Ice Ball 2017 An Unprecedented Success

Thirteen proved to be a lucky number as Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 13th annual Ice Ball gala raised a record-breaking $670,000 for the organization, with donations still coming in and final numbers expected to exceed this early total.

Despite inclement weather, the largest fundraising event for BBBS drew a capacity crowd of over 800 people to the JW Marriott on Saturday, August 26. The black-tie affair was an elegant evening focused on raising funds to create life-changing friendships between at-risk youth and caring adult mentors.

“The 2017 Ice Ball Gala was a big success on every level, far exceeding our expectations,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS. “We had record attendance, amazing energy and an unprecedented amount of funds raised to support our mission of helping children succeed in life. The funds raised at Ice Ball, and throughout the year, allow us to serve and support close to 1,000 mentoring matches and to move as many children off our waiting list as possible. A big ‘thank you’ to all those who attended and to our sponsors for helping create an event that will be forever changing lives.”

Bigs and Littles were on hand to welcome guests as greeters. The festive evening began with a number of exciting activities including a silent auction, a raffle, a Big Board mini live auction, Kendra Scott Mystery Boxes, and a photo booth with the signature Ice Ball ice sculpture.

The Big Board auction was new to this year’s event and featured an assortment of special items such as a golf flag autographed by PGA champion Jordan Spieth, SXSW interactive badges, a Uchiko dinner for 4, and a San Antonio Spurs VIP experience, among others.

Guests were lead into the ballroom by The Memphis Train Revue, a Dixieland band, where they enjoyed a seated dinner, the evening’s program, and a live auction, which offered opportunities to win exclusive experiences and trips including a UT tailgate party, flag football with Colt McCoy, trips to Paris and Cabo San Lucas, tickets for the 2018 Dell Match Play Golf Championship, and a “choose your own adventure” passport package featuring a choice of trips to 25 different world-wide destinations. Excitement filled the room as the crowd participated in games and the live auction led by auctioneer Gayle Stallings and emcee Mike Barnes, KVUE Sports Director.

During the ‘Fund A Friendship’ portion of the evening guests were invited to make donations to help fund more mentoring relationships. A moving video told the story of Big Sister Maggie, and her Little Sister, Kirida’s, relationship. Kirida, a recent high school graduate who is beginning her first semester at Texas A&M University, thanked the crowd for helping to make life-changing friendships like the one she has enjoyed with Maggie possible. Their story provided a powerful example of the impact BBBS’ mentoring program has on children, families, volunteers, and the community as a whole.

“I was absolutely amazed by the turnout and by the enthusiastic support our Central Texas community showed at Ice Ball!” said Carlos Barbosa, BBBS’ Board Chair. “We were bracing for the rain, but what an amazing show of support we received! Huge thanks to all who came out, and to those who couldn’t make it but still found ways to support our agency!”

Following the auction, the celebration continued with dancing to music provided by The Memphis Train Revue. It was the perfect end to an evening that will make a lifetime of difference for children and families in Central Texas.

Special thanks to our lead sponsors:

BB&T; Connie and Bill Nelson, RSM, Toni Schach and Michael Forte, US Micro Products; Henna Chevrolet; Gustavo Artaza, ASK Charitable Foundation, ATX Life Coaching, Sam Bassett, Chilligence, General Motors, Heather and Dominick Granato, HEB, Pamela and Will Hurley, Maxwell, Locke & Ritter LLP, Pape-Dawson Engineers, Parsley Energy, ScaleFactor, Wells Fargo, and the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation.

See our Flickr album of event photos here

See Kirida and Maggie’s story, produced by Castleview Productions, here

Ice Ball 2017 – Live Auction Package Preview!

Package #1 – Hook ‘Em Horns Tailgate

Heckling Optional

Tailgating – that long-held practice of grilling, drinking, and eating in a game day parking lot. When the University of Texas Longhorns suit up this season, where will you be? Forty (40) lucky Horns fans will be tailgating at the Oklahoma State game in Austin on October 21st!

Perfect for your big family, large group of friends, or clients from out of town, this tailgate includes the following:

  • Premium reserved location
  • 20’ x 20’ tent
  • 15 tailgate chairs
  • Three 6’ tables with linens
  • Two 120-quart coolers with 40 pounds of ice in each
  • Paper plates, paper towels, cups, utensils and koozies
  • Personalized sign

Gebby’s BBQ will cater your epic tailgate while you enjoy ice cold beer from Guns & Oil Brewing Co. and a case of vodka from Dripping Springs Vodka.

