Double the Impact – The Veliz Sisters

Being Little Sisters is twice as much fun for Alicia and Raquel. As siblings who are both BBBS Littles, they have twice the Bigs, twice the outings, twice the BBBS scholarship funds, and twice the support for their future plans. Alicia and Raquel are the first in their family to attend college, and after hearing about their goals, it’s clear that these young women are well on their way to achieving success in the world.

Children in a single-parent household, the two were matched with Big Sisters during their middle school years at the urging of their aunt who’d seen the benefits of BBBS’ program.  Alicia, the oldest, is matched with Big Sister Kyra, and she is the more reserved of the two. Raquel is matched with Sarah, and she describes herself as talkative and outgoing. Despite, or maybe due to, their differences, both sisters agree that having Bigs in their lives has made a difference.

“(My Big Sister) Sarah encourages me to be myself, and that’s something I really like about her,” said Raquel. “My mom is very supportive, but she had us when she was so young that she didn’t really get to have a childhood herself. She doesn’t know how to let me be creative, whereas Sarah does. It’s nice to have someone say ‘You can do this. Don’t be afraid.’”

Raquel and her Big are often mistaken for being biological sisters. “She’s very much like me,” said Raquel. “She is super adventurous and she loves to try new things. She always wants to make things, or go to a coffee shop and play board games. I love that. And I can talk to her about anything, and she listens and shares her experiences.”

Alicia agrees that having a Big who is encouraging and a confidante has been a plus in her life, particularly since the biological sisters have very different personalities and were not really close growing up. “(My Big Sister) Kyra has taught me a lot about being professional but not forgetting to have fun,” said Alicia. “We like to be silly, but then Kyra will turn around and give me advice on getting a good credit score. Then we’ll go back to being silly again. Part of what I’m learning is how to keep my business life separate from my personal life.”

It’s an important skill to have, as Alicia is pursuing a major in business management. She recently completed her first year at the University of Texas at San Antonio and she is working as an intern at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas this summer.

Raquel, on the other hand, is a recent high school graduate who is planning to attend Franklin University in Switzerland this fall. She will be studying Environmental Science, but she also plans to get certified to teach English as a Second Language internationally. The opportunity to study abroad is something she simply took a chance on.

“I applied to a lot of different colleges, but Franklin University is the only international school among them,” said Raquel. “The University is supposed to send out acceptance letters before the end of May, and I received mine the very last week. I was nervous. A friend kept saying, ‘If you get in, you have to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’”

“It’s going to be hard being so far away, and it’s going to be hard on my mom, but I’m lucky she’s so supportive,” Raquel admitted. “My Big Sister has also been very supportive. She studied abroad for a year, and she’s been telling me about her experiences, which has helped.”

How will Alicia feel about her sister being so far away? “I’m trying to play it cool. I’m trying to pretend that I’m not going to miss her, but – honestly – I will,” said Alicia. “When Raquel is gone I won’t have anyone pushing me to do fun stuff, even when I don’t want to. When I give in, I always have to admit that I enjoyed it. I just don’t want to tell her!”

The pair have agreed to video chat each week to keep in touch while Raquel is away. Alicia is also saving money to visit Raquel in Switzerland. But each sister plans to give the other space to grow while working toward her own goals.

“Ultimately, I want to own a bakery,” said Alicia, “or possibly go to culinary school after college.” It’s a goal her sister wants her to achieve as well.

“I want Alicia to have a bakery,” said Raquel. “I’ve also thought about how I want my life to be. I want to go to college, get my teaching certificate, teach, retire, then work at Google or somewhere else as a translator, and make a lot of money so that I can get a home for my mom, help my sister get a bakery, and just help my family out because they have supported and helped me.”

She adds, “Of course, sometimes you want one thing, but life throws you another. I like that about life.”

The sisters are both community-minded. They volunteer at events in their neighborhood. Their favorite activity is feeding the homeless at the annual H-E-B Feast of Sharing. They are also supportive of BBBS. Each received a college scholarship from BBBS’ Scholarship Program and each can see themselves becoming a Big Sister one day.

