Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Waiting List

Big Brothers Big Sisters works hard to match as many kids who want mentors as possible. Unfortunately, matching all of the kids who apply doesn’t just automatically happen. Consequently, kids end up on our “waiting list.” We talked with Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs, to explore why this happens and how more kids can be moved off the waiting list and into the mentoring relationships they need and deserve.

What is BBBS’ “waiting list” and who is on it?

JS: We always have far more kids and parents who inquire about getting matched with a Big Brother or Sister than we can accommodate (match). Our “waiting list” consists of those kids/families who have inquired about getting matched, but who we can’t immediately start in the enrollment process. We keep all of their information, and when we reach the point where we can actively start looking for a match for them, we’ll call them to set up an interview and get them started in the process.

We try to be open, upfront and realistic about matching kids.  Our goal is that anyone we interview and take through the full enrollment process is someone we feel we can find a great match for – and quickly.  This is the best use of staff time, makes for the most effective matches, and gives kids/families the most realistic picture of our ability to match them with a Big Brother or Sister.

Why do we have a waiting list?

JS: Two things: supply and demand, and money.

Every BBBS agency I know of receives more inquiries from kids/parents than 1) inquiries from volunteers, and 2) than they can effectively match.  Part of the challenge is that typically about 70% of inquiries are to enroll Little Brothers, while only about 30% of inquiries to volunteer are from Big Brothers – so there’s a major imbalance in folks coming into the program.  We typically have around 600 kids on our waiting list and around 80% or more of those kids are boys.  Big Brothers who come into our program, who enroll, and who are approved, get matched very quickly, but we never have enough men volunteering to fill the need.

By money, we mean contributions and revenue to help us hire more staff to serve more kids. Throughout our process, each department (Customer Relations, Enrollment and Match Support) consistently operates at full capacity.  For example, we have a team of about 8 Match Support Specialists who introduce new Bigs and Littles and support existing matches.  We estimate that each MSS can support 85-90 matches at most and still maintain a high level of service to their matches.  This level of quality is critical to our ability to achieve positive outcomes for each of the kids we match. We could serve more kids at a lower level, but that would negate much of the impact that we see in high-quality, professionally-supported mentoring relationships.  Over the last year, our entire staff has been operating at 98-100% of our projected capacity in every area.  We’re doing our best to have the biggest impact on as many kids as we can.  If we were able to hire more staff, we could serve more matches and move more kids off the waiting list and through the process more quickly.

What is the impact of the waiting list on some of our matches? Are there situations where one sibling is matched and another is not?

JS: We do our best to move families through the process together and not leave one sibling matched and another or others waiting for very long.  Again, we want to make the best possible matches, but we consider all siblings in a family when we start the enrollment process.

We also do our best to keep siblings on the same Match Support Specialist caseload.  Our staff do a great job of establishing trust and healthy relationships with each of our families and often, it’s best when one staff member can be the point of contact for families with multiple kiddos.

 The waiting list has gone down. What have we done to achieve this success?

JS: Over the last year, our Customer Relations team has done a great job of reaching out to those on the waiting list to ensure that families are still engaged with us as well as looking for kids we are likely to be able to match more quickly.  We have received some funding from grants and foundations that has helped us to serve populations that can often be a bit harder to match.  We have also been tracking our volunteer inquiries closely and looking for kids on the waiting list who are likely to be a good fit for the volunteers who are coming into the program.  Along with this, we have been starting with those who have been on the waiting list the longest and trying to move these kids forward more quickly than we’ve been able to in the past.  Often when we have parents/guardians and kids who inquired a year or two ago, who have patiently been waiting to start the process, and who continue to want to be in the program – these are the kids and families who will thrive in a match.  They’re committed, engaged, and excited.

However, the wait list constantly fluctuates. At times, we have more than 700 kids waiting, and recently we’ve decreased that to around 500.  BUT, we typically receive more inquiries early in the year than throughout the summer and late in the year, so our list is likely to move back over 600 in the beginning of 2018.

How can people help? What is needed to reduce the list even further?

JS: We will always need more male volunteers and funding to serve more kids.

Male Volunteers – As mentioned, our wait list is almost completely full of Little Brothers wanting Big Brothers.  We never have enough men volunteering as Bigs. Of the approx. 600 kids waiting, about 500 of those are boys.

