing the answers. The two talk about things that have gone wrong and how those things can be made better the next time.

“I just look forward to seeing Keontray and hearing about all that has gone on during the week,” said Chris, who is a senior at Texas State University. “He’s as much my friend as he is my Little Brother.  Our relationship is not just about him coming to me for advice. Our relationship gives him the opportunity to form his own opinions and thoughts.”

Another skill Chris is teaching Keontray is that of cooking. The pair have made lasagna and enchiladas and Chris has even taught him how to season and prepare chicken. “That way, when he does go out into the world, he’ll be able to fend for himself,” Chris laughed.

In Chris’s mind, their relationship is all about providing Keontray with a blueprint and the tools for success. “In addition to passing on skills and values, male mentors give boys an idea of what they can become, what to aim for, and how to act in the world,” Chris said.

“It’s important for boys to have someone in their lives who can say, ‘It’s okay to not be fine. At one point things were not fine with me, but I got through it and here’s how I did it.’ Boys need men who can serve as examples, and who are willing to invest in, and listen to, them.”

Chris acknowledges that he and Keontray are from very different backgrounds. Chris is a white young man from the suburbs and Keontray is an African-American teenager who has lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. “Keontray has experienced racist slurs from white kids at school,” Chris added. “In our match, it’s really important for him to see that not everyone is like that and that people of different races can care about each other.”

Chris encourages other men to become Big Brothers as well. “If you have experienced anything,” Chris says, “it’s your duty to pass that experience along to someone who needs it.”

Chris believes this so strongly that he has decided to put his plans to enter medical school on hold in order to remain a mentor to Keontray until he graduates from high school. It’s no wonder the two say they will be brothers for life. “When I first met Chris it was awkward,” Keontray admitted, “but now I actually see him as family.”

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

Life Lessons: Ellen and Montse

Together they’re going to break the cycle. Little Sister Montse is going to be the first in her family to finish high school, with her Big Sister’s help. It’s a goal that has faced more than one challenge as Montse has moved to two new schools in the past two years.

“The first move was difficult, but Montse was younger and she adapted quickly,” Big Sister Ellen said. “But the second move occurred right before her freshman year of high school. It was a shock because she was set to go to the school where her friends were going. She found out a few days before school started that she was going to be moving to a charter school that had different rules, that she would have to wear a uniform, and that she didn’t quite “click” with the people there.”

Ellen helped Montse focus on the positive aspects of the move and talked with her about her concerns. “I talked with her a lot. It’s definitely been harder for her at this new school, but she will come out on top,” Ellen remarked. “Montse’s a wonderful person. We have goal-setting sessions once in a while and her number one goal is always to graduate from high school. It’s very important to her.”

Part of that motivation comes from hanging out with her Big Sister. “I don’t think she would have had the support to do as well as she’s doing in school without a Big Sister,” Ellen admitted. “It’s not my telling her what to do. It’s just hanging out with me and knowing that I went to college and that I make decisions for myself.” Having Ellen as a role model has helped Montse avoid making the same choices her female relatives made when they dropped out of school.

“Doing something different is hard. It raises a lot of questions and uncertainty, but she is persevering,” Ellen said. “Montse is very artistic and wants to pursue her interest in special effects makeup. I have a movie producer friend who has a studio for that type of thing and we’re going to take a tour.”

Special activities like this and other outings with her Big Sister provide Montse with positive ways to escape the stresses of her day-to-day world. “Technically, she’s homeless. Her family is living with her aunt and cousins, and I know that’s hard. She shares a room with two other girls which is not conducive to getting homework done,” Ellen added. “We take breaks by going hiking, walking dogs, and volunteering.”

It’s this time together and the small things in their relationship that seem to have the biggest impact. “Things that I don’t think are of importance, Montse learns from and internalizes. She sees that even the small decisions I’ve made in my life have made a difference and impacted my happiness, and she emulates that,” Ellen said. “But Montse also teaches me new things every single time we meet. I’ve grown exponentially because of her influence on me.”

“I work for a non-profit and we do good things for lots of people, but I never understood the importance of making an impact on one person’s life so deeply until I became involved with BBBS. Realizing that the smallest things I do or say have such a huge impact on someone else – that’s why I’ve done this for 3 years and it’s why I will never stop being Montse’s Big Sister,” Ellen concluded.