“Working as an intern, it’s been cool to see what actually happens behind the scenes at BBBS,” said Alicia. “I didn’t realize what goes into making a match happen. There’s a lot more to it than I realized. It’s made me appreciate BBBS even more. Part of my internship has involved finding resources for Bigs, and I’ve enjoyed helping them out. I can’t wait until I can become a Big, but I want to be financially stable before I do. I know it’s a long process, but it will be worth it.”

Raquel adds, “I’m always talking to my friends about BBBS, and I’m definitely interested in being a Big.”

Whether they end up overseas or stay in Central Texas, there’s no doubt these sisters will be making a positive mark in the world, representing their family and BBBS, and giving back in a big way.

Trevlyn and Briana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your support makes relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about our Game Changers program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here

Ashley and Justin Yarborough: Our Ice Ball 2018 Chairs

When Ashley and Justin Yarborough agreed to be the Chairs for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Ice Ball gala, it was a fast response that had been building over a lifetime. The lifetimes of three people, actually – Ashley, Justin, and Justin’s Little Brother, Jermaine.

“When Brent Fields approached us about chairing the 2018 Ice Ball Host Committee, it was a quick ‘yes,’ but it wasn’t,” Justin said. “For a long time we’ve wanted to have as big an impact as we can with BBBS. I think about the mark BBBS has made on me, and on us as a family, and about how much the agency has contributed to our understanding of ourselves, our city, and how to give to our community. We wanted to find a way to do more.”

BBBS made its mark on Justin when he was in his early 20’s and freshly returned to Texas after stints working in eco-tourism in the Brazilian rainforest and in financial services at Morgan Stanley in New York. He had relocated to Austin to work at the Capitol and was looking for an opportunity to connect with a local nonprofit. “I was a self-absorbed, 25-year-old,” Justin laughed. “BBBS was a breath of fresh air.”

Justin was matched with a 9-year-old Little Brother, Jermaine. And 13 years later, the two are still close. Jermaine even served as a groomsman in Justin and Ashley’s wedding.

“I grew up in West Texas, near the border,” said Justin. “Like Jermaine, I was raised by a single parent. My dad left home when I was 8 years old. The first summer Jermaine and I were matched was so powerful for me, and I’ve learned so much from him. We could identify with each other right away because I had to assume the role of ‘man of the house’ at an early age, and Jermaine has had to grow up faster than many people his own age as well.”

Justin and Jermaine’s match also made an impact on Ashley, especially early in her relationship with Justin. She jokes that Justin and Jermaine were “testing” her when she traveled with them to West Texas to meet Justin’s family for the first time. “Justin and I had only been dating for about three months when we got into a car in Austin, along with Jermaine and his four siblings, and traveled six and a half hours to the ranch,” said Ashley.

“We were traveling to spend time with my family,” Justin added, “and as a Big Brother, my ‘family’ was extended, so it was only natural for Jermaine and his siblings to be there.”

That trip is one of many special experiences Ashley, Justin, Jermaine, and Jermaine’s family have shared over the years. “To think of all that has transpired since that day,” said Justin, “is just astounding.”

Justin and Ashley met when he was in law school and she was the reigning Miss Texas. Ashley grew up in Pennsylvania, but moved to Texas when she was in high school and fell in love with the state. “As Miss Texas my duties included visiting schools, and I came to recognize the need for kids to have people to look up to and to engage with,” said Ashley. “That helped me understand Justin’s desire to be a Big Brother.”

That understanding deepened at Ashley and Justin’s wedding. “Jermaine’s family was at our wedding rehearsal dinner,” Ashley continued. “They had been a little uneasy about it before that night, but then Jermaine and his older sister got up on stage to share their love and adoration for Justin and they were both in their element. Everyone was blown away by their sincerity and warmth.”

“It was a powerful moment,” Justin agreed. “By that point all of our friends knew Jermaine and his family, and they all doted on him. Jermaine has been an important part of our lives.”

