BBBS’ 2018 Bigs of the Year


An experienced and trusted adviser, someone who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time” –  that is the dictionary definition of a mentor. But at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, our mentors, our Bigs, are that and so much more as they build deep friendships that change children’s lives for the better.

Consequently, when National Mentoring Month arrives in January, BBBS is ready to celebrate and honor the amazing volunteers who give their time and energy to help children succeed.

“As we enter a new year, it is only appropriate to pause and consider the importance of volunteerism at BBBS. National Mentoring Month is a good reminder that we can only realize our vision of helping children achieve success in life because of the service of our volunteer mentors – our Big Brothers and Sisters,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas.

“This past year our Bigs contributed almost 60,000 hours of volunteer service to our Littles.  You can’t put a price tag on that kind of contribution and it’s critical to everything we do.  On behalf of our staff, board, donors, and about 1,000 kids served last year – I want to say a big “THANKS” to everyone serving (past, present or future) in this transformational way!”

“National Mentoring Month is a great time for BBBS,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs. “Not only are we able to thank and recognize our amazing volunteers, but it’s also a terrific opportunity for us to share more about the power of mentoring, spread awareness of all the work that BBBS is doing in the community, and recruit new volunteers for the program!  January is by far our busiest time for inquiries from both prospective parents and volunteers, which is great – we are always in need of new volunteers, especially men and bilingual Bigs!”

During National Mentoring Month BBBS recognizes its volunteers by announcing the agency’s 2018 Central Texas Bigs of the Year.  Winners at the local level go on to be considered for statewide, and then possibly national, Big of the Year honors. BBBS of Central Texas’ 2018 Bigs of the Year are Big Sister Maggie Johnson and Big Brother Nicholas Johnson (no relation). Maggie Johnson has also been recognized as the 2018 Big Sister of the Year for the state of Texas.

Maggie & Kirida

“When I met my little sister, Kirida, in 2012, she was initially pretty shy with me,” said Maggie. “So, we spent most of our time together in the beginning just doing fun activities to try to help her relax and have a space where she didn’t have to worry so much.”

Kirida was struggling at school when she first met her Big Sister and was often in trouble for fighting due to bullying from other students. She was very reactive, struggling to manage her emotions, and the other students knew she could be taunted into fighting. She was suspended from school almost weekly.

“I could tell that Kirida was bright and had amazing potential,” said Maggie, “because despite the trouble that she frequently was in at school for her behavior, she consistently made really good grades. Since academics were not a problem, I knew that we had to work on the other things that she needed to successfully reach her goals of graduating from high school and attending college. My focus became that of helping her increase her self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and coping strategies.”

“When I was having a rough time we would just sit in Maggie’s car in front of my house and map out my day. We would talk about how I felt and positive ways to react,” said Kirida. “Maggie was the main reason I kept from fighting during those times. Everyone told me that I would wind up dead or in jail, but Maggie was the one who asked, “What is the root of all of this? What and who are you angry at?”

“When I was battling depression, one thing that always kept me from self-harm was Maggie’s comment, “There are people out here who love you, whether you know it or not, and who are willing to help,” Kirida continued.

The two became much like actual sisters as Maggie offered support and encouragement, eventually helping her Little Sister find her niche on the school’s wrestling team. Being part of the team provided Kirida with a physical outlet that helped her manage her emotions while gaining confidence and self-control.

Kirida’s mom was working two jobs and going to school at night, so it was Maggie who often took Kirida to and from practices. Both women were standing side-by-side, however, as Kirida walked across the stage at her high school graduation. Kirida recently completed her first semester at Texas A&M as a first-generation college student.

“Our match gave her someone to support her and to cheer her on when things got tough,” said Maggie. “Kirida is one of the most resilient and determined young women I know and she has been an inspiration and a wonderful addition to my life. She has told me that she feels like we are “family” and always will be. I feel the same way and think that we will be connected for a very long time.”

Nicholas and Tiy

“I can still remember my first meeting with my Little Brother Tiy (short for Mi’Tiy) who was 11,” said Nicholas. “Honestly, I didn’t really know what to talk about. I’d never hung out with an 11-year-old for longer than 10 minutes before. I was nervous and awkward, but Tiy either didn’t notice, or didn’t care – or it might have been the shortest match in history.”

Throughout the next months and years Nicholas learned that he didn’t need to dazzle Tiy with brilliant conversation or flashy activities, he just needed to be there. “With both of his parents working multiple jobs to support him and his 4 siblings, he spent a lot of time at home and didn’t get a chance to do much. After I figured that out, I stopped stressing about outings as much. I realized that I didn’t need the “perfect” activity, I just needed to show up,” said Nicholas.  “The most memorable, random activity we ever did together was going to Dick’s Sporting Goods and walking around the store for over an hour. We went into each section and just played with the equipment: baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse. We even got to use their golf simulator!”

As the pair’s relationship grew, Tiy became more open and asked more questions about complicated topics. “It took some time, but I discovered that I didn’t need to have all the answers; sometimes I just needed to listen,” said Nicholas.

Being there and listening impacted Tiy in a deep way.  “I don’t know where I would be if Mr. Nick was not in my life,” said Tiy.  “He is always there for me at my football games, when I need help understanding something at school, or even if I just have a question about something.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nick, for your time, for all the new activities we have done together, for encouraging me and helping me think about the future.  Thank you for being my Big Brother… for real.”

