Life Lessons: Ellen and Montse

Together they’re going to break the cycle. Little Sister Montse is going to be the first in her family to finish high school, with her Big Sister’s help. It’s a goal that has faced more than one challenge as Montse has moved to two new schools in the past two years.

“The first move was difficult, but Montse was younger and she adapted quickly,” Big Sister Ellen said. “But the second move occurred right before her freshman year of high school. It was a shock because she was set to go to the school where her friends were going. She found out a few days before school started that she was going to be moving to a charter school that had different rules, that she would have to wear a uniform, and that she didn’t quite “click” with the people there.”

Ellen helped Montse focus on the positive aspects of the move and talked with her about her concerns. “I talked with her a lot. It’s definitely been harder for her at this new school, but she will come out on top,” Ellen remarked. “Montse’s a wonderful person. We have goal-setting sessions once in a while and her number one goal is always to graduate from high school. It’s very important to her.”

Part of that motivation comes from hanging out with her Big Sister. “I don’t think she would have had the support to do as well as she’s doing in school without a Big Sister,” Ellen admitted. “It’s not my telling her what to do. It’s just hanging out with me and knowing that I went to college and that I make decisions for myself.” Having Ellen as a role model has helped Montse avoid making the same choices her female relatives made when they dropped out of school.

“Doing something different is hard. It raises a lot of questions and uncertainty, but she is persevering,” Ellen said. “Montse is very artistic and wants to pursue her interest in special effects makeup. I have a movie producer friend who has a studio for that type of thing and we’re going to take a tour.”

Special activities like this and other outings with her Big Sister provide Montse with positive ways to escape the stresses of her day-to-day world. “Technically, she’s homeless. Her family is living with her aunt and cousins, and I know that’s hard. She shares a room with two other girls which is not conducive to getting homework done,” Ellen added. “We take breaks by going hiking, walking dogs, and volunteering.”

It’s this time together and the small things in their relationship that seem to have the biggest impact. “Things that I don’t think are of importance, Montse learns from and internalizes. She sees that even the small decisions I’ve made in my life have made a difference and impacted my happiness, and she emulates that,” Ellen said. “But Montse also teaches me new things every single time we meet. I’ve grown exponentially because of her influence on me.”

“I work for a non-profit and we do good things for lots of people, but I never understood the importance of making an impact on one person’s life so deeply until I became involved with BBBS. Realizing that the smallest things I do or say have such a huge impact on someone else – that’s why I’ve done this for 3 years and it’s why I will never stop being Montse’s Big Sister,” Ellen concluded.

“People want to save the world, but I think helping one person is so much more powerful. I can’t save the world, but I can help Montse change hers… and that’s significant.”

Contributions to BBBS create relationships like this, changing children’s lives for the better, forever. Learn more about how you can support BBBS with a one-time or monthly gift here

Exploring Careers With Facebook

Bigs and Littles had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Facebook employees, learn about their jobs, and tour their downtown Austin offices at a recent Big Brothers Big Sisters ‘Sister 2 Sister’ event. Matches got a glimpse of the daily experience of working for the internet giant, along with career and life skills education.

The outing was arranged by Match Support Specialist Lauren Dolan, whose friend Christina is a Facebook employee.

“I wanted to create an event focused on career exploration,” Lauren explained. “I chose Facebook because I wanted to give our Little Sisters a chance to see that there are women like them working in these amazing jobs at tech companies. Women are underrepresented in the tech industry. I felt it was important to expose the girls to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), for them to meet women who are working in these areas, and for them to find out how these women got into the positions they have today. It’s important for our Little Sisters to know that these kinds of careers are a possibility for them.”

“When Lauren contacted us about holding an event for BBBS, we wanted to be involved,” Christina said. “Facebook is super interested in engaging with the community and connecting with Austin youth. Plus, we wanted to share what we’ve learned, since we were all middle schoolers once too.”

Many matches were interested in connecting with the Facebook group as well. “My Little Sister is an avid Facebook user and I thought this would be a great opportunity for her to think about her career and academic goals in a fun setting,” Big Sister Wajiha explained.

“I wanted to give my Little the opportunity to see the Facebook office and to hear a panel of women discuss their professional experiences,” Big Sister Anna added. “The panel discussion was the biggest hit for her. She loved hearing from these women because they were all so different. She appreciated the differences in their backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences.”

The matches had an opportunity to pick up some snacks and beverages before heading into a large conference room for the panel discussion. Gwen, Facebook’s head of entertainment industry and the panel moderator, explained that she was going to focus on information she wished that she had known when she was the same age as BBBS’ Littles.