Hook ’em Horns!

Special thanks to Gebbys BBQ, Guns & Oil Brewing Co., and Dripping Springs Vodka.

 

Package #2 – Altitude Adjustment

Breckenridge,  Colorado

From shopping to nightlife and dining to culture, you can kick it up or kick back, whatever your mood, in Breckenridge, Colorado.  Take a stroll down historic Main Street and feel the vibrant spirit of eclectic boutiques and après-ski cheer, or relax fireside in a cozy café.

Enjoy a week-long trip for four (4) to Crystal Peak Lodge, a ski-in ski-out resort at the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 7. The 2 bedroom/2 bath condo includes a full kitchen, and access to various resort amenities. Just a 5-minute gondola ride to use your $100 gift card for a tour and tasting at Breckenridge Brewery. And don’t worry about the airfare, 2 Southwest Airlines domestic round-trip tickets are included!

Dates subject to availability. Expires August 31, 2018.

Special thanks to Connie and Bill Nelson, and Southwest Airlines.

 

Package #3 – Paris + Girls = Fun

Paris is Always a Good Idea

Especially when you and 3 of your besties are savoring the sights of the City of Lights for 5 nights!

Stay in a private flat located near the Eiffel Tower on the border of the 7th and 15th arrondissements. There is a well- equipped kitchen for your own culinary adventures or you can visit sidewalk cafes on your way to the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées & Arc de Triomphe. Pedal off your indulgences with 2 Fat Tire Bicycle Tours, and then connect and catch up over dinner at Le Suffren in Paris. On est bien, là.

Dates subject to availability. Expires August 31, 2018

Special thanks to Kelly and David Mebane, and Le Suffren

 

Package #4 – Qué Hermosa

Mexico Retreat for 8

Smell the salt in the air as the warm winds caress your skin at the luxurious Hacienda Beach Club and Residences in sunny Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Your 4 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath villa comfortably sleeps 8 during your 5-night stay. Relax in the elegant living area or by the infinity-edge pool while gazing over breathtaking views of this 22-acre, $230 million private beach club and residential community. In addition to all this, you and your guests will also enjoy a magical swim with the dolphins 20 minutes down the road in San Jose del Cabo.

Expires December 15, 2018. Excludes holidays and spring break weeks.

Special thanks to Amy and Chris Ellis, and John Gordon Olson.

 

Package #5 – Flag Football with Colt McCoy

Play with Longhorn Legends

Colt McCoy, Texas Longhorn and Quarterback for the Washington Redskins, is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a game of flag football at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School with him and special guest, UT and NFL wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. You and 11 of your buddies will play with some of the Longhorn greats. This is a “family friendly pick up game” with both kids and adults mixed in on both teams to keep it fun.

Relax and enjoy a BBQ picnic from Rudy’s BBQ after your game. A photographer and videographer will be provided to commemorate this special event.

Winner has the option of choosing one of the following dates:

  • Sunday, February 25, 2018
  • Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dates could change based on availability.

Expires August 31, 2018.

Special thanks to Rachel and Colt McCoy, Rudy’s BBQ, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.

 

Package #6 – The Last Great Habitat

King Ranch Hunt

Board a private jet and cruise on down to one of the most exclusive hunting destinations in America and one of the Lone Star State’s most iconic treasures, King Ranch.

Package includes one experienced guide, truck, lunch, and refreshments for 2 hunters and up to one additional guest. Each hunter has a choice of harvesting 1 Nilgai bull, OR a combination of Nilgai cows, feral hogs, and/or javelinas for the same value. Processing included.

Expires October 31, 2018.  February — April are the best months for Nilgai hunts.

Special thanks to Ashley and Justin Yarborough, and El Campo Game Processing, Inc.

 

Package #7 – 2018 Dell Match Play

The Primo Package

Four (4) 360 Club Tent passes for the Dell Match Play World Golf Championship tournament, March 21 – 25, right here in Austin. Watch the top 64 players in the world compete in this climate-controlled venue that features a double decker structure, all-inclusive food and beverages, and golf views from the 16th tee.