“People want to save the world, but I think helping one person is so much more powerful. I can’t save the world, but I can help Montse change hers… and that’s significant.”

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

Sophia is Waiting for A Big Sister

sophia-game-changers-1a-2016Every child has a dream. Having the resources to make that dream a reality however, is not a part of every child’s life.

Sophia is a 9-year-old girl who dreams of working with animals. “When I get older I know I want to help at the animal shelter,” Sophia said, “because I want to be a vet.”

Esmeralda, Sophia’s mom, wants to help her daughter achieve these dreams, but as a single parent that can be a challenge. Esmeralda and Sophia are waiting to be matched with a Big Sister.

“I think having someone around who is not a family member will really help Sophia in a positive way,” Esmeralda remarked. “A Big Sister will give Sophia someone to look up to, someone who can help her be more independent and someone who can inspire her in new ways.”

Esmeralda knows how powerful a mentoring relationship can be because she had the opportunity to experience one herself. “When I was in elementary school, I had someone come in and work with me,” Esmeralda continued. “I know that feeling of having another adult come around and spend time with me. It meant a lot just having someone dedicate their time. Time is very valuable.”

Time is valuable to those who give it, but it is also important to those who receive it. It is especially important for a child whose dreams and hopes can be fueled simply by having an adult spend time with them.

sophia-game-changers-2b-2016“I look forward to having fun with a Big Sister,” Sophia said, “and not just staying home and doing nothing.”

“Going back to my own time with a mentor and the things I’ve read about Psychology and Human Growth and Development, I think it helps to have another adult involved in a child’s life who is not a family member. Kids don’t always like to listen to their parents,” Esmeralda continued, “so if a child hears another adult talk about achieving goals, it can inspire them and give them hope.”

Hope is essential to keeping dreams alive. This is something Esmeralda knows as she and Sophia wait for a Big Sister to come into their lives. “I am thankful that there is a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters,” she said. “We are eager to find the right Big Sister for Sophia. We waiting, but we are hopeful.”

You can be that hope for a child.

Your gift to BBBS can change a child’s life for the better, forever, by allowing us to match more children like Sophia, and the other children on our waiting list, with the mentors they need and deserve.

You can make a meaningful, one-time gift here

Or, you can make a monthly gift as a BBBS Game Changer here

No matter how you choose to give, every gift to BBBS will be used to create more mentoring relationships for children in Central Texas, providing hope, and help, to children and families in our community. And there’s no greater gift than that.

Joshua Is Waiting For A Big Brother

 

dsc02643cropWhat is Joshua looking for in a Big Brother? “Basically, just someone who can throw and catch,” he says, matter-of-factly.

Joshua is a 10-year-old boy who loves sports and the outdoors. However, being an only child in a single-parent household, he is missing a male role model who could help him realize dreams and possibilities he has never even imagined. He is waiting for a Big Brother.

“Joshua is funny, smart, active and kind,” said his mom, Kay. “I see such potential for a positive impact from the right man who could be a friend and mentor to my son, helping him grow in new ways.”

Joshua is very bright, but like many kids his age, he sees academic pursuits as “nerdy” and uncool. “I hope a mentor can impact that part of his goal setting and vision for himself as well,” Kay added. “I hope that, ultimately, Joshua can seek to be both a scholar and an athlete.”

At this point in his life, Joshua focuses on football because that is the one area where he can consistently connect with his dad. Joshua needs a Big Brother who can offer support and expand his world view.

“A Big Brother would help build my confidence,” Joshua admitted.

His mother sees her son’s struggle and recognizes his need to connect with a constructive male influence. “I see it all the time in the ways he interacts with, and talks about, his science teacher, male coaches and more,” Kay continued.

Joshua dreams of fame, fortune and sports. He says he wants to be “an NFL star.” His mom finds the “star” part interesting because Joshua also enjoys singing and making people laugh. “I’m sure there are many things Joshua hasn’t even imagined that could be part of his life with the support of a great match.”

dsc02651Joshua knows exactly how long he’s been waiting for a mentor. It turns out he’s been counting the months.

Joshua and his mom connected with BBBS after seeing the positive results friends and co-workers had experienced from being part of the program. Now they are waiting for that same positive impact in their own lives.

