Playing The Long Game

For 19 years Brandon Christensen has been on a roll, participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids bowl-a-thon. And he’s not about to go on strike. He continues to be, in his words, “relentless,” in raising funds and forming teams for the event.

“I really like helping an organization that I feel has a direct impact,” said Brandon. “The first year I participated, I organized a group of 5 friends and we began collecting money. When I do a campaign or fundraiser, I’ve always been the type of person who goes pretty big. Especially if it’s something I believe in. That first year I think I raised $1,700.”

The reason he is passionate about BBBS? He can relate to the kids benefitting from this event. “Growing up, my mom worked really hard to raise my younger brother and me. We definitely struggled at times,” he continued. “I didn’t have a father figure in my life. I know what it’s like to have hard times, so I can relate to the cause and the kids BBBS supports.”

It was while he was in the Air Force that Brandon experienced a pivotal moment in his life. One that instilled in him a desire to give back. He was “volun-told” by his sergeant to sell raffle tickets to provide a Christmas party for local low-income families. Brandon took the project to heart and sold a lot of tickets, but he also took the assignment one step further and attended the event. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “It was great to see these amazing kids enjoying the food, the clowns and the gift exchange. At that point I knew I was going to be active in giving back and providing community support for a long time.”

Brandon has been true to his word, as he has not only participated in BBBS’ Bowl for Kids, he has steadily raised awareness of the event at the company he works for, SHI International. He’s encouraged co-workers to form bowling teams as well, and even established a competition to see which team could raise the most money. The winner received a very nice dinner provided by one of the company’s partners. “These are sales teams so they’re very competitive,” Brandon laughed. “My team won last year, and we’re in the lead this year. I take this very seriously.”

He takes fundraising seriously, but Brandon has also upped his game with BBBS, becoming a Big Brother himself two years ago. It is another part of his life that he feels passionate about. “I was matched with Javon,” said Brandon, “and he is awesome. He is a fun kid and very outgoing. He’s also artistic and very creative.”

The two share a love of comics and comic book movies, and Brandon has nurtured Javon’s interest in robotics, programming and art. They have visited Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art and the Art on 5th gallery.

“On our one-year match anniversary, I gave Javon a collage of pictures of our outings, and he sent me the nicest card about how he values our friendship and our relationship,” said Brandon. “I think it is critical for Littles to have adults (Bigs) in their lives who they know have made time just to be with them.”

Time with Javon has intensified Brandon’s commitment to raising money for BBBS and participating in Bowl for Kids. He now serves on the planning committee for the event and he works to help people understand that the event is not a bowling tournament or competition – it’s an event where participants can dress in costume, have fun, eat pizza, do a little bowling, and raise money for a great organization and cause.

“As a Big, I see how the money we raise allows BBBS to create mentoring relationships for more children in Central Texas, and I know, first-hand, what the campaign is truly about and what it means to be matched. Being a Big myself, I understand how the money raised affects kids from single-parent or low-income homes, as well as kids who need additional motivation or positive reinforcement to be successful.”

Bowl for Kids is a fun event but, for Brandon, it is more than an annual celebration and tradition. It is about forming, and sustaining, mentoring relationships that create lasting change, growth and opportunity for children and adults alike.

Bowl for Kids is coming soon, but there’s still time to get in the game. Join Brandon in making a positive impact in our community. Donate or form a team and participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids 2018 – an event that makes a lifetime of difference.

Register or donate at www.bowlforkidsaustin.org

How Do We Know Mentoring Works?

“The single greatest predictor of a child’s future success is the presence of a consistent, supportive adult in their life.”

Changing kids’ lives for the better, forever is Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission. But how do we know that mentoring, and that our one-to-one mentoring model, works? How do we determine that positive changes are taking place in children’s lives and that our efforts are truly making a difference?

For over 46 years, BBBS of Central Texas has gathered and tracked a variety of data, feedback and information to evaluate the impact of our work. Measuring our effectiveness is something we take seriously. We look at a wide range of factors to ensure that the mentoring relationships we create are producing positive results for the 1,000 matches we serve each year.