It’s a relationship that has had a profound impact. Ten years ago, Justin’s younger brother, Taylor, passed away. “There was a moment after the burial when Jermaine and I looked at each other and he said ‘Hey, I’m your Little Brother. I’m here for you,’” said Justin. “That meant a lot.”

Unfortunately, it was a moment that was destined to repeat itself as Justin lost his sister, his mother, and his father over a two-year period. “In a short time, my biological family of five was reduced down to just me,” said Justin. “Having Jermaine there was important. There’s a unique part of our relationship that has always been a source of strength for me.”

“It wasn’t always easy, but Jermaine was always there… through the good times and the bad.” Ashley added.

Justin and Ashley reflected on the joys and sorrows they have shared with Jermaine as they scrolled through a digital album of photos that included everything from Thanksgiving dinners, to Easter celebrations, a ski trip, Jermaine’s and his siblings’ first experience with snow, ballgames, graduations, and more. “We’ve done a lot of life together,” said Justin.

It’s this “life” experience with mentoring that inspired Ashley and Justin to play such a major role in the upcoming Ice Ball gala. The couple had just welcomed their infant daughter Ava into their lives at the time of last year’s gala when they agreed to become the 2018 Ice Ball Host Committee Chairs. “The Ice Ball does such a great job of connecting BBBS’ mission to the crowd,” said Ashley. “There are a lot of great events in Austin, but every time I leave the Ice Ball my heart is on fire for the mission. I hope that we can be part of making people feel connected to the agency and the important work it is doing.”

“There are so many kids born into adversity and challenge,” said Justin. “There’s such a need in our city for those who are capable to engage with those who have less, and to engage in such a way that these kids know they are not just important to the city, but that their talents and contributions are essential to it. I believe in mentorship. I want people to know that it doesn’t take much to change someone’s life.”

Ashley and Justin have seen first-hand the difference mentoring can make. It is why they hope this year’s Ice Ball will be another high-water mark in BBBS’ history.

“I don’t think Jermaine or I will ever let the other get too far away from our relationship. I came in to the relationship as a Big Brother thinking ‘I’m going to impart so much wisdom on this young fella, all the valuable lessons I’ve learned,” Justin laughed. “Turns out, he taught me a lot more.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Ice Ball Gala will take place August 25th at the Fairmont Austin. Go to www.AustinIceBall.org for details.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony

The room was filled with excitement, pride and joy at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ 32nd annual Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony. More than 150 family members, friends and Big Brothers and Sisters gathered to honor Little Brothers and Sisters who were receiving college scholarships and scholarship promise medals as part of BBBS’ Scholarship Program.  Kristie Gonzales, President and General Manager of KVUE-TV, was the keynote speaker for the event, which took place June 16 at Austin Community College’s Eastview campus.

“Turn the challenges you face in life into opportunities for growth and success,” said Gonzales, who shared her own personal and professional experiences with attendees. “Let your mentors help you achieve your dreams, and never stop asking their advice on how to get where you want to be. It’s evident from all the people in this room that you have a community standing behind you. And remember, as you climb – lift others.”

Kristie shared her story of becoming a television executive and how mentors made a difference for her. “I’m standing where I am today because mentors helped me find my talent and my path early in life,” said Kristie. “And I still have mentors who are helping me as I move toward my next goals.”

Students received scholarships that will be applied to a variety of institutions and fields of study. This year’s graduates will be attending the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Blinn Junior College and Franklin University in Switzerland, among others. Graduates plan to pursue studies in forensic science, computer engineering, biochemistry, nursing, social work, music, counseling and business.

“The promise of a scholarship means commitment to me,” said Chris, a scholarship promisee. “This medal reflects a commitment to my education. It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to complete my studies. That’s my plan.’ I’m thinking about becoming a robotic programmer or an engineer.”