Match Play is the unique event you are looking for when it comes to corporate networking, client services, and entertainment for your guests. Work on your swing with a round of golf for 4 at the exclusive Spanish Oaks Golf Club.

Spanish Oaks Expiration August 31, 2018.

Special thanks to Rachel and Colt McCoy, and Spanish Oaks Golf Club.

 

Package #8 – Party with the Pit Master

at Banger’s

Learn the secrets of Texas and Southern style BBQ from one of the best in the business. Banger’s own Ted Prater has been an accomplished Chef and Pit Master for decades and he’s been a hunter, fisherman, and avid outdoorsman for even longer. For this master class, Chef Ted is going to focus on the holy grail of Texas BBQ, the brisket.

This BBQ Master Class includes:

  • Up to 20 attendees
  • A private, roped off section of the beer garden to eat, drink, mingle and learn
  • Live country band
  • $500 bar tab
  • Step-by-step lesson on cleaning, smoking and seasoning a brisket
  • Every attendee will get to take home 1/2 of a fully cooked brisket
  • Step-by-step lesson on how to make BBQ Every attendee will receive some sauce to take home
  • Step-by-step lesson on how to make BBQ Every attendee will also be given samples to take home
  • Fresh BBQ lunch

Details and restrictions: Attendee must coordinate with Banger’s Event Coordinator to schedule a date. Banger’s must have at least one month’s notice. Event dates are entirely subject to Banger’s availability. Event time: 12-4 pm. No Sundays.

Expiration: August 26, 2018.

Special thanks to Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden.

 

Package #9 – Choose Your Own Adventure!

London, Montreal, Cupecoy, New York

Enjoy a 4-night stay in any one of our 25 residences in highly sought-after beach, mountain, city and leisure destinations. The Passport Program provides you with the flexibility to choose your destination after purchasing the trip. You have 18 months to decide! In addition to flexibility, take advantage of pre-trip planning services and a local concierge – both included with the Passport Program.

Destinations include:

  • Aspen, Colorado
  • Beaver Creek, Colorado
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Cupecoy, St. Maarten
  • Deer Valley, Utah
  • Guanacaste, Costa Rica
  • London, England
  • Los Cabos, Mexico
  • Miami, Florida
  • Montreal, Canada
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • New York City, New York
  • Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina
  • Placencia, Belize
  • Playa del Carmen, Mexico
  • Punta Mita, Mexico
  • San Francisco, California
  • Sonoma, California
  • Watersound/30A, Florida

The nights must be used during 1 trip. At least one person staying at the residence must be over the age of 25. You have 18 months from the date of purchase to use your Passport Program trip. Restricted dates vary based on location and time of year.

BBBS’ 2017 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony

“You can never have too much education.” That was one of the central themes at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2017 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony. Held June 17 at Austin Community College’s Eastview campus, the event featured Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, as the keynote speaker.

Those in attendance included Littles graduating from high school and receiving their scholarships, and fourteen-year-old Littles receiving the promise of a scholarship if they, in turn, promise to finish high school. The audience was also made up of Big Brothers and Sisters, family members, board members, community partners and members of BBBS’ staff.

“BBBS’ mission totally parallels my own personal mission and passion,” said Dr. Burnette. “The agency is committed to providing children with professionally supported mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. The key word is ‘forever,’ because once someone invests in you, that investment stays with you.”

Dr. Burnette provided ten ‘Rules of Life’ to help students as they pursue their respective paths. She encouraged students to be life-long learners; to be true to themselves; to read, read, read; to travel at every opportunity; to be well spoken; to dress for success; to make wise choices regarding the people they spend their time with; to take care of themselves physically; to have fun; to remember that they can never have too much education; and to nurture their individual spirits.

“I want you to be you, and to recognize that your education is an investment in yourself,” Dr. Burnette added. “I encourage you to continue the pursuit of your dreams. Your gifts are inside you, and they will propel you anywhere you want to go. Your involvement with BBBS and with your mentors has started something big. Now it’s up to you to take it to a whole new level.”

It was a day of celebration for BBBS’ Littles who have worked so hard to reach this important moment and milestone in life.

“I enjoyed meeting the families and talking with our matches, some of whom have been matched for 9 years,” said Candace Bunkley, BBBS’ scholarship program coordinator. “I love hearing where these students are going to go to school and what they want to study, and knowing that BBBS is, and has been, a part of their journeys.”