Many of the kids in our program face challenges that can adversely affect their success. Sixty-seven percent of the kids we serve come from single-parent homes, 34% have an incarcerated family member, and 85% live at or below the poverty level. Many of our kids are dealing with several of these issues, and others, at once.

“The presence of these circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean a child will go down the wrong path or make poor life choices,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs, “but these factors – among others – can significantly impact their progress and their opportunities for the future. The presence of a supportive, caring mentor can make a world of difference.”

Research shows that the longer a match lasts, the stronger the relationship between a Big and a Little becomes, the better the results of that relationship will be. Consequently, we monitor match length, strength, and outcomes.

To get things off on the right track, BBBS staff go through a very careful and deliberate process to make the best matches possible between prospective Bigs and Littles. When a match is made, the Little’s individual needs are assessed to determine areas the match can focus on improving. A tool called the Risk and Protective Inventory (RPI) helps BBBS staff assess risk areas so that goals and support strategies can be established at the beginning of each mentoring relationship.

“We do set goals with each match,” said Joe. “We monitor the length of the match and the strength of the match relationship with an annual survey completed by both the Big and the Little. Plus, we are consistently communicating with all parties involved to ensure child safety, troubleshoot any problems that might come up, and to nurture the ongoing development and progress of the relationship.”

With regard to outcomes, BBBS staff monitor impacts in three specific areas: socio-emotional development, academic performance, and avoidance of risky behaviors. Socio-emotional measures examine a Little’s relationships with family and peers, their self-confidence, and their attitudes about the future. The academic assessment looks at a Little’s grades, school attendance, and educational aspirations, including their intention to pursue post-secondary education. The behavioral survey evaluates the Little’s attitudes towards drugs, alcohol and fighting, and their avoidance of interactions with the juvenile justice system, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school.

So what does the data show? The results are overwhelmingly positive. More than 99.9% of BBBS-mentored youth avoid juvenile justice involvement; 99.9% avoid early pregnancy; and 98% stay in school, maintain or improve their grades and move on to the next grade level. In addition, BBBS youth complete high school and pursue post-secondary education at rates that are almost twice the national average for their peers.

Ninety-four percent of Littles report feeling close to their Big Brother or Sister, 97% say that their Big is very important to them, and 84% indicate that they have maintained or improved their sense of trust with their parents since being matched.

The numbers, however, are only part of the story. In addition to collecting data, we solicit and receive personal feedback from Bigs, Littles and family members regarding their experiences with our program on an ongoing basis. Bigs and Littles regularly comment on the joy they share in trying new activities, eating new foods and visiting new places. Littles say that they love having someone to talk to who isn’t part of their family, someone they can have one-to-one time with, and someone who provides a different way of looking at things. Parents say that they see improvements in their child’s attitude, in their self-confidence, and in their life goals. And Bigs, Littles, parents and caregivers are frequently pleasantly surprised by how quickly they come to feel like ‘family.’

Andrea Campaigne knows all about the difference a mentoring relationship can make. Andrea is a former a Little Sister who eventually became a Big Sister and then served on BBBS’ board of directors. “My Big Sister, Bert, and I were matched for more than 7 years,” Andrea recalled. “That was a wonderful relationship in my childhood. Bert was the first person in her family to go to college. She put herself through the University of Texas. She never discussed those things with me, but at that important time in my life, she was the right kind of role model for me. When I grew up, I became the first woman in my family to go to college as well. Having had a mentor at that age is not something I take lightly.”

When she became a Big Sister, Andrea inspired her own Little to be the first woman in her family to attend college. “There’s a beautiful continuity to our story which is so subtle,” said Andrea. “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ program works, not because it forces any one measurable outcome or result but because the outcomes just follow from the mentoring relationships themselves. Putting a caring, committed person in an at-risk child’s life leads to their positive development.”

“The depths of the relationships that form between Bigs and Littles are incredible to me,” Andrea continued. “It’s hard to describe or to show on paper. You can try to tell a new Big, ‘In 5 years you’ll be so close that your Little will probably be in your wedding.’ To them it will sound strange, but connections like that happen in this program.”

And she adds, “That’s what I love about BBBS. When you’re matched, you don’t always realize the magic that’s happening in your relationship as it’s taking place, but it does. That’s the beauty of mentorship.”