With the help of his Big Brother Scott, Chris has attended several engineering and programming events in the area. “We wanted to see what is happening here in Austin and what you can do with skills in robotics and artificial intelligence,” said Scott. “We wanted to learn what is available.”

One event they went to involved learning about self-driving cars. The pair had the opportunity to program a car’s speed and determine its direction. “It was really cool because that’s in line with what I’m going to need to know in the future,” said Chris, who just completed his freshman year of high school. “To pursue the fields I’m interested in, I’ll need to know programming like the back of my hand.”  BBBS’ scholarship promise is a first step on Chris’s journey to realizing his dreams.

BBBS’ scholarship program offered similar support to other Littles as well. BBBS awarded and promised more than $700,000 in scholarship funds to 210 Littles this year.

Graduating seniors who have been matched with a Big Brother or Sister for more than a year, and who are enrolling in a two or four-year college, university, or accredited trade or technical school, are eligible to receive scholarships of $2,000 – $4,000. Students who are at least 14 years old and who remain matched with a Big Brother or Sister for one year or longer are promised scholarships upon high school graduation.

“This is absolutely one of my favorite events of the year,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. “Pursuing a post-secondary education opens so many doors and opportunities for the kids we serve. Many of our high school graduates are first-generation college students. This ceremony brings our students together and allows us to celebrate their academic achievements and aspirations. When we put that medal around their neck or hand them their scholarship certificate, it is often a game-changer for these young people.”

Cheers and camera flashes greeted the graduating seniors and promisees as they crossed the stage to receive their awards from Thessaly Startzell of the BBBS Foundation Board. Lauren Petrowski of Fox 7 Austin was the emcee for the event, with speeches given by KVUE-TV President and General Manager Kristie Gonzales, Virginia Murillo Fraire, Vice President of Student Services for Austin Community College, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas CEO Brent Fields.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Scholarship Program began in 1986 when the agency received a contribution from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program designed to encourage Little Brothers and Sisters to complete high school and pursue post-secondary education. The program was the first of its kind throughout the nearly 350 BBBS chapters.

Since the program was founded, the agency has awarded more than $5 million in scholarship funds to 2,500 Little Brothers and Sisters in Central Texas.

“For these students and families to know that there is already an investment in their future is a big deal. What’s not to like about that?” said Brent. “BBBS’ Scholarship Program has a powerful impact on the lives of our Littles and their families.”

Following the ceremony, attendees were treated to hummus, chips, fruit, cheese, and chicken hors d’oeuvres provided by Primize Catering. Additional treats were provided by Chick-fil-A and Edible Arrangements. Families were also able to create memories in an onsite photo booth provided by MyEventIsTheBomb.

Special thanks to representatives from the College of Health Care Professions, Texas State University, The Financial Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, and the United States Army who provided graduates and promisees with additional information.  Thanks also to the volunteers who joined us from IBC Bank and the Young Men’s Service League.

See event photos in our Flickr album here

See MyEventIsTheBomb photo booth photos here

Kristie Gonzales on The Power of Mentoring

There are thousands of TV stations across the country, but only 16.5% of them have female general managers, and very few of them are minorities since less than 8% of all general managers are minorities. One of these talented women is KVUE-TV President and General Manager Kristie Gonzales. Kristie is a community leader who will tell you that her success is due, in large part, to having a mentor.

“Mentors have had a huge impact in my life,” said Kristie. “Those of us who are in leadership roles in this business have had a lot of people who have opened doors for us, lifted us on their backs, and made the difference in our careers. If I hadn’t had mentors early in my career, there’s no way I’d be sitting where I am today.”

Kristie started her professional life as a college student working as a production assistant for the local PBS station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A straight-A student in high school, her favorite pastime was painting but she soon realized that that was not going to pay the bills. “I didn’t recognize my own potential. I was following the path of least resistance,” said Kristie.