The panel members, Gwen, Kelsey, Guadalupe, Mefah, and Emily, began by telling the Littles about their backgrounds, the individual journeys that led to them to work for Facebook, and their current roles. They also highlighted the strengths and skills they use in their jobs every day.

“It’s so important for young women of color to see a diverse group of women they can identify with,” Wajiha remarked. “My Little Sister saw women of color who have succeeded and who are making way for the next generation of young women to succeed. Each panelist provided information on how they navigate working in an environment that is perceived to be dominated by men.”

The last question the panel addressed – If you could go back in time, what would you say to your 13-year-old self? “My Little really liked that question,” Anna laughed. “And she liked hearing that it’s okay to fail. I think she gained a sense of hope from the information these women presented.”

Key take-aways included:

  • It’s okay to fail – failures are learning opportunities.
  • Dream big, but realize dreams can change.
  • Don’t hate your parents or role models – respect them. They are looking out for you and want you to be your best self.
  • Speak up and be bold in standing up for yourself.
  • It’s okay to be different.
  • Show leadership skills – be willing to take on projects.
  • Be friendly – learn to have conversations.
  • Do your homework and show up prepared.
  • Think about what you bring to the table that is different. What do you bring that no one else can?
  • Learn what you are passionate about – it is easier to take risks then.
  • Get out of your comfort zone – if it’s not a little scary, you are not pushing yourself.
  • Seek out mentors – you can have more than one and they can come from anywhere, be a guiding resource, and offer another point of view.

“This session was inspiring and it gave my Little new perspective,” Big Sister Katherine said. “She got out of her shell a bit, asked questions during the tour, and learned about functions within the tech field that she didn’t realize existed.”

The Facebook staff gave BBBS’ matches a complete tour of the offices which included some quirky murals, a large lounge, snack areas, balconies with views of downtown Austin, and game areas. “Facebook’s offices are like a kid’s hangout. The environment is like a playground,” Big Sister Anna commented. “If kids decide to go into the tech field, this is the type of setting they will work in versus traditional cubicle work stations. I wanted my Little to see that.”

The matches really enjoyed the whole experience. “It was a powerful event,” Anna said. “It was an experience that will resonate with these girls throughout their lives.”

The Facebook staff also hope the event will stay with the Littles for a long time. Kelsey, a Facebook Community Operations Specialist, said, “In six years, we hope to see you back here.”

“We are so thankful to Facebook for hosting us and for putting together such an excellent panel of women to speak with our matches. Having women from a company like Facebook, that is recognizable to everyone, talk about how their skills and education got them where they are today really made an impression on the girls,” Lauren concluded.

Big Brothers Big Sisters plans social, educational, and recreational events for matches throughout the year. These activities provide Bigs and Littles with opportunities to interact with other matches, have new experiences, develop new skills, and deepen their relationships.

In addition to regular Sister 2 Sister and Brother 2 Brother events, other special match activities include Open Nights in the Youth Activity Center at BBBS’ new mentoring center, Hobie Day, a day of sailing on Lake Austin, Adventure Quest, as well as an annual fall carnival and holiday party.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters and sign up for our newsletter at www.BigMentoring.org

 

BBBS Launches Bigs in Blue Program

Bringing different members of the community together has always been part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission to help children succeed in life, because children are connected to communities. Now, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has started a new program aimed at building relationships between youth and law enforcement officers.

Created by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Bigs in Blue is a national initiative aimed at recruiting law enforcement officers to serve as mentors to youth in their communities. BBBS believes these mentoring relationships will create stronger, healthier bonds between law enforcement personnel and the children, families, and communities they serve.

The program already exists in about 20 cities across the country. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is currently launching a Bigs in Blue program in Central Texas. One of the keys to a successful program is the enthusiastic support of the local chief of police, and, to that end, BBBS has developed a relationship, and completed a Memorandum of Understanding, with Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and the Austin Police Department.

“The Austin Police Department is excited to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas to support the youth in our neighborhoods,” Chief Manley said. “Bigs in Blue offers officers an opportunity to have a relationship with young people that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Such a connection is beneficial to all involved, as well as the community as a whole.”

“At a time when law enforcement is under intense media and public scrutiny, it is more important than ever for young people to understand that police officers are not a force to be feared. Police officers want to protect and serve their communities,” said Philip Kearney, Administrative Specialist in Chief Manley’s office, and a BBBS Big Brother.

“Police officers are human. When young people have positive interactions with police officers, they get to see the human side of them, and vice versa.  The only way to resolve differences or to overcome distrust is by establishing heartfelt respect that flows in both directions.”

