Big Brothers Big Sisters Opens New Mentoring Center

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas celebrated the opening of its new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center on January 25th at Rathgeber Village in the Robert Mueller Development. Several hundred people attended the historic event, including the agency’s first executive director, first Big Brother, and one of the organization’s founding board chairs. Appropriately, the opening coincided with National Mentoring Month.

Smiles, tears, and excitement were on display as children, families, current and former Big Brothers and Sisters, donors, staff members, community partners and friends came together to mark this special occasion.

The event began with a dynamic performance by “The Thunder,” St. Stephen’s Episcopal School’s talented drumline. Following opening comments by Brent Fields, BBBS’ chief executive officer, guests were welcomed to the facility. Current Big and Little Brothers and Sisters cut the grand opening ribbon and participants were invited to tour the new building. Attendees enjoyed refreshments, a photo booth and the opportunity to share their favorite BBBS stories, memories, hopes and well wishes on specially created ‘Story Cards.’

“It was an historic milestone and a celebration of our rich legacy of community service; one that brought together our past, our present and our future,” Fields remarked. “I loved seeing many of our current Bigs and Littles standing beside our founders during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It was truly a “passing of the torch” as current matches officially opened this amazing facility that will serve children and families now and for generations to come.”

“A favorite memory that I’ll cherish for a long time, was standing at the entry and seeing and hearing the buzz of activity from kids and families, our Bigs and staff. We’ve never had the space to host such a cross-section of people who are part of this mission,” Fields added. “It was pretty neat seeing everyone enjoying the time together. Bringing people together is what our work is all about, and this event underscores how our new Mentoring Center will allow us to do just that.”

BBBS staff also enjoyed seeing the reaction to the new facility. “People were so impressed by how big, how beautiful, how warm and welcoming the building is,” said Ellen Harsch, an enrollment supervisor who is celebrating her 10-year anniversary with the organization.

Work towards this day has been an overarching goal for many years as the agency outgrew its former physical location long ago. At approximately 24,000 sq. ft., the new building is four times the size of the agency’s former facility and it provides ample room for BBBS to serve more children, families and volunteers. Amenities include 6 dedicated meeting and interview rooms, a state-of-the art conference room, two exterior terraces, and a large youth activity center.

“In my entire professional life, I’ve never had a prouder moment. And it’s not just about bricks and stone, but about all that this building represents in terms of what it took to get here and what it allows us to do moving forward,” Fields continued. “It’s exciting to see the agency grow from an organization that was originally focused on providing mentoring services to 10 fatherless boys forty-six years ago, to one that now serves over 1,000 children and families, with a waiting list of over 600.”

“Now, for the first time, we are not constrained by space. We can now work on growing our organization to serve more kids and the community as a whole.”

Currently, there are several organizations working with BBBS to use part of the facility for future gatherings and events. Such community connection provides BBBS a unique way to tell its story and to create more awareness of the agency’s life-changing work. It also gives BBBS a way to ‘pay it forward’ and to support other community groups.

“There are a number of organizations that have shared resources and space with us when we have needed it,” Fields said. “Now we can offer the same service to others.”

“It’s amazing to think how many of our grand opening attendees might one day become Bigs, donors, or staff,” Fields concluded. “And this building will be a connecting point. Ultimately, this space will allow us to bring more people together, make more matches, serve in new ways, and engage more people in what we do and how we do it, expanding our impact in the community.”

In addition to Bigs, Littles, families, donors, alumni, staff, and friends, special guests in attendance at the mentoring center grand opening included Larry Guillot, BBBS’ first executive director; Doug Phelan, the agency’s first official Big Brother; Charles Morrison, one of the organization’s founding board chairs; Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University; Brian Manley, Austin police chief; and building donors and namesakes Laura and Kyndel Bennett, and Sara and Dick Rathgeber.

Grand Opening Comments, Stories and Reflections

As part of our grand opening celebration, guests were invited to share their favorite BBBS stories or memories, or to tell us why they are excited about our new mentoring center.  We received many beautiful responses.  You can read some of them here.