All About The Team: This Former Little is ‘Playing it Forward’

Years ago, he was credited with being a Little Brother in one of the longest-lasting matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. Today, Dave Rappold serves on BBBS’ Board of Directors and is heading up the agency’s 2018 Bowl For Kids event.

“When I was 4 years old my dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly,” said Dave. “That set the stage for BBBS becoming part of my life.  I went through the next few years in a sort of daze. When I was about 7 years old my mom talked to me about an organization that helped kids by matching them with adults. My first response was ‘I’m getting a dad,’ but she explained how BBBS worked and asked what I would look for in a mentor. My only thoughts were that I wanted him to like bicycles, to like tennis, and to have a mustache. That’s when I met Dale Wiseman.”

Dale became Dave’s Big Brother, and it turned out that he not only liked bicycles, he also liked motorcycles, was a spelunker, played tennis (which he taught Dave), and didn’t live far from Dave’s house. He also had a “wonderful Tom Selleck mustache.” “Having Dale in our lives was great medicine for me and my mom,” said Dave. “I didn’t have the deck stacked against me like a lot of the kids in our program do, but Dale came in fresh and he took me away from all the stuff going on at home. He never knew about everything I’d been through. We never talked about the loss of my dad. We just went and did fun stuff that kids are supposed to do. And I think that’s one of the main things it takes to heal and move forward.”

Dave’s Big Brother helped him cope with the difficult loss of his father. There were still negative things in his life, however. He says he stumbled through school, and that he was distracted and angry, but that having a Big Brother kept him engaged in constructive activities with someone who was a really good person and a wonderful influence. A situation that reduced the chances of his getting into trouble.

When a child loses a parent at such a young age, Dave believes that that loss is always with them in some way… that the sense of loss never leaves. But for Dave, that sense of loss is combined with a deep love for BBBS. “They were there for me,” Dave said of the agency. “And it never really left my mind to re-engage with BBBS at some point.”

Dave has always felt that he should have become a Big himself, but his life changed as he went through college, military service, got married and became a father to two kids of his own. He has found other ways however, to plug in and to advance BBBS’ mission. In 2016 he joined BBBS’ Executive Board. Now, he is leading the campaign for BBBS’ 2018 Bowl for Kids event set for April 27 & 28 at Highland Lanes.

“Last year we had a record-setting Ice Ball gala,” said Dave. “This year, I’d like BBBS to have a record-setting Bowl for Kids event. That would really help reduce the agency’s 600-kid waiting list.”

For Dave, the opportunity to participate in Bowl for Kids cuts across all socioeconomic lines. “Corporate donations are important and get the fundraising ball rolling,” he said. “but everyone can participate. Individuals giving $20 of their gas money are just as important.”

Creating a successful Bowl for Kids event is a team effort that embodies the BBBS spirit. “Bowl for Kids provides a great opportunity for a different type of social mingling and camaraderie,” said Dave. “Participants get together for pizza, beer, water, sodas, and to cheer each other on. There are no diamonds and high heels at Bowl for Kids. It’s just a bunch of folks getting together to support BBBS’ mission and to have a great time in the process. There are participants from corporations, from the community, Bigs, Littles, Board members and staff. All these people come together with one thing in common, they believe in BBBS and want to help the agency serve more kids.”

Dave challenges everyone to participate. “Come and make an impact,” said Dave. “At BBBS we’ve proven ourselves. We’ve proven that our one-to-one mentoring model works. We have a new building. We have a great staff and board. We have all of these important tools and processes and people in place to take care of kids and to serve them really well. We also have a long list of children waiting for the life-changing opportunities that a Big Brother or Sister can provide. What we need to be able to serve more kids is money.”

“Bowl for Kids is a wonderful way to impact BBBS’ ability to serve more kids in a quality manner and to reduce the waiting list for children in need.”

Dave knows all about the difference BBBS can make in a child’s life. He’s been there. Now, he wants to extend that same opportunity to more children whose lives would be impacted, just as his was.