“The need is great and the opportunity to have a magnificent, lasting effect on a kid’s life is huge,” Kay said. “There’s no way to overstate that.”

By making a monthly gift to BBBS as part of our new Game Changers program, you can change a child’s – and indeed, a family’s – life for the better, forever. Your support will provide Joshua, and the other children on our waiting list, with the mentoring relationships they so richly deserve.

As a Game Changer, you decide how much you’d like to give, and that amount will be automatically and securely deducted from your account each month. Each gift will be gratefully received and carefully used to create more mentoring relationships for children in Central Texas.

Be a Game Changer.  Join now.

Learn more here.

Finding Her Way

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Children are resilient, but they can reach a breaking point. Alyssa is a 16-year-old who is the youngest of 4 children. After experiencing a series of tragic events, Alyssa was losing her way – until she was matched with a Big Sister.

“She was on the wrong path. She had lost hope. You could just see it in her,” said her mother, Stephanie, who pointedly admitted that she feared her daughter would end up in jail or dead.

The difficulties began when the family’s home was flooded and they had to move. Six months later their house burned down and they had to move again. Not long after that, the family suffered through yet another flood, all within a two-year period. Alyssa was in the house during the most recent flood and it terrified her. These events began to take a toll on the teenager.

“Her attitude changed and she acted like she didn’t care about anything,” her mother continued. “She was getting into fights and had to be transferred to different schools. She was climbing out of windows to run away from school. It was really bad.”

Things started to change about 6 months ago, when Alyssa was matched with Rebecca. The two had an instant connection. Alyssa had found a friend who could help her get back onto a positive path. “They were both very comfortable with each other,” Stephanie said. “They found it easy to talk to one another.”

Rebecca became a Big because she remembered her own mentors and how they’d contributed to her life. “I wanted to be that person for someone else,” she recalled.

As a Big, Rebecca had two goals. She wanted to be someone Alyssa could open up to and talk to in a way that she couldn’t with her mom and siblings. Becca, as the family calls her, also wanted to support Alyssa in a practical sense by encouraging her to graduate, to find a career and to succeed. According to the family, both goals are being met.

“Now, oh my gosh, how Alyssa’s changed,” her mother continued. “She volunteers at the animal shelter. She is in FFA, a leadership program, at school. Becca got her out hiking. She just has a better outlook on life.”

Alyssa’s grades have also improved under Becca’s tutelage. “Last year she failed several classes, but this year she’s passing all of her classes and has gotten A’s in some,” Becca explained. “I’m so proud of her.”

Becca and Alyssa both enjoy the outdoors and going on hikes together. “We also really enjoy food,” Becca laughed. “So, we will often go to dinner for our outing.” One new place that Alyssa seems to like is the Hit the Spot Café.

“She also really loves animals and once a month we volunteer at the animal shelter,” Becca added. “I helped her apply to volunteer and signed up with her, but she’s kind of run with it. She now goes to help out after school. It’s something that’s become a part of her life and that she’s doing of her own accord. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of her for. I could see her working with animals as a career.”

Having a career wasn’t something Alyssa had even thought about until the pair took a tour of Texas State University. “Now she’s started talking about going to college and life after high school,” Becca said, “and I don’t even bring it up. I get excited when I see her making such progress, becoming more confident and starting to make goals for herself.”

Before being matched with Rebecca, Alyssa had never wanted to go to college. Now however she says, “I am going to go to college.”

“Becca has opened my eyes and helped me to see that no matter where you come from you can always aim higher,” Alyssa explained. Alyssa would be the first in her family to attend college.

Her mom, Stephanie, agrees that Alyssa has a new attitude about her future. “Alyssa really looks up to Becca,” she said. “Now Alyssa tells me, ‘I know what I’m going to do with my life and I’m going to get there. I’m going to make good money, and buy a house. I’m going to be somebody.’ I have never heard her talk like that before.”

As Alyssa makes her way to the life she envisions, she plans on having her Big Sister Becca by her side. “Yes, we’ll be friends for life,” Alyssa said.

Becca agrees. “Alyssa is wonderful and I look forward to hanging out with her. I really want to see her through high school and support her next steps.”

Such support is not lost on Alyssa. She knows what her Big Sister is doing for her. “Becca is a wonderful person who has really changed me,” Alyssa added, “and I really do love her for that.”