The scholarships students received will be applied to a variety of institutions and vocations. This year’s high school graduates are attending schools from Texas A&M, to Blinn College and Angelo State University, among others. Some of the career paths they plan to pursue include medicine, bio-medical engineering, architecture, interior design, and film production.

BBBS awarded and promised over $930,000 in scholarship funds to Little Brothers and Sisters this year. Students who are at least 14 years old and who have remained matched for one year or longer are promised scholarships upon high school graduation. Graduating seniors who have met these requirements and who have chosen to enroll in a two or four-year college, university, or accredited trade or technical school, are eligible to receive scholarship awards of $2,000 – $4,000.

“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brother Big Sisters of Central Texas. “It is powerful to see the impact BBBS’ scholarship program has on the lives of these young people. The program provides opportunities that many thought they’d never have.”

Littles crossed the stage to receive their promise medals and scholarship certificates from BBBS’ Foundation Board Chair Loraine Brown. Lauren Petrowski of Fox 7 Austin was the emcee for the event. BBBS of Central Texas CEO Brent Fields provided opening remarks, and Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, gave the inspirational keynote address.

Congratulations to this year’s scholarship recipients and promisees, and to their families and Big Brothers and Sisters.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ scholarship program, contact Candace Bunkley at 512-807-3642.

See our 2017 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony video here

See photos from the scholarship ceremony here

 

About the Scholarship Program: In 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas received a contribution from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program encouraging 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.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Receives 2017 National Board of the Year Award

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is the winner of the national Board of the Year award given by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA). This is the second time the local agency has won the award in the last five years. The top local agencies and agency boards were recognized during BBBSA’s 2017 National Conference held June 25 – 28 in San Diego, California. Receiving the award for BBBS of Central Texas were Board Chair Carlos Barbosa and Vice President of Programs Joe Strychalski.

“I am so proud and honored to lead a fantastic and engaged executive board that does whatever is needed to support the agency’s mission,” said Barbosa. “Of course, none of what has been achieved is possible without a dynamic CEO, Brent Fields, and an amazing agency staff that does the real work every day. This award validates all of the agency’s exceptional work on behalf of children and families in Central Texas!”

Agency boards have a profound impact on the success of the agencies they serve, raising funds, sharing the organizations’ good work, influencing decision-making, and shaping programming. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s Nationwide Leadership Council selected the winner of the 2017 Board of the Year award based on growth in the number of children served, quality and length of mentoring matches, and growth in agency revenue.

“Receiving this award is a great honor,” said BBBS CEO Brent Fields. “Thank you to our amazing Board of Directors, to our volunteers, and to supporters who continue to invest in this transformational mission.”

BBBS of Central Texas was also a finalist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s Agency of the Year award. Earlier this year the agency won the National Gold Standard Award, one of only 16 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the nation to receive the recognition.

Image (L to R): Rudy J. Baldoni, National Board Chair BBBS of America; Joe Strychalski, VP of Programs BBBS of Central Texas, Carlos Barbosa, Board Chair BBBS of Central Texas, Pam Iorio, President and CEO BBBS of America

The Ice Ball 2017 Host Committee: Having A Ball

As the Texas summer heats up, there’s one cool thing you can count on – Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2017 Ice Ball gala set for August 26 at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Austin. The Ice Ball Host Committee has been hard at work making plans and preparations for this major event – one of the largest fundraisers for the organization.

Christine and Blake Absher are chairing this year’s Ice Ball gala and have been involved with the organization off and on since 2008. “Our connection with BBBS began in Austin when I was a Big Brother for about 4 years,” said Blake, Austin market president of BB&T, the Diamond sponsor of this year’s event. “We moved to Houston for a few years, and then, when we returned to Austin, we knew we wanted to be involved with BBBS in some way. The Ice Ball Host Committee sounded interesting, and we’d never done anything like that before.”

Now, having been involved with Ice Ball for several years, Christine and Blake felt the moment was right to become even more involved in the event. “2017 is a great time to be event chairs,” Blake continued. “The agency has great momentum, the organization’s program metrics are at an all-time high, and we’ve been groomed for the last couple of years to further carry the Ice Ball baton.”