Older officers tell Philip that, years ago, when children were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said ‘a police officer,’ but that that has changed. “I think we need to re-establish that connection,” Philip said, “to help young people understand that police officers are just normal people who have chosen to protect and serve their neighbors and to introduce them to a fulfilling career path that might interest them.”

Philip believes that BBBS’ Bigs in Blue program can help all involved “see each other with new eyes.” “Just as community members can start to fail to see the humans behind the badges, sometimes police officers can begin to experience compassion fatigue from dealing day-in and day-out with negative things that happen in the community,” Philip explained. “It’s a two-way street.”

“Working with young people will remind police officers that the people they serve are their neighbors, and that the young people they protect represent the future of their community. And working with officers will help young people understand that police officers are their neighbors and friends as well.”

Philip was a Big Brother long before Bigs in Blue was initiated. He was matched with his Little Brother about 6 years ago when he was in his 20’s and Malik was 9, and laughingly says that they’ve both grown up together. Philip believes that Malik has been a grounding influence in his life.

“Since I don’t have kids, sometimes I can think that my negative behaviors and attitudes only affect me, so ‘who cares?’  But now that I’m conscious of being a role model, I am more conscientious in all aspects of my life and have become a better person for it,” Philip admitted.

As for Malik, he’s been able to enjoy things he might never have experienced if he hadn’t become a Little Brother. “His interests can change from week to week, or even day to day,” Philip continued. “No matter what he’s interested in that week, whether it’s robots, or disc golf, or playing guitar—I get to say, ‘Okay, how can I help you explore that interest?’  And then we go for it.”

Philip says the same is not true of Malik’s peers who don’t have mentors.  “They just seem so bored, and so resigned to a life that doesn’t involve the pursuit of dreams,” he said. “Not Malik, though. He has a light in his eyes, a fearlessness, and a confidence that he is going to go to college and make all of his dreams come true.  Knowing that I had a part in that, whether large or small, gives me a sense of fulfillment and joy like nothing else.”

It’s this kind of transformation that speaks to the potential and promise of the Bigs in Blue program… the ability to create change that can help law enforcement and civilians clear up misconceptions about, and fear toward, one another.

“Bigs in Blue has the power to change young people’s perceptions of law enforcement and they will share those impressions with their friends,” Philip said. “And officers can have huge impacts as Big Brothers or Sisters while also having a ton of fun. Mentoring improves the life of a young person while enriching the mentor’s life in the process. It doesn’t feel like volunteering and the reward is immense.”

And the benefits of each mentoring relationship extend far beyond the Big and Little themselves, affecting the lives of those around them and the greater community as a whole.

As members of a community, we are all connected, and the quality of our connections matters.

Bigs in Blue is designed to foster relationships and understanding between two groups who have much to learn, and gain, from one another.

BBBS Receives National Gold Standard Award

Recognizing a higher level of achievement, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has received the 2016 Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Gold Standard Award. BBBS of Central Texas is one of only 16 agencies, out of 300 nationwide, to receive this recognition. The award, presented by the Nationwide Leadership Council, recognizes the agencies that improve their financial revenues and provide high-quality programming for children.

“I am so proud that our agency has been honored with the Gold Standard Award for 2016,” said Carlos Barbosa, BBBS’ board chair. “Simply put, meeting the criteria for this award means that we grew our revenues, which allowed us to serve more kids, while still maintaining our high quality standards. As Board Chair, I feel honored to have the opportunity to work with such a great and dedicated team, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that our staff and our leadership team does every day. This is independent confirmation that we are doing the right things for our Littles, the youth of Central Texas.”

“BBBS received Gold Standard awards in 2010 and 2011.  Receiving the award two years in a row resulted in us getting the national Pinnacle Award in 2011,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas. “The following year we were recognized as the Best Board in America (BBBS) and runner-up to Best Agency in America (BBBS). Receiving this national award again is a great honor. It also puts us in the top 5-7% of all BBBS agencies. It is a tremendous privilege to serve with this award-winning team at BBBS, and credit also goes to our amazing volunteers, donors, and supporters who continue to invest in our transformational work and mission.”

Agencies receiving the Gold Standard Award met or exceeded the following two goals, among others, in 2016:

  • Achieved a higher rate of mentoring success based on national criteria
  • Increased revenue by 5% or more

As a Gold Standard winner, BBBS of Central Texas is also a candidate for the Best Agency in America award which will also be awarded by the Nationwide Leadership Council in the Spring.