Also, typically about 90% of the young people we serve are from minority populations (mainly Hispanic and African-American), while nearly 70% of our volunteers are Caucasian. So about 450 of the young people on our waiting list are boys and young men of color.

Although we do match across ethnicities and see positive outcomes from these matches, Littles and families often ask to be matched with a Big of the same race/ethnicity, feeling that this Big may be able to better relate to the Little, and to understand the challenges they’re facing.

Regarding volunteer Bigs, we always have a need for men, men of color and bilingual Bigs (both male and female).

Funding – Even if we had an influx of hundreds of male volunteers, we wouldn’t necessarily be able to enroll and match them as quickly as we would like to because of the need for more staff to support them.

Is there still a need?

JS: Absolutely – and there always will be, particularly as our region grows.  BBBS will always have kids/families wanting mentors.  My hope is that, while we will always have a “waiting list,” we will start to be able to move people through the process much more quickly and efficiently.  And, instead of telling people that they’ll have to wait to be interviewed and start the process, we’ll be able to get them enrolled and immediately start looking for a good match.

One of the things we share with both families/kids and Bigs is that we never guarantee how long it will take to find a match. We would rather take more time to make a good match, than force a potential bad match to happen quickly. Creating quality matches is our highest priority.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Center Receives Sustainability Award

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ new Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center has won an Austin Energy Green Building 3-star energy award. The award honors community structures that support a cleaner environment through efficient water and energy use and that provide healthy, comfortable spaces for staff, clients or residents.

The new mentoring center is part of the Mueller Redevelopment, a LEED Gold Neighborhood Development certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The eco-friendly building opened its doors on January 25, 2016. Although the mentoring center is four times larger than the agency’s former facility, it takes only twice as much energy to run. A number of innovative features reduce energy use. The facility’s core support spaces use natural light reducing the need for artificial lighting, and an energy-efficient HVAC system reduces the system’s run time.

Situated on a public bus route, the building offers easy public access without a car, reducing gas consumption and emissions.

The building design also supports increased physical activity and employee wellness. On the second floor, the Youth Activity Center provides a place for Bigs and their Little Brothers and Sisters to relax or play games. During the week, staff use the space to practice yoga.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is proud to be part of such a forward-thinking community that supports a cleaner, healthier environment.  The site of a former municipal airport, Mueller offers a sense of community and multiple amenities. A blend of commercial and residential spaces, the Mueller neighborhood boasts parks, restaurants, a grocery store, apartments, and homes, all within walking distance.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ new building aligns with the agency’s mission of creating brighter, healthier futures and outcomes for children.

The award was presented to BBBS’ CEO Brent Fields at a national Green Building Sustainability Celebration held at the Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center on November 14th.

“Receiving this award is such an honor,” Brent said. “We strive to maintain an eco-friendly and sustainable environment. It’s exciting to know that this energy efficient building is helping us to make an even greater difference in our community.”

See pictures from the award celebration here

Photo credit Arnold Wells/SK photo. Images provided by Austin Energy.

About Big Brothers Big Sisters:

Big Brothers Big Sisters serves nearly 1,000 children in Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bell counties every year. For more than 46 years we have matched children, ages 6–16, with supportive adult mentors who build friendships and offer encouragement and support to each child, helping them discover opportunities and build skills that lead to success in life. Last year more than 98 percent of the children served by BBBS remained in school, improved or maintained their grades, and avoided early parenting. Children served by our program also attend college at rates that are twice the national average for their peers. For more information, visit www.BigMentoring.org.

About AEGB:

Since 1991, Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) has been cultivating innovation in building and transportation for the enrichment of the community’s environmental, economic and human well-being. This mission is achieved through green building ratings, consulting services, code advancement, education and professional development. AEGB ratings raise the standards for energy efficiency, water quality and conservation, community compactness and connectedness, indoor environmental quality, material recourses and site development. The AEGB ratings are specific to Austin and reward sustainable building practices on a scale of one to five stars.

U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each operating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.

Scholarship Partnership with The Cagle Law Firm, P.C.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Announces College Scholarship Partnership with The Cagle Law Firm, P.C.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters, our vision is that all children achieve success in life. Therefore, we are excited to announce we are partnering with The Cagle Law Firm, P.C. in Austin to award two outstanding high school seniors a college scholarship of $1,000 each. We want to award students in our program who share our values of helping those in need and giving back to the community.