In accepting the leadership role, they’ve found themselves working with a great team. “The Ice Ball Host Committee is made up of an extraordinary group of people,” said Christine. “And they’ve become family. They are creative and selfless, giving out of the goodness of their hearts. They’ve been so inspiring and their enthusiasm is contagious. For many of them, this is their first connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They are raising money for a cause they’ve just come to care about, and they’re doing it so well.”

Team members heartily agree. “The members of the committee are focused, engaged and eager to contribute to the success of this year’s event,” said Connie Nelson. She and her husband Bill have been a Big Couple since 2011, worked as bid spotters for the Ice Ball that year, and subsequently served as Ice Ball Chairs in 2014 and 2015.

“Bill and I are honored to be serving on this year’s Ice Ball Host Committee,” Connie remarked. “The Ice Ball is SO important! It’s the largest BBBS fundraiser and monies raised help get kids off the waiting list and into the life-changing mentoring relationships they deserve. Guests attending the Ice Ball walk away with greater appreciation for everything BBBS does for Central Texas’ youth. Our 2017 chairs, Blake and Christine, are natural leaders with a passion for BBBS.”

Lauren Petrowski, news anchor for Fox 7, shares that passion for the agency and the event as well. “I look forward to the Host Committee meetings, seeing the other committee members, and knowing we’re making great things happen,” she said.

Lauren served as a Big Sister for 5 years and is still in contact with her Little Sister. “I was fortunate to have two loving, supportive parents growing up. Not every child has that, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same opportunities to be happy and successful in life. Even with two parents, many kids can benefit from having additional positive influences in their lives. That’s what BBBS provides through mentorships, and I’m honored to help support an organization that does that.”

“As part of the Ice Ball Host Committee, it is also incredible to see the community and local businesses stepping up to help BBBS.”

Joanna Just of RSM, a Gold sponsor for the event, adds, “Ice Ball is a signature event that has grown over the years. To see where the event started and what it has become, is astonishing.  Ice Ball supports the wonderful things that BBBS does for children in our community.”

Not only is the team working to raise more dollars, new community connections are being made as well. “There are a lot of new people involved in this year’s event,” Christine continued. Blake agreed, adding, “We have a significant number of new donors. We are grateful for donors who’ve supported this event for years. It’s also a testament to the 2017 Host Committee members’ efforts that they have reached out to their own personal networks and friends to establish new relationships on behalf of the gala and BBBS.”

“I appreciate how the committee members have come together to support this event personally because of their dedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work,” Joanna added.

This year’s Ice Ball not only has new sponsors, it also has a new location at the J.W. Marriott. “There’s an excitement and a freshness with the new venue and the move downtown,” Christine said. There are also new live auction packages and new programming.

And make no mistake, it is a fun night for all involved. “It is such a fabulous night. Without a doubt, you’re going to have a good time,” Lauren said. “But for me, I love to see the room full of hundreds of people all coming together because they care about kids in our community having the best opportunities, and the brightest futures, possible.”

“The Ice Ball is the coolest place to be in August,” Connie added. “Great food, entertainment, incredible silent and live auction packages, and so much more. Bill and I love seeing friends at the Ice Ball year after year, and meeting new people who will enjoy a wonderful evening and learn more about BBBS!”

How does the Ice Ball differ from other galas around town? “Every dollar raised impacts children and families here in our community,” said Christine. “The fundraising is so local.” “It’s all about supporting underprivileged youth, having a positive impact on children’s lives, and educating people about BBBS” Blake added.

After months of planning and preparation, the night itself is a culminating celebration. “The event is a crescendo of a lot of work,” Blake said. “At the gala itself you reminisce about what everyone has done to make the event happen. I enjoy visiting with all of these amazing people and sharing what we’ve done collectively. It’s like going and seeing 800 of your closest friends,” he laughed.

In a word…

“Ice Ball is unforgettable,” said Lauren.

“It’s amazing,” said Joanna.

“It’s inspiring,” said Connie.

Don’t miss this cool, spectacular, life-changing event set for August 26, 2017 at the J.W. Marriott. You can learn more and get your tickets now at www.austiniceball.org.

The Importance of Male Mentors: Building Futures

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas became a reality due to the work in the early 1960’s of several men who recognized the need for adult mentorship for boys without fathers and boys in the juvenile court system. The men realized that these boys lacked, and needed, positive male role models in their lives.