Bowl for Kids 2017 Was Dy-no-mite!

Peace signs, bell bottom pants and polyester ruled as participants took to the bowling lanes March 3 – 5 and raised over $135,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. It was a dy-no-mite event as bowlers donned outfits from the 60’s and 70’s and participated in this year’s “Peace, Love & Bowling”-themed bowling marathon. Funds raised go directly to providing children with caring, committed mentors, and life-changing mentoring services.

“We totally enjoy this event,” said Maria Dunn of RSM U.S. LLP, Kingpin Sponsor for the event. “Ultimately though, it’s all about the kids. We want to give young people all the support we can, because they are going to be our leaders.”

The venue was packed as businesses and individuals came together to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, and to have a lot of fun at the same time. More than 800 participants, sponsors, volunteers, staff members, and Bigs and Littles enjoyed the weekend’s activities.

“Bowl for Kids allows us to take time out to celebrate the uniqueness of our organization and the camaraderie we have as a team,” Maria continued. “And, when you look around, you see a lot of other businesses enjoying the same thing. We’re all here doing something great, but there’s a heck of a lot of laughter mixed into the evening as well.”

Teams representing businesses from the banking, architecture, engineering and construction sectors, as well as the American Society of Civil Engineers, showed up in full force, as did teams from the legal, gamers and designers, and media industries. Highland Lanes hosted the event over the course of the weekend.

Austin Powers made an appearance, along with Scooby Doo and Friends, the Fab Four (Beatles), and a group called The Bowling Stones, among others. The teams had fun posing for photos in front of the  event’s annual theme banner, as well as in a specially created “photo” bus.

Employees from Pape-Dawson Engineers made the foam core “hippie bus” especially for the event. “It was a groovy bus,” Maria laughed. “The bus was perfect for the theme, but the thought that went into it was also great.  They made it portable so that BBBS can re-use it, and they created low windows that Little Brothers and Sisters can pose behind. What a great example of how the community is not only engaged with, but also really thinking about, BBBS’ mission.”

Each year teams get into the event theme as they try to outdo one another with costumes and fundraising. Team Lucky Strikes, for example, has won the award for Best Costume in their time slot for the past four years. It’s an achievement they are very proud of.

“The theme and costumes, along with the bowling, make it a fun night out,” said Lori and Mark Ramseur, Chairs of this year’s Bowl for Kids. “It is fun seeing all the crazy costumes that people come up with. We are always surprised by the creativity.”

It is creativity with a purpose. “When we see the difference the fundraising makes, the brand awareness for BBBS, and the impact this event has for kids in the community,” Maria said, “it makes us all feel great, as individuals and as corporations. This is so much more than a bowling event. It’s about making a difference.”

Lori and Mark agree. “This is our fifth straight Bowl for Kids event,” they said. “It’s an event where people can have fun and also give to BBBS.”

It was also an opportunity for Bigs and Littles to spend some quality time together as several matches tried their hand at bowling.

“This is the 34th year we’ve held Bowl for Kids, which is one of our largest fundraisers,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS. “This year’s event was ‘far out fun’ that provides real results for kids and their families. There were a lot of silly costumes, but participants were serious about generating support for children in Central Texas. And, thanks to everyone involved, it was another great year for the event and, most importantly, for the kids we serve. Bowl for Kids is truly an event where everyone wins.”

See photos from the event in our Flickr album here

See photos from our MyEventisTheBomb moving photo album here

Amplify Austin is 1 Week Away!

Let’s Amplify for BBBS’ Kids!

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas creates and supports strong, caring relationships that change kids’ lives for the better, forever.

We have a goal of raising over $20,000 through Amplify Austin this year. Your gift to Amplify Austin will help us serve more kids! With more than 600 kids on our waiting list, every gift makes a difference! Please consider scheduling a gift today!

Brandi and Brynn

When she was first matched, Brynn was a small 7-year-old with a baby face. Now her Big Sister Brandi describes her as a 9 ½-year-old young lady. “At the beginning of our match, I wasn’t sure if she enjoyed our outings, or me, because she didn’t show any emotions and was not a big talker,” Brandi explained. “These days, when I drop her off, she asks when our next outing will be. And ‘Can I tell you something?’ is something I hear many, many times.”

In the course of their relationship, Brynn has matured. She has learned how to accept disappointments without dwelling on them. She has also tried many new things and has discovered the importance of looking for the good in all situations.