“As a student, I wasn’t worried about money because I had a full scholarship, but then I graduated and started looking for a job. I’d always been interested in journalism and television, so I took a TV 101 class. The teacher was an executive producer at KNME-TV and he said, ‘You have a real knack for video editing.’ He then hired me for my first television job when I was 19 years old, and it was a paid position, which was rare. That experience was pivotal, and it is why I am sitting in the general manager’s chair now. Early on, someone saw a talent in me and changed my path forever.”

After graduating, Kristie got hired at a local news station in Albuquerque where she became one of the best editors despite facing enormous challenges in her personal life. At 23, Kristie left an abusive marriage. A few weeks after her divorce, her younger brother died. “At that point I felt like my life was over, not just beginning,” said Kristie. “To deal with my personal struggles, I worked. It was a distraction and it filled up my time. As a result, the station made me chief editor.”

Kristie’s editing skills ultimately took her to one of the strongest TV stations in the country, WPVI in Philadelphia. She was hired for her production skills, but needed to write for the promotion department as well. “They didn’t know I couldn’t write,” laughed Kristie, “because I told them I could. I just had to figure it out on the job. I had to have some confidence to be able to do that, and I think it came from surviving some of the violence I experienced growing up. Those early struggles taught me that I could survive, and even thrive.”

It was in Philadelphia that Kristie connected with another mentor who influenced her career. “The general manager there, Rebecca Campbell, is someone I looked up to,” said Kristie. “I finally had a chance to have lunch with her and I said, ‘I want to find out how you became a general manager. How did you get to where you are in your career?’ Rebecca then took me under her wing and became my career sponsor for the next 10 years.”

As Kristie climbed the corporate ladder, Rebecca gave her a challenge. “She said, ‘You know what I did for you. Now, go and do that same thing for other women and minorities.”

It’s a challenge Kristie took to heart. Looking back at her high school years, she says she didn’t realize that she needed to maximize what she was learning in school. She didn’t know what she needed to do to succeed. It’s why she sees such value in mentoring today.

“In order to develop your own potential, you need to have conversations with people who can teach you how to get to where you want to go and who can show you new paths.”

“That’s why BBBS is so important,” Kristie continued. “BBBS exposes kids to different lifestyles and to new opportunities, and that is huge. Otherwise, kids have no idea that life can be different from what they experience every day.”

Kristie is quick to point out that mentoring is not a “taking,” but rather a reciprocal, relationship. She encourages young people in mentoring relationships to do their homework, to identify goals and to try to be specific about what they want to achieve. “When you’re younger, just being exposed to different paths that are open to you is important,” said Kristie. “For instance, it’s important to understand that you may start a media career as an editor, but that you don’t have to be an editor forever. You can become the news director or the general manager one day, because the people in those roles started out in the same place you did. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that without having someone there to show you what you are capable of and how to get where you want to go.”

Kristie also encourages kids to ask adults about their lives and careers. “If you see someone doing something interesting, ask them how they did it. Be curious and interested in the people and the larger world around you. You never know what kinds of doors your questions might open.”

Even though she is currently a general manager, Kristie is still working with mentors in the media business and still has goals to achieve. “My CEO is now mentoring me,” said Kristie, “because I’ve told him that I want to be a CEO one day.”

Being responsible for the ins and outs of a TV station is a demanding position, but Kristie says she handles it by having a good circle of friends and by giving back to the community and mentoring others, which is where her kinship with BBBS surfaces. Kristie will be speaking to BBBS’ high school graduates and incoming freshman as the keynote speaker for the agency’s 2018 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony on June 16th.

“I’m very excited to share my story at the Scholarship Ceremony,” said Kristie. “I feel a connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. I grew up in a difficult, and often violent, household. I know what it’s like to face hard circumstances and to have to figure out how to survive and thrive. That’s when mentors can make the greatest difference and offer hope.”

Kristie was able to find hope and strength despite her struggles. And, with the help of her mentors, she developed survival and work-related skills that have helped her later in life. “In this industry you have to have a strong voice,” said Kristie. “As a child, I developed a strong voice in response to the violence I saw at home. I have turned that into a gift because now I’m not afraid to be on stage, to face a room full of people, or to fight against social injustice.”