“There are so many things I loved and continue to love about BBBS… interviewing Littles & Bigs and seeing them as matches at events, craziness and meaningful moments at All-Staff meetings, being inspired by my own Little Sister and being matched for 4.5 years and counting, watching Brent run around trying to fix roof leaks at Tillery when it rained (leaks were always in a new spot), the fact that I’m able to have a new role as an advocate for the amazing work and mission that BBBS carries out.” –A Big Sister and Former Staff Member

“BBBS has given me so much: A career I love, a passion for mentoring, amazing friends and coworkers, my Little Sister. This new building will help BBBS continue to do these things for others and will help change people’s lives in the Austin community.” –A Current Staff Member and Big Sister

“I owe a great debt to BBBS of Austin for providing me with a friend for a lifetime. Dale and I were matched in 1981 when I was 7 years old. My father had recently passed away and Dale provided me the friendship and mentorship I desperately needed. I am a current board member and I still see Dale often! Thank you BBBS!” –David, A Former Little and Current Board Member

“When we were called for a match, I was happy. My daughter and her Big Sister have had a 1-year anniversary already and they continue to grow together. I love the program and hope to soon have my other daughter matched with a good Big.” –Mother of a Little

“I have been with the program for about 8 years now. My mom asked if I wanted to be in the program during my year of 5th grade. My grades were struggling. I had no guidance without a father figure in my life. I was matched with my Big Brother and we have been best friends ever since and have grown up together.” –A Little Brother

“I think the center is cool. My best memory is hard to choose because it’s all fun. Rock climbing was fun. I love my Big Sister. Also, this is a big building.” –A Little Sister

“The best memory with my Big was when I went to my basketball game. It was amazing.” –A Little Brother

“Thank you for all the fun activities you guys put on for Bigs & Littles. It’s amazing to see you grow from the small office to this mentoring center! Here’s to many more years of Bigs & Littles FUN!” –A Big Brother

“My favorite memory is every time my Little and I work on our scrapbook, because we get to reminisce on all our outings.  I’m excited for what this new building will have to offer in terms of activities.” –A Big Sister

“I love seeing our Little grow and becoming a confident young man who has an amazing future ahead of him. My husband and I are privileged to say we are a part of his life.” –A Big Couple

“I have seen so many ‘magic moments,’ but there’s something really special about watching our kids walk our BBBS Scholarship stage and hearing about all the awesome post-educational plans they have! We are surrounded by so many fans, supporters and families. I am SO happy to now have a ‘home’ that they can all visit and enjoy.” –A Current Staff Member

“My wife and I were both Bigs in 1994-95 in San Antonio. We ended when our Littles ended the matches and we had our own kids. I was able to re-join the agency in 2013, joining the Board of Directors. It’s been such a pleasure to re-engage and be part of the wonderful growth of this agency.” –A Current Board Member

Thank you all for being an important part of OUR story! If you have your own BBBS memories and comments to share with us, please send them to Brenda at blindfors@bigmentoring.org 

Please Join Us for the Grand Opening of our New Mentoring Center

mentoring-center-grand-opening-card-srgbAs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas marks its 46th year of service in Central Texas, the agency is pleased to announce the grand opening of the organization’s new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center, a facility that will allow BBBS to serve more children and families throughout Central Texas in years to come.

On January 25th, 2017, the agency’s founders, donors, former and current Big and Little Brothers and Sisters, board members, community leaders, families and friends will gather to celebrate the historic opening of this new facility. It is fitting that the center is opening in January, which is also National Mentoring month.

The public is welcome and invited to attend.

Honored guests will include BBBS’ first Executive Director, BBBS’ founding Board Chair, as well as the agency’s first Big Brother, among others. Current and former Bigs and Littles will also be on hand. A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place, and, following opening remarks, tours of the building, interviews, entertainment, activities and refreshments will be provided.

A Message of Gratitude From Our CEO

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“Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”
—William Arthur Ward
 Greetings,

As we approach this season of Thanksgiving, we have so much to be thankful for at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

We have reached an exciting moment in our history with our move to our new facility – the Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center. It’s a moment that has been 45 years in the making. A moment that connects our past, our present and our future. A moment made possible by the work, efforts and involvement of all who have come before us… all who have contributed to making BBBS what it is today.

This is a moment for gratitude.

As I reflect on this unique moment in time, I am grateful to all who have been part of our rich history, who have been part of our work and who have shared in our journey.

I am also grateful for our agency’s 45 years of impactful service in the community, and for the opportunity to continue this work as we move forward.

I am grateful for the creation of this new mentoring center, a place that has been a hope, a need, a dream and a passion for many people, in many ways, over many years.

