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

bbbs2016-d2-f-128

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.”

A Little Goes A Long Way

dajuanjoel-2016crop

He may have been the smallest player on the football field, but he made a big impact at the Colt McCoy Football Camp. Seven-year-old BBBS Little Brother Dajuan Jessie impressed everyone as he competed with 16-year-olds and came away with the #1 Draft Pick award at the camp this past July.

“On the first day of the camp I was sitting up in the stands when they announced they were going to select someone as the #1 Draft Pick,” said Joel Luton, Dajuan’s Big Brother. “I thought, ‘I wonder who’s gonna win that.’ And only two hours into the camp, out of approximately 200 students, they chose Dajuan.”

Dajuan was very “chill” about winning the award and the games during the camp, Joel explained. But his grandmother, Christi, who he lives with, said Dajuan couldn’t stop talking about the event and winning the award after it was all over. When Dajuan was asked how he won the event he simply shrugged, glanced at his grandmother and said, “I eat my carrots.”

dajuan-5“In one game I just went up the middle and they were trying to get me but I stiff-armed them and slapped their hands away,” Dajuan continued, reliving the moment. When his grandmother asked if the other players could catch him, he replied simply, “No.”

People who know Dajuan are not completely surprised. Match Support Specialist, Rah-Taja Doggett, who supported Joel and Dajuan’s match said, “Dajuan may be small in stature, but he is very fast. He’s also very smart with a very high reading level and he’s been playing in the city league since he was five.”

Plus, he just loves football, which also makes him a perfect match with Joel. “When I interviewed to be a Big I asked to be matched with a younger kid who was active, liked sports, and had a sense of humor,” Joel said. The two have hit it off perfectly, spending time going to UT baseball games, UT football scrimmages, and even going bowling.

“They put the bumpers up when we went bowling,” Joel added. “Dajuan had never bowled before and he was really pleased that he was beating me.”

Joel says that he can see that competitive spirit in Dajuan when he participates in anything and that it’s part of what helps the youngster succeed. “He takes (football) very seriously,” Joel explained. “Dajuan was one of the smallest kids at the camp, but he was the one who caught a bunch of passes in a row.”

During the camp the players were placed on teams and in divisions by age. There were five teams in Dajuan’s division and his team won all their games and received a gold medal. “I asked him if he was the reason they won,” Joel said “and he confidently said, ‘Yes.’”

Dajuan also applies his competitive spirit to his academics: on his most recent report card he scored all A’s.

dajuan4He participated in the Colt McCoy Football Camp with tickets donated to BBBS. “When BBBS offered the camp openings to any match that wanted to participate, I jumped at the chance,” Joel said.

Joel got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters over 20 years ago in Houston when he took over a match for a friend who was being transferred out of the country. He eventually had to move and end the match himself. A couple of years ago, however, when he retired in Austin, he began to think about what he wanted to do with his time. He knew he wanted to volunteer and, being familiar with BBBS, he signed up to become a Big.

“I took Dajuan to a UT scrimmage. He had never been in DKR Texas Memorial Stadium and he was just entranced by it,” Joel said. “This is what I enjoy most about being a Big Brother…. seeing these things, the stadium and the football players, through the eyes of a kid. Seeing that excitement.”

Dajuan’s sense of humor is something else Joel enjoys. The two were on one of their first outings riding around in the car when Dajuan told Joel that his grandfather had passed away and that he was an angel in heaven. He then asked about Joel’s parents. “I told him my father was in heaven too but that my mother was still alive and that she was 96 years old. And there was this pause in the conversation and Dajuan said, ‘That’s just not right,’” Joel laughed. “I told my mother and she got a chuckle out of it too.”

The Texas Longhorns are Dajuan’s favorite team right now and he hopes to grow up to play for them. “I want to be a football player when I get bigger,” Dajuan said. “And I’m gonna play in the NFL. But when I play in the NFL I’m gonna get hit.”

He may get hit if they can catch him, but Dajuan is already showing he’s got the skills to pursue his dreams and come out ahead.

 

dajuan-1      dajuan-3

Going the Distance

fidencio-photo-partyjpg2-v2

It could be Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ longest-running match. It’s hard to be sure. What those involved can be sure of is the life-changing impact this match has had on both the Big, John Farnish, and his Little Brother, Fidencio Perez.

fidencio-and-farnish-from-statesman-article-old_nlm-copy

“I was about 7 or 8 when we were matched,” Fidencio said. “On one of our first outings we went to Peter Pan putt-putt golf and then to Sandy’s Frozen Custard Stand afterwards. I’d never been to either one, never had a dipped ice cream cone. That was a first experience for me and it was great!”

Fidencio was matched with John Farnish, an employee at Bergstrom Air Force Base. John grew up on the streets of Philadelphia until he got help from a local priest. He made a commitment then that if he ever “made it out” he would help someone else. Consequently, he became a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

As a Big, John asked to be matched with a child who “had a tough shot at life.” Fidencio’s circumstances were difficult. He had been exposed to drugs, alcohol and violence, and his home life was hurting his school work and negatively impacting his sleep. John and his wife, Dot, provided much-needed support and filled in a lot of the pieces missing in Fidencio’s life before they even had children of their own.

“In the fifth grade I was in a school play, and John and his wife were there. Soccer, he was at every game. Football, he was at every game,” Fidencio recalled. “I rarely saw my mom. I never met my dad. I was living at my grandma’s when we were matched. But John was always there.”