“I refuse to be limited by my past. And that keeps me pushing forward and sharing my story.”

And, as Kristie continues to move forward in her own life and career, she is committed to making it possible for others to do the same.

What’s New at Ice Ball 2018?

As temperatures hover around 100 degrees in Austin these days, it’s a perfect time to think about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ frostiest signature event – the upcoming Ice Ball Gala. Complete with an amazing ice sculpture, the Ice Ball is a night of elegance, inspiration and revelry that makes a lifetime of difference for children in our community. It may be in the hottest month of the year, but this year’s event will be the coolest ticket in town offering many new elements and surprises, from a new location to the newly launched fall line of Kendra Scott jewelry.

“The first new element is the Fairmont Austin Hotel – a new location for this year’s gala,” said Lauren Portley, Vice President of Development at BBBS. “The Fairmont is a 37-story, luxury hotel in downtown Austin. We have the entire fifth floor and ballroom for the event.”

The downtown location offers a central gathering spot, as BBBS supporters come from all across the Central Texas area. Plus, the new location offers more room. This is critical as the event grew by 100 participants last year and is on tap to grow even more this year. “The Fairmont is a location that can grow with us. This year the hotel is also offering a limited room deal for participants who want to turn the gala into a ‘staycation’ to enjoy the event, the great hotel, and the downtown area,” Lauren added.

The event also has two new event chairs: Ashley and Justin Yarborough. Justin is the president of Big Bend Brewing Co. and serves as a captain in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He is also a former Big Brother who truly understands BBBS’ mission.

Prior to joining Big Bend Brewing Co., Justin was a director at Kayne Anderson Capital, a leading manager of investment strategies specializing in oil and gas, real estate, credit, and growth private equity. Ashley is a former Miss Texas winner and a graduate of Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Journalism. She has served as an ambassador for the state of Texas and traveled to numerous communities speaking on issues involving culture, politics, and community.

This year’s Ice Ball Host Committee includes a generous mix of new and returning members as well. The larger group is currently working on securing new and exciting silent and live auction items. “We are working to put together special experiences that you can’t just go out and buy,” said Lauren. “Our donors get very excited about the gala. Often it’s because they purchased one of the auction trips the previous year and had such a great time that they can’t wait to see the new items.”

Helping to move these auction items along is another newcomer, auctioneer Heath Hale and his cowboys. This group has worked special events across the state including the Andy Roddick Foundation Gala, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the annual Mack, Jack and McConaughey fundraiser. “Each auction has its own unique goals, challenges and personality. This wide variety of experiences makes galas and fundraising auctions a specialty and a passion for me,” said Heath, who was born into a family of auctioneers. “Through my experience, I have learned what works… and what doesn’t.”

Hale brings with him some experienced “ringmen.” They’re the cowboy bid spotters, who he says are the best in the business. “They love auctions, always have a great time, and people love to watch them in action,” said Heath.

The cowboys will be rustling up plenty of excitement during the auction, but attendees will also enjoy fun activities before they ever enter the main ballroom, including another new addition to the evening… a Kendra Scott pop-up store. This new feature will offer guests the opportunity to try on and shop for select items from the 2018 fall line of Kendra Scott jewelry. As described in People magazine, Kendra Scott’s jewelry is known for its beautiful gemstones and timeless, affordable, chic styles that individuals and celebrities love.

“Kendra Scott has donated jewelry mystery boxes for the past several Ice Ball events,” said Lauren, “and those sold out within the first 30 minutes. I wanted to expand that experience for this year’s Ice Ball and asked if they would provide the pop-up store. They not only agreed to do that, they are also donating a piece from the Kendra Scott Fine Jewelry Collection for our raffle.”

Kendra Scott’s impact extends beyond Ice Ball, however, as the organization is also planning to sponsor a Sister to Sister event for BBBS matches where Bigs and Littles can create their own jewelry pieces at a Kendra Scott store ‘color bar.’ Afterwards, matches will get to meet some of Kendra Scott’s female executives to hear their stories.