Fast forward 50 years and the need for male mentors is as great today as when the agency first began. For every male who signs up to be a mentor, two more are needed. Over 80% of the kids who are actively looking for Bigs are boys, and we are running out of men to match them with (currently only 15% of volunteer inquiries are from men). Male mentors are essential to helping boys achieve a positive sense of their own strengths and identities, whether it’s playing catch with a baseball or, as one match discovered, building a coffee table for the house.

“I’ve never gotten to build anything before. It was pretty fun. I thought I would just be attaching a few pieces (for the coffee table),” said Little Brother Keontray. “I didn’t know I was going to do everything.” And he does mean, everything. Keontray soon discovered he would be sawing, planing wood, attaching the pieces, and assembling the whole table. The result was a hand-made coffee table that is so sturdy it can bear the full weight of his Big Brother, Chris.

“When we were done I stood on the table to show him how solid it was,” Chris said. “Keontray couldn’t stop smiling. He kept saying ‘I can’t believe I made that, I can’t believe I made that.’  The table is in his living room where he sees it every day and it reminds him of this one solid thing that he has done. He tells me he’ll be sitting with his mom and she’ll smile and point at the table and say, ‘You built that!’”

Learning to build things is one of many life lessons Chris is sharing with his Little Brother – life lessons that come from his own experiences, but also from his dad. “My dad came from El Salvador and he is an electrical engineer,” Chris continued. “I used to watch him build stuff like alarm clocks or pieces for computers, and it was always fascinating to me. When I was 11 I started helping him around the house. We replaced a fence that was old and rotted. That experience taught me that hard work pays off. When you build something, you can put in hours and hours, plus a lot of sweat, and have something to show for it. I look at that fence now and say ‘My dad and I did that.’”

The skills of creating, of making something with your own hands, and of enjoying hard work are all things Chris wants to pass along.  “Keontray had a rough 2016. His grandfather passed away and that was tough. His dad got out of jail, but he’s never been in Keontray’s life, so to lose a male role model like his grandfather was hard,” Chris said.

Chris understands the importance of mentoring. “When I was Keontray’s age I had both parents and I still went through a lot – fighting at home with my mom, dealing with very bad relationships with friends,” Chris explained.  “I went through many of the same things he’s going through, but my family wasn’t really there for me when I needed to talk about problems or when I had general questions about the opposite sex or about relationships.”

Consequently, Chris’ favorite part of the match is being there for Keontray, listening to his questions, and discussing the answers. The two talk about things that have gone wrong and how those things can be made better the next time.

“I just look forward to seeing Keontray and hearing about all that has gone on during the week,” said Chris, who is a senior at Texas State University. “He’s as much my friend as he is my Little Brother.  Our relationship is not just about him coming to me for advice. Our relationship gives him the opportunity to form his own opinions and thoughts.”

Another skill Chris is teaching Keontray is that of cooking. The pair have made lasagna and enchiladas and Chris has even taught him how to season and prepare chicken. “That way, when he does go out into the world, he’ll be able to fend for himself,” Chris laughed.

In Chris’s mind, their relationship is all about providing Keontray with a blueprint and the tools for success. “In addition to passing on skills and values, male mentors give boys an idea of what they can become, what to aim for, and how to act in the world,” Chris said.

“It’s important for boys to have someone in their lives who can say, ‘It’s okay to not be fine. At one point things were not fine with me, but I got through it and here’s how I did it.’ Boys need men who can serve as examples, and who are willing to invest in, and listen to, them.”

Chris acknowledges that he and Keontray are from very different backgrounds. Chris is a white young man from the suburbs and Keontray is an African-American teenager who has lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. “Keontray has experienced racist slurs from white kids at school,” Chris added. “In our match, it’s really important for him to see that not everyone is like that and that people of different races can care about each other.”

Chris encourages other men to become Big Brothers as well. “If you have experienced anything,” Chris says, “it’s your duty to pass that experience along to someone who needs it.”

Chris believes this so strongly that he has decided to put his plans to enter medical school on hold in order to remain a mentor to Keontray until he graduates from high school. It’s no wonder the two say they will be brothers for life. “When I first met Chris it was awkward,” Keontray admitted, “but now I actually see him as family.”

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