Spotlight on Saul Espinoza

He’s from El Paso, but Saul Espinoza, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas enrollment specialist, knew he wanted to end up in Austin. Though his path to BBBS is unusual, Saul is committed to helping at-risk kids. He works hard to make the best mentoring matches possible so that BBBS’ kids can achieve success.

“As a kid, I’d always looked up to military personnel. So, I signed up for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Socorro High School in El Paso,” said Saul, “and I enlisted in the Army as a combat engineer upon graduation. I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado and served two deployments.”

Following his military service, Saul enrolled at UT El Paso to pursue a degree in social work. “I talked with a lot of social workers who did mental health assessments when servicemen and women returned from deployments,” said Saul. “I liked the work they did, but I disliked the fact that they couldn’t relate to some of the things we were going through. As such, I felt that promoting mental health in the veteran division would be a good fit for me.”

While pursuing his degree, Saul worked as a college tutor at a local high school for at-risk kids. He also volunteered at his local church, helping elementary school children with their homework. “I realized that there was a huge need to provide guidance and mentorship to youth. I also knew I wanted to head to Austin upon graduation,” said Saul. “So, I looked for a place where I would be a good fit. I’d helped with the Bowl for Kids event for BBBS in El Paso, so that’s why BBBS of Central Texas came to mind, and it turned out that the agency here had some job openings.”

Saul interviewed for two positions at BBBS in Austin, but gravitated towards the enrollment specialist role. He realized that he liked the interaction with people and that his interest was in matching kids with mentors and putting the right pairs together. “It makes me feel good when I see that the matches are successful,” said Saul.

As an enrollment specialist Saul interviews volunteers (potential mentors), children, and their families. He then writes assessments based on these interviews, initiates background checks for volunteers and, once that is complete, starts the match-making process. As BBBS’ track record shows, this is a process that the enrollment team works very hard to get right. “I will not make a match if I’m uncertain about it or if I feel the child will not benefit,” said Saul. “I make sure the volunteer is a good fit, and then confirm that the parent and child think the match is a good fit as well. If they are happy, we’ll proceed.”

The greatest challenge Saul sees is that of getting enough volunteers to fill the need. “The hardest part is the shortage of male mentors,” said Saul. “We have a lot more Little Brothers looking for Big Brothers than we have Big Brothers.”

Saul challenges other veterans to help solve this problem. “I would challenge veterans to think about becoming Bigs.  In a way, it’s sort of like being a squad leader or platoon sergeant who looks out for younger soldiers,” said Saul. “Our Littles are a lot younger, but they just need someone to talk to, someone to teach them skills, and someone they can count on to be there. Reliability and stability are things a lot of kids don’t have in their lives.”

While passionate about his work, Saul also enjoys music and playing acoustic, electric, and bass guitar.  He enjoys the outdoors, going to movies, and going to local shows with friends. In addition, he has explored playing video games as a way to increase his ability to relate to the kids he works to help.

“Helping these kids can seem like a daunting task, but it’s really not. They just need someone to help them know the difference between right and wrong, and to help them get on the right path. And helping them is a lot of fun,” said Saul. “I just want these kids to be able to be good, productive members of society. And I want to know that we looked out for these kids, and that in turn, they will look out for others as well.”

Amplify Your Support for BBBS: Rain & Elissa

Amplify Austin is Almost Here – Your Gift Today Can Change A Child’s Life For the Better, Forever!

Amplify Austin is a 24-hour day of community-wide online giving, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is excited to be participating again this year!  Funds raised through Amplify will allow us to create more life-changing mentoring relationships for children in Central Texas.

Amplify your impact for children in our community by donating today. Give now!

Rain & Elissa

Big Sister Elissa and her Little Sister Rain have been matched for so long they say they’ve done just about every activity in the Austin area.

At first they went to parks so Rain could ride her bike. Then their outings shifted to going to the mall and doing “cooler” things. Then things changed again to their current pattern of going to dinner and talking for hours. “I’ve seen the relationship evolve from Rain being a little girl to growing into this young woman who is now my peer,” said Elissa.

Rain lives with her grandmother. When she was first matched with Elissa she was very shy and was having trouble with a few classes in school. But just as their outings evolved, so did their relationship and its impact. “Rain became more outgoing and more willing to reach out to me when she had a problem,” said Elissa. “I’ve seen a level of maturity in her that wasn’t there in the early years.”