I am thankful for, and excited about, the new ways this facility will impact our daily work and our work in the community. We are already seeing some of these impacts now:

  • For the first time in our history, our staff and belongings are all under one roof
  • At our October BIG Fall Carnival, our first event in this new location, our new space allowed us to invite all of our matches, volunteers, friends, associates, children and families on our waiting list, alumni, neighbors and others into ‘our house’ – something that has never before been possible.

As I look to the future, I am grateful that we now have the resources in place that will allow us to dream bigger and to think more aspirationally about the impact we can have as we go forward.

Finally, in this season of gathering with those we care about, what I am most grateful for is you. I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate this moment with you, grateful for your role in our lives and our work, and grateful for the privilege of continuing this mission together as we work to improve the lives of children and families in Central Texas.

Warm wishes,

Brent Fields
CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas

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BBBS’ BIG Fall Carnival = Big Fun

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Popcorn, snow cones, inflatable slides, and hula hoops were all part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ BIG Fall Carnival on Saturday, October 29. It was a fall celebration that welcomed an excited crowd of over 300 children, families, and friends to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center in Rathgeber Village.

There were plenty of treats and smiles as many kids came dressed in their Halloween costumes to enjoy the day. “What a great kickoff event for our new facility,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It was a special day for our matches and guests alike.”

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“This event perfectly reflects the new opportunities that our mentoring center will make possible,” Fields continued. “This new space will allow us to serve larger numbers of kids, families and volunteers, to partner with other organizations, and to bring community members together in new ways.”

“We could never have had an event like this at our old facility. We’ve expanded our space and, in so doing, we’ve expanded the kinds of opportunities we can offer those we serve. It’s going to be exciting to see our carnival grow year to year, to watch our organization grow, and to see our impact on the community grow as well.”

“A special ‘thank you’ to Katharine and Ted Barnhill, a former Big Brother and board member, whose generous sponsorship made this event possible.”

Bigs, Littles and employees alike had a great time Saturday. “The best part was watching the kids run up and down the line of games,” laughed Saul Espinoza, one of BBBS’ match support specialists. “You could tell that some parents wanted to slow down a bit, but the kids were having a great time and they just wanted to try everything. I overheard one kid saying ‘I just keep winning!’ He was excited about doing so well at all the different games he was trying.”

The free event was reminiscent of an old-fashioned country fair. Activities included a cake walk, an inflatable slide, a basketball toss, a bean bag throw, an inflatable wrecking ball game, hula hoops, face painting and much more. There were also lots of special treats.

Numerous sponsors and agency partners provided refreshments. Honest Tea supplied drinks. Wells Fargo Bank and BBBS’ board member Carlos Barbosa made freshly popped popcorn, and Edible Arrangements owner and former Big Sister Reva Enzminger provided delicious ‘ghost pops’ (ghost shaped pineapple slices dipped in chocolate) that were quite ‘pop-ular.’

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“The chocolate covered pineapples were probably the biggest hit! Ok, maybe that was my favorite,” Big Brother Abraham Salas remarked. “My Little Brother, Kevin, enjoyed the snacks as well as the football ladder game and the bean bag throwing game. Although we didn’t join in on the inflatable wrecking ball, we enjoyed watching others participate. All of the inflatable games were awesome.”

Representatives from Austin Fire Department Station No. 14 and Austin Emergency Medical Services were also on hand to talk with children and to show off their trucks and equipment.

BBBS’ carnival brought together a diverse group of participants: Bigs, Littles and their families, children and families from BBBS’ waiting list, BBBS’ alumni, board members, staff members, former staff members, and friends, along with children from the Austin Children’s Shelter.

“This was a historic event that marked an important moment in time for our agency,” Fields concluded. “This is the first time in our 45-year history that we’ve been able to invite all of the people connected with BBBS to our space… to our ‘house.’ Our new mentoring center is, and will be, a gathering place…a meeting place… a place to bring people together. And bringing people together is what our organization is all about.”

Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette on Building Capacity

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Mentoring matters. Just ask Huston-Tillotson University President Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, who is nearing her one-year anniversary as head of the Austin institution.

Having benefited from the presence of strong mentors in her own life and having seen the impacts that mentoring makes on her students, Dr. Burnette understands the value of mentoring. She also recognizes the importance of physical spaces that facilitate mentoring in the community, which is why she is so excited about the creation of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center.