John encouraged Fidencio’s love of the outdoors and took him on camping trips. He even taught him how to fish, something Fidencio still enjoys today.

“I remember the travels, the places we went and the things we did,” he said, “but the things I remember most were our conversations. We talked about everything – girls, school, politics. And he listened.”

John offered Fidencio advice and suggested things he might try, something he still does today.

Yes, you read that correctly. More than 40 years later, this match is still active. These two men still check in on each other, and still talk about what is going on in their lives. They may only talk two or three times a year, but the bond established as a Big and Little is alive and well.

“I respect John with all my heart,” Fidencio said. “He took the place of someone who was never there.”

When Fidencio turned 18 he asked John how he could pay him back for all he’d done for him. “John told me that I couldn’t… that instead I had to help someone else. So I started looking for ways to give back.”

For the next 11 years Fidencio paid it forward. He helped start a youth center in East Austin where he worked with hundreds of kids impacted by local gangs. On one occasion he got John to help him and he gave his former Big a tour of the center.

A year or two later, when they had gotten together following the death of John’s wife, John reflected on the work Fidencio was involved in. “He said, ‘That program you showed me… How many kids do you help?’ I told him the number was over 700, and he said ‘Well, you’ve paid me back.’ He remembered that conversation we’d had when I was 18.”

Fidencio met his wife, Gloria, when they both worked at the youth activity center. She has since become a Big Sister herself: another example of how BBBS’ impact continues to expand and to ripple outward, with one life and relationship affecting another. Fidencio and his wife both experienced real-life struggles, he explained, which is why they both felt so committed to helping kids with difficult backgrounds.

“BBBS is an amazing program,” Fidencio continued. “It guides children to something better. In the community I grew up in, dads just weren’t at home. Having a Big Brother definitely changed my life.”

That Big – Little connection didn’t stop when Fidencio graduated from high school. For more than 40 years John and Fidencio have continued to be there for each other, through struggles and losses and good times as well. They recently celebrated the 90th birthday of John’s mother-in-law, who Fidencio got to know early in the pair’s match.

“John has impacted my life in a way I didn’t think possible, and I’m totally grateful,” Fidencio remarked. “My whole life is better because of his influence. I met him as a Big Brother, but he has become so much more.”

Providing Hope – Guest Post by Jennifer Reyes

ReyesIMG_7358 copysm

What difference does mentoring make? Can it really change a life? You might well wonder.

Several months ago we received a letter from a former Little Sister who had written to tell us about her experience.  Here, in her own words, is Jennifer’s account of the difference that her relationship with her Big Sister made for her. We appreciate her willingness to share her story. It is powerful. —BBBS

———————

Hello.  I don’t know how to start this message, but here goes. I used to be a Little Sister, back in 2002 or so. My Big Sister’s name was Kelly Miller.

As a child, my life was hard. It changed immensely after my only parent passed away tragically. In our household, love was rarely to never shown. I did not know how it felt to be cared about, and Kelly showed me that much-needed affection. She took such good care of me and I miss her dearly.

I can still recall exactly how I felt when I saw her. My heart would beat with excitement as I waited for her on my doorstep. I always looked forward to her arrival. I would run out and jump happily into her small Toyota, anxious to find out what we had in store for that day. She never failed to disappoint.

I liked to draw a lot as a kid and she bought me a sketch book and tools so that I could draw to my heart’s content. I wanted to learn to drive a standard car, so she began showing me the basics. I loved swimming, so she constantly took me swimming. She worked at Dell and I liked computers, so she took the time to show me how to work with one. One time, she took me to the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. I had never been there before, and it was so awesome! I had no idea there were places where you could eat and watch movies at the same time! I will never forget that day. She bought me a chocolate mousse cake and I devoured it as we got ready to watch the movie.

My sisters envied me so much and I loved it! Sometimes Kelly even let me bring a sister or two along on our outings! I never wanted to leave her side.

Kelly knew all my idiosyncrasies and encouraged me to be true to myself at all times. I had never had a relationship with an adult the way I had one with her.

Some of my older family members criticized Kelly because I spent so much time with her. They said it was weird for a stranger to be so nice to a child. I thought it was horrible for them to talk about her, when all she knew was to be kind. But what they didn’t know is that this beautiful woman was reaching out to a very lost child, pulling me out of a dark place that I just couldn’t shake off. Before Kelly came into my life, I would lock myself in closets for hours at a time, and I was secretly starving and hurting myself. I felt so alone and depressed.

I am grateful for Kelly’s role in my life, and even though I haven’t seen her in a long time, I appreciate her greatly. She showed me love when I needed it the most. She deserves a lot of credit for the person that I have become today. If it weren’t for her, I know that I would have ended up in an environment that I should not have been in.

I am in school now, working toward my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I will transfer to UT soon, and I also have a daughter of my own. Thanks to my amazing Big Sister Kelly Miller, I knew from early on how important my education would be.

I want to thank you for allowing me and my sisters to be part of this amazing program. Kelly was a wonderful person and a positive role model. I have so much to thank her for. My only hope is that you can help me find her. I will never forget the genuine kindness she showed me.

She provided hope to a little girl who had none.

Thank you,

Jennifer Reyes

Photo: Jennifer Reyes with her daughter, Rosalee.