Being matched has provided Rain with a sense of security that has allowed her to set goals for the future, goals she’s been working towards for several years as her schoolwork has improved. She now plans to attend a junior college in Texas to focus on academics while pursuing her passion, which is studying dance. She then intends to transfer to an out-of-state college to finish her degree.

“Rain always tells me that our match is very important to her,” said Elissa. “She’s grateful and thankful to me for providing the consistency and support that have allowed her to dream and to grow.”

Your contribution makes relationships like this possible, and changes children’s lives for the better, forever. 

GET STARTED NOW!

  • Mark your calendar and donate between 6 p.m. March 1st – 6 p.m. March 2nd.
  • Afraid you’ll forget? You can schedule your gift now!

Schedule your Amplify Austin gift to BBBS today!

The impacts of our program are great, but the need is even greater. With your help, we can provide more children with the opportunities for success they so richly deserve.

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Finding Joy

Joyful. That’s the word used to describe the match between Big Brother Denver and his Little Brother Juan. What started as an encounter between an adult and a somber, shy child has become a joyful reunion every time the pair get together.

“There was not a lot of excitement in Juan’s life, or a lot for him to look forward to, when we were first matched,” said Denver. “Now, it’s the neatest thing!  When I pick him up his face looks like fireworks going off. He has this radiant smile and he’s so excited about whatever we’re going to do.  And we have a blast.”

The pair feel like they are “a match made in heaven” as their personalities seem to be a perfect fit for one another. Denver has always loved working with kids and claims he is just a big kid himself. “Juan would say I’m funny and silly, with an overall playful personality,” said Denver. “He hasn’t had anyone like that in his life. He lives with his grandmother and doesn’t have any other male role models.”

The two have enjoyed going to movies, playing games at Dave & Buster’s, and road trips. “We go everywhere,” Denver continued. “To places he’s never been. We went to the Alamo and the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and we’ve been to Sea World. He loved that because he’s 9 years old and he’d never been outside of Austin before.”

Denver and Juan have a great time with all of their outings, but it is not all play time. “I get serious when it comes to school and his health,” said Denver. “I’m teaching him lessons about life, about the foods he eats, about taking care of himself, and about the importance of education. I hold him accountable for his homework.”

This accountability has impacted Juan’s success in school. “He loves to build things. He loves Legos, science, dinosaurs,” said Denver. “He’s smart as a whip. He’s doing so well in school. I will sometimes go and have lunch with him at school and I think that actually gives him additional confidence in that environment.”

Having a Big Brother who listens and who provides a consistent presence gives Juan confidence and stability as well. The match came at an important time in Juan’s life when his grandmother became his full-time guardian.

As so often happens with mentoring relationships, the impact is not just one-way. “Being a role model for Juan has made me a better person,” Denver admitted, “because he looks up to me. I probably get much more out of the match than he does.”

Someone else who gets a lot out of the match is Denver’s biological son, Denver Jr., as he and Juan have become good friends. At first, he was a little jealous of the amount of time his father spent with Juan. Denver Jr. was 4 years old when the match began, but now, a couple of years later, he is the one who often asks his dad if they can pick Juan up to go on outings together. “It has been important for my son to learn that people can come from different backgrounds and situations,” said Denver, “but that we all have similar needs and that we can all help one another.”

Juan is enjoying having an adult to spend quality time with.  For Denver the joy comes from knowing he’s giving back.  “During my 30’s I worked a lot,” said Denver, who owns his own real estate business. “But when I turned 40 I did some self-reflecting and realized I was not really giving back. Oh, I’d give some money here or there, but I wasn’t really making an impact.”

A woman at Denver’s church noticed how good he was with children and suggested he volunteer to work with kids. At that moment Denver said the lightbulb went off and he applied to be a Big Brother. That decision has changed Denver’s life.

“I’ve learned that giving back is so rewarding it makes me want to give more,” he said. “Being a Big Brother has helped me so much personally. This is one of the greatest achievements in my life, other than the birth of my own son. It trumps my financial success and my graduation from college because I know I’m making such a difference in Juan’s life and in my own life too.”