But the growth is not one-way. “Me? I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve changed and grown. Being Brynn’s mentor has pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Brandi admitted, “and because of that, I’ve been able to do some really neat things in the last two years. Brynn has challenged me, and she has helped me to step outside of myself and to feel good about caring about someone else.”

During one of their recent outings, Brynn and Brandi were talking about family and what that word means…that ‘family’ can be biological or ‘family’ can be good friends.  “Later I said, ‘You’re my buddy.’ Brynn replied ‘No, I’m your sister.’ I think that sums up the last two years of this journey perfectly,” Brandi said. “I can’t wait to see what comes next!”

Your Gift to BBBS Creates Relationships Like These! 

  • Mark your calendar and donate between 6 p.m. March 2nd – 6 p.m. March 3rd.
  • Afraid you’ll forget? Schedule your gift today!

Your support matters. Thank you for making a difference for kids in our community.

A Real “Roll” Model

mike-mcshaffrey

He only bowls once a year, but when he does, Mike McShaffry makes it count. He bowls at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids event, and he challenges others to “keep gaming” for a great cause.

Mike has been a part of BBBS’ Bowl for Kids for many years.  A senior software engineer with mobile gaming company ArtCraft Entertainment, he was recruited to the event 7 or 8 years ago by another local gamer who challenged all gaming company employees in Austin to participate.

“When my friend moved on to other things I kind of picked up the baton,” Mike said. “Now I send emails out to game companies and try to recruit teams.” One of his recruits was Stefan Sinclair who not only ended up bowling at the event, he eventually became a Big Brother and was named Texas’ Big Brother of the Year in 2015.

Why has Mike been so focused on helping with Bowl for Kids? Like any good gamer, he knows the program on several different levels.

Mike first became involved with BBBS as a Little Brother. “I was a Little in 1979 in Ft. Worth when BBBS was just getting started in the state of Texas,” Mike recalled. “My mom was recently divorced and she reached out through our church and found Big Brothers Big Sisters. My brother, sister and I were all paired with a Big Brother who was a senior at Texas Christian University.”

Although they were only matched for a year, the connection had lasting impacts for Mike. “Al was our Big Brother and all three of us had a great experience in the program,” Mike added. “Al took us on outings, just like matches do today. We went to get pizza and we went swimming. I attribute my interest in computers, in bicycles and in community service to him. He took us to the computer center at TCU and a lot of our outings were bike-related. He introduced me to all these things.”

Mike’s interest in giving back has not only turned into fundraising for Bowl for Kids, but also into being a Big himself.  “My wife Robin and I were paired with an older child,” Mike said. “Being his Big for a year was very rewarding and very heart-wrenching at the same time. Bigs sometimes want to solve all of the problems in a Little’s life, and that’s hard because some of these kids face challenges that are very complex.”

Mike and his wife worked to provide their Little with positive experiences and encouragement, introducing him to a variety of job possibilities such as riding with a firefighter at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, and rewarding him with special outings as an incentive to stay in school.

“The experience taught us how important it is for kids to see something other than what they think is a fated future for themselves,” Mike continued. “Many of these kids think ‘This is my only reality and I can’t get out of it or change it,’ but a Big can open new doors for a child and help them see that there is something more for them if they apply themselves and try to overcome the problems or obstacles they face.”

The Big and Little relationship is one Mike sees as having “forever” impacts. “I think if you help one kid, then that kid becomes an adult who can pass that on to so many other people. That is what’s so important about Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Mike added. “With BBBS you don’t just help one kid, you help every single person that child interacts with for the rest of their life. And that’s a big impact.”

That’s why Mike continues to be a major supporter of BBBS’ Bowl for Kids. “I love it,” he said. “It is such a fun event. I love seeing colleagues at the lanes in costumes, having a great time and, on top of that, raising money for BBBS to help children stay in or get into the program every year.”

Of course, being a gamer, there is competition involved. “I love the competition aspect, because game companies always like to one-up each other. Typically, we’ll all be watching our phones during the event looking at everyone’s fundraising,” Mike laughed. “And we’ll see ‘Oh, Certain Affinity (another game company) just broke $3,000. Everyone put in another $50.’ That definitely happens.”

In Mike’s experience, it all combines for a very positive result. “Having groups of people compete to fundraise for such a great cause is such an easy way to do something really good,” he said.

Plus, for this leader of team “Strikeadelic”, BBBS’ Bowl for Kids event fits his general philosophy of life. “No matter how you choose to use your time,” he said, “try allocating a little bit for making the world a better place than you found it.”

Game on, Mike.

BBBS’ Bowl for Kids is set for March 3 – 5, 2017 at Highland Lanes. To sign up go here.