“BBBS’ mission is parallel to Huston-Tillotson’s,” Dr. Burnette explained. “Our organizations exist to build the capacity of others. Bricks and mortar are not only tools that advance this work, they say something about its significance.”

“BBBS’ new mentoring center is a sign of growth and of spreading this good work further,” Dr. Burnette continued, “but it is so much more than that. The new center is a symbol of the difference that mentoring makes and it tells children, families and the community that they are worth investing in.”

“Mentoring is transformational. BBBS’ new mentoring center will have a transformational effect on the agency and on the community as a whole…. and when children and families walk in the door of that new space, they will know that they matter.”

Dr. Burnette’s connection with mentoring began at an early age. When her grandmother went to the meat market in Cleveland, Ohio where Burnette grew up, she would ask for extra pieces of the butcher’s paper. Her grandmother then wrote multiplication tables and vocabulary words on the paper and placed them around the kitchen. “My grandmother always made me toast and English tea for breakfast,” Dr. Burnette recalled with a smile, “and I couldn’t have any until I knew all of that day’s vocabulary words and math facts.”

Little did Burnette know that this early mentoring experience would lead her to become the president of a university in Austin, Texas, where today she is continuing her grandmother’s work as an educator and mentor. “I still carry her with me,” Dr. Burnette said. “I still carry the ‘black girl magic’ she taught me…the belief that I can do anything.”

Her enterprising spirit enabled Dr. Burnette to obtain an engineering degree and an excellent position in the corporate world.  “My career is split in half,” she explained. “During the first half, I was a briefcase-carrying corporate executive, but I always had a passion to do something that required heart and mind. Then I tried working with higher education. A mentor of mine told me that I’d never excel if I didn’t have teaching experience, so, much to the dismay of friends and family, I quit my corporate job to teach at a community college.”

Seventeen years later she is still immersed in the world of education, a field that she sees providing opportunity for each generation. “My grandmother saw education as the key to opportunity,” Dr. Burnette remarked. “As a child, I didn’t know that college was optional. I just thought it was the ‘13th grade.’ It was what came after high school.”

“Every generation’s plateau is the platform or springboard for the next generation,” she continued, “and it is education that allows us to advance from one level to the next.”

This philosophy underscores Dr. Burnette’s passion for the work of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and mentoring organizations. She perceives these organizations as offering opportunities to groups that are often overlooked. “At Huston-Tillotson we do something special which is a part of mentoring. We wrap students up in a cocoon of safety and we help them understand that they are special, that they matter, that they are smart and that they can succeed. We give them the support and the tools they need to explore, to develop and to grow…which is what BBBS does as well.”

As the two organizations help individuals, Dr. Burnette knows that they are also helping the community as a whole. “Successful students and mentees become happy, productive citizens, and happy citizens are connected to the community and motivated to give back. BBBS helps students and families find better, more successful paths forward, and that helps everyone.”

“And I’m not just talking about economics or keeping kids off welfare or out of the juvenile justice system,” Dr. Burnette continued, “It’s so much more than that. When children miss out on opportunities to discover and realize their potential, our community loses doctors and teachers and artists. We lose wealth and capacity in a very different way.”

There is a natural connection in Dr. Burnette’s mind between BBBS and Huston-Tillotson University; a connection that extends to the new mentoring center. “BBBS’ new facility will take the agency’s work to a new level by building the organization’s capacity to add staff, to serve more children, families and volunteers, to engage with clients, donors and community partners and to serve as a greater resource for the community as a whole.”

“The new mentoring center will also make a powerful impression and statement, and when children see the new, bigger and better building they will think ‘This is about me. This is for me. I am important.’ And that sense of being valued is critical. It is what we all need to thrive.”

Joe Morales on New Beginnings

Lindfors_160408_9165Joe MoralesLM jpgWork has begun on the second story of the BBBS Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center. As the new building takes shape, it represents the next chapter in BBBS’ story as well. Few people understand this as well as Joe Morales whose own personal history, growth and development are deeply entwined with those of the agency.

As a former Little Brother, a former Big Brother and a former BBBS board member, Joe has a unique perspective on the transformative power of BBBS’ work and the positive impact the new Mentoring Center will have. “I know how BBBS changes lives,” Joe said, “because I’ve lived it. I’ve also seen BBBS grow over the years, and I can hardly wait to see all the things the organization will be able to do in this new space.”