Denver also credits the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. “This program is the most important program. There are so many kids who need help. And when they don’t have a role model or a strong relationship with a caring adult they get into trouble,” said Denver. “Providing that one-to-one support is more important than ever because these are difficult times for kids.”

Experiencing joy goes a long way toward helping kids deal with difficult times. Denver and Juan expect to be sharing joyful experiences for a long time to come. “Juan loves me like a dad and I care for him like a son,” said Denver. “It’s just so incredible. I knew the first day we were matched that we would be matched for the rest of my life.”

Look What You Helped Us Achieve in 2017!

2017 was a banner year for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. As we head into 2018, our 47th year of service in the community, we have just experienced an exceptional year of fundraising success, exposure, and support for the agency, along with the honor of having won a number of important awards. Most important, however is the growth we achieved in the number of children served – a terrific 5% increase over the previous year, which amounts to almost 1,000 kids and families served, about 300 new matches made, and approximately 60,000 hours of volunteer service given by Bigs.

“Our focus has always been on serving a lot of kids, really well,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS. “We always want to maintain our emphasis on building quality mentoring relationships, while at the same time striving to help more and more kids get that one-to-one one mentoring support that can change their lives forever. We were able to achieve the success we experienced in 2017 because of our incredible volunteers, families, staff, donors, board members, community partners and other BBBS supporters.”

In addition to growing the total number of children served in 2017, BBBS launched several new initiatives designed to expand the organization’s impact and reach. A Bigs in Blue program was launched in partnership with the Austin Police Department. Bigs in Blue is a national initiative aimed at recruiting law enforcement personnel to serve as mentors to youth in their communities.

BBBS also initiated a Big Futures program that offers matches the opportunity to continue their relationships with one another, and with BBBS, beyond high school graduation. This new program provides on-going support to Bigs and Littles, helps them fully utilize the current Scholarship Program, and offers resources and guidance regarding post-secondary education and career readiness.

BBBS’ Promising Futures Scholarship Program is beginning it’s 32nd year of awarding scholarships to Littles in our program. In 2017 BBBS promised $445,250 in new college scholarships to graduating Littles.

“We are also using our new mentoring center to bring people together in new ways. We offer monthly Youth Activity Center (YAC) nights for our matches that allow them to come together to enjoy games, events and quality time together. We hold a big Fall carnival for matches on site, and we host numerous community meetings and gatherings in our mentoring center, strengthening our relationships and partnerships within the community.”

BBBS has also worked hard to maintain its strong financial status. In a new building that costs twice as much to operate as the old one, the agency came in under budget on expenses in 2017. BBBS’ Board of Directors gave and raised about $275,000 for the agency, which accounted for about 14% of the agency’s total budget. The agency also raised almost $200,000 more in funds over the previous year via special events such as Ice Ball and Bowl for Kids. The Ice Ball Gala alone achieved an unprecedented $670,000 in funds raised.

Helping more kids, launching new initiatives, utilizing our space for community events, engagement and benefit, and increasing overall revenue resulted in the agency receiving numerous awards in 2017. The agency received Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s (BBBSA) National Gold Standard Award, BBBSA’s National Board of the Year Award, was a BBBSA National Agency of the Year award finalist, was selected as an Austin Business Journal Best Place to Work, received a 3-star energy rating, and our CEO, Brent Fields, received the Austin Business Journal’s Non-Profit CEO of the Year award.

So, what will 2018 bring?

“We are excited about the future. We have an engaged, mission-driven team in place,” said Brent. “We also have a beautiful new space that can handle more staff and offer more resources and support to our matches and to the community as a whole. We are ready to move up to the next level. Now we need to achieve an even greater level of financial support in order to move the 600 kids who are waiting into the life-changing, one-to-one mentoring relationships they need and deserve. Quite simply, we want to continue to serve more kids. Our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity lies in finding the resources to do so.”

As we look to the new year, we deeply appreciate your ongoing support, participation, and engagement. Thank you for all that you have helped us achieve, for all the children, families and volunteers whose lives we have been able to affect, and for all of the great things that we will continue to do together to help children and families in our community moving forward.

Together we can do great things. We already have. And there is still much great work to do.