“It’s all about women empowering women. It is important for our kids to see how these successful women have gotten to where they are. So often our kids see people in cool jobs but have no idea what it takes to get there,” said Lauren. “Finding ways to help our Littles understand what it takes to get certain jobs, helping them expand their knowledge and experiences, these are opportunities we look for when collaborating with companies. That’s why Kendra Scott is such an exciting partner. They are not only supporting BBBS in terms of revenue, which is wonderful, but they are also supporting our mission by providing learning experiences for our kids.”

It’s this type of direct impact that is a highlight of BBBS’ Ice Ball and one that shines a light on the best new element of the 2018 gala – the BBBS mission moment, an opportunity for everyone in the room to hear from a Big and a Little about the impact mentoring has had on their lives.

“The mission moment is the most exciting new thing for me,” said Lauren. “I love seeing the new match story we are featuring for the evening. We talk about what we do, but for our guests to be able to meet a match, to hear the Little’s story, and then to see people who are really touched and impacted by our work, is powerful. It really is what the event is all about. This event exists to help us create mentoring relationships that change children’s lives. The gala brings people together who care about making a difference for children in our community. We love being able to share the impact of our work during the evening itself.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2018 Ice Ball Gala takes place Saturday, August 25th at 6:00 pm at the Fairmont Austin Hotel, 101 Red River St., in downtown Austin. With ice sculptures, live auctions, silent auctions, dinner and dancing, it’s a fun event, with a life-changing purpose. Go to www.AustinIceBall.org for details.

Spotlight on Emily Burdette

Just a few years ago, while working in the online marketing field in Nashville, Emily Burdette realized she was ready to make a change.

“I started thinking about how I wanted to be remembered,” she says, “and how I wanted to make a difference.”

Seeking time and space to consider new possibilities, Emily left Tennessee to teach English in South Korea and travel throughout Asia. Discovering meaningful and enduring new friendships along the way, she ultimately felt drawn to follow a new professional direction in the non-profit world.

Her move to Austin set her on the path that eventually led to her current position as a Customer Relations Specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

Serving as the initial point of contact for the families and volunteers reaching out to BBBS, Emily gets the ball rolling logistically when people want to become involved with the agency. By keeping these first steps moving smoothly, she plays an essential role in supporting BBBS’ mission to help all kids succeed in life.

“I find a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I’m starting the process that ultimately leads to good outcomes,” she says.

Families and potential volunteers rely on her to learn the essentials about BBBS and to decide if the agency’s programs fit their needs. If so, Emily guides them through the necessary application and screening processes, finally bringing together clients and Enrollment Specialists in-person for intake interviews.

In her customer relations role, she generally sees just the beginning of a match relationship. After helping families and volunteers move on to the interview process, her first-hand contact with them lessens. Even so, she remains enthusiastically engaged in BBBS’ progress, proudly watching the numbers on the waitlist decrease and knowing that she’s played an essential role in helping Bigs and Littles find each other.

“That’s my favorite part of the job– connecting people,” says Emily.

At other times, however, her work is more challenging. Families approaching BBBS for the first time are often facing difficult circumstances and strong emotions. “They come to us for help in all kinds of situations,” she says.

As a result, at times she finds herself offering not only information, but also an empathetic ear.

Balancing work with a variety of outside interests, Emily makes time to travel, upcycle furniture, listen to live music around town, and spend downtime with her husband and their Rottweiler. Currently, however, her favorite way to relax is to float in a sensory deprivation tank.

“I wish I had one in my home!” she says.

She and her husband also pursue a shared interest in indoor and outdoor aquaponics, enjoying a bountiful harvest of kale, spaghetti squash, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers!

Relaxing and recharging helps Emily maintain her energy and enthusiasm for her vital role as BBBS’ first point of contact with families and volunteers. Creating a positive first impression, instilling confidence and extending empathy, Emily is undeniably helping to set the course for life-changing relationships.