Joe’s involvement with BBBS began when he was 11 years old, three years after his father had left the family. “Thank goodness my mother saw a flyer about Big Brothers Big Sisters and had the foresight to know I needed a positive male influence in my life,” Joe recalled. “I was at an age where I was starting to talk back and get a bit rebellious.”

Joe entered the program reluctantly, telling his mother that he didn’t want a Big Brother. In retrospect, however, he acknowledges that becoming a Little Brother changed the trajectory of his life.

“When I started, BBBS was located on W. 7th street in the old Caritas building, a two-story building with a winding staircase,” Joe said. “The main thing I remember was that staircase and how creaky it was. But, I really liked that building.” It was there that Joe and his mom attended BBBS meetings and there that he was matched with his Big Brother, Dave.

“Talk about somebody who was a great role model,” Joe continued. “Dave was a graduate of Notre Dame. He was getting his masters at UT, worked at IBM, and was married.” Despite these credentials, Joe was not impressed with his Big Brother at first. “I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy? He’s not my father. What is he going to do with me?’”

“And I gotta tell ya,” Joe chuckled, “When I think back on what Dave has done for me, it’s amazing.”

The two spent a lot of time playing tennis and basketball, going bowling, watching movies, or occasionally just sitting and reading books. Dave taught Joe how to play chess. “And he had a boat,” Joe laughed. “The fact that a kid from the east side of town could actually go to Lake Travis and be on a boat for the afternoon was really cool. And these are the types of things BBBS does. The agency takes kids out of their environments and opens up other worlds for them.”

Joe’s favorite times were the Sunday evening dinners Dave and his wife prepared. “I’ll never forget… one day we were standing in his backyard. Dave was grilling burgers. I was looking around and I said ‘Dave, this is a really nice house. I don’t think I will ever have anything like this,’” Joe said. “And Dave told me, ‘Joe, you can have a house like this. You just need to remember three things: whatever you do, get your education; whatever you do, try to be the best; and stay out of trouble, whether it’s with your mom, the school, or the law.’”

Many years later, Joe became a Big Brother. He was in his backyard barbequing with his own Little Brother. “My little guy told me, ‘Joe, you have a really nice house. I’ll never be able to have something like this.’” At that point, Dave’s words popped into Joe’s mind and he passed along the guidance he had received so many years before. “That’s the kind of impact this organization can have,” Joe said. “Those three things sound so simple, but they are so true.”

Joe saw this truth play out as a young man, at about 14 years old. He began running with the wrong crowd, one bent on vandalism and destruction. After a particularly close call with the police, Joe had an epiphany. He wondered what would have happened if he and his friends had been arrested. “My first thought was not ‘What would my mother think?’ but ‘What would Dave think?’” Joe admitted. Consequently, he broke off his friendships with those boys and changed his ways because, he said, “I didn’t want to lose Dave.”

Three years later Joe learned that a woman from Austin had been abducted and killed. When the authorities captured the killers, it turned out that three of the four were guys Joe had been hanging around with as a freshman. “If it hadn’t been for my mom, BBBS and Dave, I could have been in that group,” Joe said.

Joe’s relationship with BBBS evolved again when he became part of BBBS’ board in the 1990s. “My experience on the board taught me just how much work goes on at BBBS behind the scenes,” Joe explained. “I was impressed with the organization’s level of commitment and its drive to serve more kids.”

Construction of the Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center is another step forward for BBBS, and it’s one that Joe is excited about. “I’ve seen BBBS grow from a three-caseworker, local, homespun office to the professionally run organization it is today. Over the years, I’ve watched the agency go from one building to another as they’ve outgrown the space, because the need is so great,” Joe said. “BBBS’ need for a new building is something that’s been talked about since I was on the board. This new facility is going to be state-of-the-art. I can’t wait to see the finished product. This organization has done so much with so little. The impact BBBS will have going forward will be tremendous. The future looks so, so bright for BBBS and for the community.”

With the completion of the building in sight, Joe is contemplating taking his relationship with BBBS to the next level as well. He’s considering becoming a Big Brother again. “I do get emotional when I think about the impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Joe admitted, “because I know where I would have ended up without the organization. The beauty of it is, I’m here… talking about BBBS and watching the organization grow so that it can have that life-changing effect on even more children and families.”