More about the Scholarship
The scholarship is open to current college students and high school seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.5.

The applicants must also fulfill one of the following criteria:
● Graduating high school senior currently in an active BBBS match and planning to attend a qualifying school/program.
● Big Futures matches – active match with student 18 years or older and attending a qualifying school/program
● Any past Little planning to attend a qualifying school/program.

In addition to filling out the application the applicants are asked to complete an essay highlighting how Big Brothers Big Sisters has influenced their lives and their decision to pursue a higher education.

Cagle Law Firm BBBS Scholarship
A full list of scholarship requirements and the application can be found at The Cagle Law Firm website here.

Good luck to all the applicants!

A Message of Thanksgiving

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”  – Albert Schweitzer

This 2017 Thanksgiving season marks an unprecedented moment in time for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas as we reflect on a year of dreams come true. With thanks to donors, volunteers, families and Littles, board members, staff, and the community, we’ve had a banner year.

We celebrate being in our new Mentoring Center for over a year and all of the opportunities that has provided. We are connecting with our community and matches in ways we’ve never done before.

  • Monthly Youth Activity Center nights in our building – evenings where Bigs and Littles come together for fun crafts, games and socializing.
  • Providing local meeting space for other agencies, businesses and organizations.
We are thankful for a year of achievement. In 2017 our work was recognized and honored with numerous awards:
  • BBBS National Board of the Year
  • 2017 Austin Business Journal Non-profit CEO of the Year
  • BBBS National Gold Standard Award winner
  • BBBS National Agency of the Year – finalist
  • 2017 Austin Business Journal Best Place to Work
2017 was also a time of new initiatives as BBBS launched several new programs:
  • Bigs in Blue in partnership with the Austin Police Department.
  • Big Futures, which continues our work with matches as Littles enter their first years of college or the workforce.
  • Big Impact Group – a new group of BBBS volunteers committed to increasing support of and for BBBS in many ways.

We have a dynamic professional staff in place, a new facility, our quality metrics are at an all-time high, and we have a mentoring model that works. Our dreams are a reality because of you.

I am so thankful for your commitment to BBBS’ mission. We are grateful for the opportunity to work alongside you as we strive to make every child’s dream of success come true.

Warmest wishes,


Brent Fields
CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas

Teri & Nancy: Quality Time

They were matched at the beginning of the summer, just as school was ending. Big Sister Teri and her Little Sister Nancy have wasted no time, however, in becoming good friends and spending quality girl time together.

“Nancy is naturally quiet and shy,” Teri said, “But we have no trouble talking about all sorts of things.”

Nancy, who is 12 years-old, is one of four children and the only girl in her family, so girl bonding is important. Her mom has worked hard to get her into a lot of good programs, but as a single parent, she doesn’t always have time to give her children individual attention. “Nancy just needs some one-on-one time,” Teri explained. “She likes playing with my mom’s dogs, and sometimes she just wants to have dinner and watch Dancing with the Stars.”

Dance is something Nancy is very interested in and Teri has been researching free dance programs through the Austin Ballet. The pair have also enjoyed exploring other facets of the arts, including painting on canvas, decorating pumpkins, and participating in a Big Brothers Big Sisters Sister 2 Sister event at Café Monet. “Nancy is a very good artist and I try to encourage that at every opportunity,” Teri added.

An employee with the Austin Police Department, Teri has always had an interest in working with kids. BBBS recently launched a new ‘Bigs in Blue’ program that engages law enforcement personnel as mentors, benefiting Bigs and Littles alike.

Halloween was another adventure for this match. They planned a trick-or-treat outing with one of Teri’s friends and her daughters who are Nancy’s age. “This was a chance for Nancy to have some time with me as well as with some other girls her own age. Her mom has said that Nancy has friends, but that she tends to keep to herself because she feels that there is always drama surrounding her friends from school.”

Having a mentor who can provide a break from the drama is important for a child who is naturally shy. “Nancy has a very kind heart,” Teri said. “I showed her the portable donation library in my neighborhood and she thought it was great. She’d never seen anything like it. She said, ‘It’s so nice for people to provide books for others when they don’t have to.’”

As a result, Teri discovered her Little’s love of reading and they’ve been discussing favorite books. “Nancy is reading the book ‘Wonder’ and she has been telling me all about the story.”