Mentoring Month is a time for all of us to remember and thank our mentors – people who took the time to be there for us, to guide us and to make a difference in our lives forever. At BBBS we are proud to continue this rich tradition of giving back, and we are honored to work alongside the Bigs, children and families who enrich our lives – and each other’s – every day.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Opens New Mentoring Center


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.

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.

BBBS’ 2017 Bigs of the Year


Take a moment to recall the different mentors you’ve known, those people who took time to teach you a skill or life lesson, who really listened to you, who inspired you, or who were always there for you. We’ve all had mentors in our lives.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ mission is to help children succeed in life. We do this by pairing children with caring adult volunteers who serve as role models, mentors and guides. These mentoring relationships are transformative and life-changing for children, for adults, and for the community.

January is National Mentoring month: a time when we celebrate those who donate their time and energy to provide opportunities and care for others.

“National Mentoring Month allows us to celebrate the incredible impact and power of mentoring,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs. “We use this time to recognize and thank our current Big Brothers and Big Sisters for their involvement and to raise awareness of the need for even more individuals, community groups and businesses to engage in this life-changing work.”

In January BBBS also announces the agency’s Central Texas Bigs of the Year. BBBS’ 2017 awardees include Big Sister Meredith Curran, Big Brother Jeremy Giroir and Big Couple Vanessa Ordones and Dixon Hankins. These individuals are recognized for their exemplary service, dedication and impact as mentors.

Meredith and Takeria

“It’s been a 7-year adventure,” Meredith said of her match with Little Sister Takeria. In the beginning, she recalled sitting across from her future Little Sister and wondering what she might have in common with the shy 8-year-old she had just met.


It turns out that the two have had a lot in common. They have shared a lot of “firsts” together, such as Takeria’s first hayride and first baseball game. They have also enjoyed running errands, baking and simply hanging out at Meredith’s house. “Takeria even helped me transport a scared dog from one animal shelter to another through my role as a volunteer at Austin Pets Alive,” Meredith added. “When I pick her up and include her in my activities, it makes them much more fun!”

Takeria agreed. “Just spending time with Meredith in general is the best,” she remarked. “I never knew that having a Big Sister would be such an amazing experience.”

Takeria has always introduced Meredith as her Big Sister. When the two met at Takeria’s middle school for lunch one day, a little boy looked at Meredith with surprise when Takeria said she was her Big Sister and said, “But you’re not black!” Takeria just laughed and went on with her conversation. “Nothing fazes her – I mean nothing!” Meredith joked.

Meredith attributes this year’s Big of the Year award to Takeria as much as to herself. “Without her eagerness and dedication to spending time with me, I would not have been nominated for this award, The greatest accomplishment in my life is being a Big Sister. This adventure with Takeria is priceless. I am confident it will never end.”

Jeremy and Dylan

Jeremy Giroir sees his match continuing long after his Little Brother Dylan has graduated from high school as well. “From the very first time I met Dylan I felt like he was family,” Jeremy said. “Although Dylan was very shy at first, it didn’t take long before I saw his eyes light up with curiosity and his playful jokester spirit come out. To say that he quickly became part of my life is a gross understatement. Hanging out with him is not something I feel like I “have” to do, or that I’m “supposed” to do, it’s something I GET to do.”


One of the other things Jeremy gets to do is to see the world anew through the eyes of his Little Brother, whether playing basketball and football or visiting a college campus. “Some of my favorite conversations with Dylan involve talking about what he wants to be when he grows up, or what college he wants to go to,” Jeremy continued. “It’s beyond refreshing to see his confusion turn into excitement when he realizes that he can choose his path in life.”

Jeremy sees this simple interest in a child’s life as being the key difference between kids who have dreams of successful futures and those who don’t. “A child’s excitement about the future is like a light bulb that can only be illuminated by someone who genuinely cares about them and who is willing to spend the time and effort to help them turn it on,” Jeremy said. “Being part of an organization that allows these connections to happen is a no-brainer for me. I can’t say enough about the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I think it truly changes the world one relationship at a time.”

Dylan also values his relationship with Jeremy. “Jeremy is a good role model,” Dylan remarked. “Because he helps me, I want to help people too. When I say my prayers at night I pray that everyone can have a Big Brother like me. Jeremy is a great friend and I tell everyone he is the best Big Brother ever!”

Vanessa, Dixon and Fred

In addition to a Big Brother and Sister, this year a Big Couple of the Year has also been selected – Vanessa Ordones and Dixon Hankins. They have been involved with BBBS for over six years.

Vanessa and Dixon have become like family to Little Brother Fred. They have cheered him fred-and-dixonon at sporting events, played games together and helped him focus on his academics and future aspirations. Early in their match, Fred was in attendance when Dixon earned his Master’s degree from the University of Texas. This sparked a growing interest in higher education and Dixon and Vanessa recently cheered Fred on in turn as he walked across the stage to earn his high school diploma. Fred is now utilizing his BBBS scholarship as a freshman at Lamar Technical Institute in Beaumont.

“I feel we’ve had an impact on Fred’s life and he’s definitely had an impact on ours,” Dixon said. “Fred has had plenty of challenges, and it’s been inspiring to see his positive outlook on life,” Vanessa added. “With us and Fred, this is life-long. We’ll be a part of his life, and he’ll be a part of ours, forever.”

With such exceptional examples of all that mentoring can do, National Mentoring month reminds us of those who’ve impacted our own lives, and inspires us to ‘pay it forward’ by providing time, care, support and opportunities for others.