“I cannot imagine a better match,” Teri concluded. “BBBS’ staff are so good at what they do. There is no better match for me than Nancy. We get along so well, we have the same sense of humor, and we enjoy a lot of the same things. I’m a little surprised at how amazing the match has been. I see Nancy once a week, but between visits I’m always, always looking forward to the next time I’ll see her.”

Your support makes relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about BBBS’ monthly giving program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here

Making a BIG Difference

Community engagement is an important part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work. Now, a new group is turning that emphasis on community inward in order to create a greater sense of connectivity between and among BBBS Bigs and matches.

The new group is called BIG – The Big Impact Group. It is made up of Bigs and other volunteers who are connected with BBBS. Launched in May, the group is using their networking skills and resources to help the organization as a whole.

“I’m so proud of being a part of this organization (BBBS), and I wanted more,” said Michaela Lindsay, a former Big Sister and one of the founders of the new group. “As Bigs, we all feel so strongly about our experiences that we wanted to create an additional sense of community between and among other Bigs.”

Michaela became aware of the need for this type of community when her own match came to an end as her Little Sister Aracely graduated from high school. “We were told that our match would be closing and we were kind of caught off guard by that because we hang out together all the time,” Michaela explained. “So, we approached BBBS about wanting to stay involved with the organization because it’s been such a positive experience for us.”

Michaela believed she had a lot of skills and resources to offer to help meet some of the organization’s needs, and she wanted to keep her Little Sister connected with the agency as well. “Aracely particularly wanted to give back to other high-school-aged Littles,” said Michaela.

Michaela met with Joe Strychalski, BBBS Vice President of Programs, and Christina Snell, Match Support Supervisor, to start the conversation. After months of research and collecting ideas, the Big Impact Group was formed. “We identified a few needs that we thought we might be able to help meet if we mobilized some of our most engaged Bigs and supporters,” said Joe. “Those needs were additional funding to help hire more staff to serve more kids; recruiting volunteers – specifically men, men of color, and bilingual Bigs; and better connecting our Bigs.”

Connecting Bigs seemed like a natural place for the group to start. BBBS matches have match support specialists who do exceptional jobs of helping Bigs in their one-to-one relationships with their Littles, but even with this help matches can sometimes feel isolated from other matches. The Big Impact Group is working on strategies to address this.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people in this group,” said Michaela. “They are passionate about mentorship and have dedicated a significant portion of their time to it. I was involved with BBBS for 5 years and never made these kinds of connections before. So, that has already been a huge benefit of this group!”

To help build connections, the Big Impact Group is launching a Facebook group for Bigs and plans to be a point of contact for future match events. “Sometimes you show up for a match outing like a Round Rock Express baseball game and don’t even realize you’re sitting next to another match,” Michaela continued. “We want to be a point of contact to say, ‘Hey, we’ll meet at this location before the game. Come say ‘hi’ and get to know other Bigs and Littles and help us build a greater sense of community.”

To help BBBS recruit new volunteers, the group has set a goal of enlisting 50 male Bigs. They are planning to use their personal networks to get information out to those who might not be familiar with the organization.  “We want to let people know what is involved and what it means to be a Big. Especially potential male mentors,” said Michaela. “We’re interested in making legitimate connections for BBBS staff to pursue. I’m involved in the MBA program at UT which is a predominately male group. There could be a lot of student interest in the program there.”

To support fundraising, the Big Impact Group has set a goal of raising $50,000 and is scheduling several fundraising events. “Our first event was the ‘Notworking for Charity’ event that we held in late July,” said Joe. “We raised about $8,000, had approximately 200 participants, and 20 people expressed an interest in becoming Bigs.”

The group also has plans for events that satisfy multiple goals such as the Dynamic Duo Fitness Challenge coming up on November 12. This event will give matches a chance to have fun and get acquainted, while also raising funds for BBBS. The group is working on several other events including SantaCon, which will take place downtown on December 9th.

“Our target member for the group is someone who is already connected with BBBS,” said Michaela. “The Big Impact Group is just getting off the ground so we’re interested in attracting additional members. We want to include people who are already familiar with the organization. For instance, there may be people out there who have participated in Bowl for Kids every year and who haven’t necessarily volunteered as Bigs, but who are fully aware of BBBS’ mission and who have been impacted by the organization.”

Membership requirements for the group include: a one-year commitment to the group and attendance at monthly meetings; supporting BBBS financially – as a Game Changer making monthly donations at any level, or making a meaningful personal contribution to BBBS; being a current or past Big/BBBS participant; being a young professional currently engaged with BBBS, or being someone who is interested in future BBBS Board service.

“If someone is interested in joining the group I visit with them first,” said Joe. “I go over the expectations and requirements of membership because we want to make sure people know that this is a working group first and that there are high expectations. There is a social, networking component to our efforts and it is a fun group, but we expect our members to bring their resources – whether time, talent or treasure –  to help us meet our goals.”

“I would love to have more members and to hear more about what Bigs are looking for out of their participation,” Michaela said. “There are professional organizations for everything from sports to fine arts. The Big Impact Group exists to enrich the experience of Bigs and matches, to help the agency with fundraising and recruitment needs, and to build further awareness of BBBS.”

Photo: Big Impact Group members. Back row: Stefan Sinclair, Joe Strychalski, Albert Swantner, Oliver Davis-Urman, Jeremy Giroir. Front row: Liz Garcia, Nicholas Johnson, Michaela Lindsay, Jonathan Lin Davis. Not pictured: Jeremy Cox, Tri Dang, Brett Keenan, and Ali Nichols. 

BBBS’ Spooktacular BIG Fall Carnival

It was a weekend filled with tasty treats, spooky costumes and exciting carnival games! On Saturday October 28th Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas hosted its annual BIG Fall Carnival. The unBOOlievable event welcomed approximately 300 children, families, and friends to BBBS’ Bennett-Rathgeber Mentoring Center in Rathgeber Village.

Bigs, Littles and staff members embraced the cold morning and made it a day to remember. Matches enjoyed each other’s company as they played carnival-themed games, created craft projects, and ate delectable Halloween candy.

“It is such a joy to hold this event every year,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It is great to see matches interacting with one another. Our staff enjoys this chance to spend time with matches as well. Bringing people together is what BBBS is all about, and this event is a great opportunity to do that.”

This year’s carnival featured activities including an inflatable slide, an inflatable wrecking ball game, soccer free throws, a beanbag toss, and jumbo Jenga. Not to mention the yummy treats such as shaved ice, freshly popped popcorn, and delicious chocolate covered fruit snacks donated by Edible Arrangements.

“This was my first year at the Fall Carnival,” said Ana, one of BBBS’s match support specialists. “I learned that kids will do anything for candy! I was able to spend one-on-one time with my matches, which was pretty awesome. That morning I even did a match introduction and the match was able to experience BBBS for the first time at the event. Overall, our Fall Carnival was great and very fun.”

Representatives from Austin’s Fire Department No. 14 and the Austin Police Department’s mounted patrol also took part in the festivities, showing and demonstrating their gear. They even allowed kids to climb to the top of the bright red fire truck and to pet their patrol horses.

Another great feature of this year’s carnival was the “Big Futures Live Forward Resource Fair” that took place inside the mentoring center.  The purpose of this event was to connect recent high school graduates and current high school Littles with resources for finishing high school, financial literacy, job training, and higher education.

Littles had the opportunity to check on their BBBS’ scholarships and to speak with representatives from organizations such as Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson University, Peloton U, Goodwill’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Program, BB&T Bank, American Youth Works, and E4 Youth. There were also helpful promotional materials from St. Edward’s University and The Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Financial Aid Saturdays.

“It was awesome to see Littles and their Bigs really take their time at these booths to talk about the futures our Littles see themselves striving towards,” said Candace Bunkley, BBBS’ scholarship coordinator.

BBBS’ carnival brought together a diverse group of participants: Bigs, Littles and their families, board members, staff members, volunteers, community partners and friends, as well as children from our Rathgeber Village neighbor, Austin Children’s Services.

This event would not have been possible without the generosity and participation of numerous sponsors and volunteers. We offer special thanks to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Intersys Consulting, The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, Edible Arrangements, the Young Men’s Service League, the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, Bounce Around Austin, MyEventistheBomb, Kind Bars, Hapi Drinks, and General Motors, as well as those who were part of our Live Forward Resource Fair.

See additional Carnival photos in our Flickr album here

See event photo booth photos here