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.

Corporate Matching Gifts: An Easy Way to Double Your Impact

Thinking about supporting the great work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas? Or are you already participating? If so, you may be able to double your impact with one simple step – finding out if the company you work for matches donations to nonprofits. Many do. It’s an easy way to instantly double your contribution.

“It’s a gift that frequently goes unclaimed,” said Lauren Portley, BBBS Vice President of Development. “Often employees don’t realize their company will match their contribution to a nonprofit dollar for dollar. Regardless of whether you are a potential donor or a current donor, check with your Human Resources department and find out your company’s policy. It can make a huge difference to your nonprofit of choice.”

An employee matching gifts program is a win-win for all involved. “As an employee, it makes me feel empowered to be able to leverage my money, to double it,” said Thessaly Startzell, Counsel and Board Liaison of Dell Corporate Legal, Dell Inc., and a member of BBBS’ Foundation Board of Directors.  “Which is great! For me, it’s helping the nonprofit I care most about, which is empowering.”

It’s also a way for employers to demonstrate support for their employees. “If you’re an employer, it’s a great way to build morale,” said Thessaly. “It shows employees that you care about what they care about. Plus, it’s a simple process to put in place.”

This type of program also adds to the local community. “It strengthens the community where your employees live and work,” Thessaly continued, “which, from a Dell perspective is huge, because this (the Round Rock/Austin corridor) is one of the company’s largest communities.”

Contact your Human Resources group to find out how to set up a matching gifts program, and check to see if there are other ways your company can help within the community. An additional way that Dell Inc. contributes is through a Volunteer Reward Card program that makes donations based on employee volunteer hours.

“You simply enter your volunteer hours and if you have at least 10 hours of volunteer work in a quarter, Dell will contribute $150 to the nonprofit of your choice,” said Thessaly. “I can volunteer at 5 different nonprofits, but the money goes to the one nonprofit I select. And it doesn’t have to be the one where I volunteered. If you’re a Dell employee and you’re a Big or someone who’s interested in BBBS – that volunteer service could amount to a $600 donation to BBBS in a given year.”

Whether it’s a matching gifts program or a volunteer matching program, find out how your company supports nonprofits in the community, and see how you can take advantage of these opportunities to increase your impact for the causes you care about.

Spotlight on Joe Strychalski

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas provides, coordinates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships for almost 1,000 children each year. BBBS’ program team consists of 19 staff members who work with each child, family member and volunteer to make and monitor these match relationships on an ongoing basis. Managing this activity for BBBS is Joe Strychalski, the agency’s Vice President of Programs.

“I’ve always had a heart for working with underserved youth,” said Joe.

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Indiana, Joe came to BBBS of Central Texas from Dayton’s BBBS agency. He’d worked for a small youth ministry where he helped to establish and manage a thrift store, and then worked at a bank before joining his local BBBS agency as a youth enrollment specialist, putting Bigs and Littles together.

“I love the BBBS organization and its mission,” said Joe. “After I joined BBBS in Dayton, I started looking for opportunities to gain new skills and take on new responsibilities.” Some of these new skills involved working on the development side of the agency with fundraising and events.

“I wanted to do even more at the agency, so I went back to school to get my MBA,” said Joe. After that, he took on additional responsibilities managing the agency’s finances and handling the organization’s human resources activities.

One day, a friend at the national BBBS office called Joe to tell him about the Vice President of Programs job opening in Central Texas. After visiting the city and going through a lengthy interview process, Joe and his wife Carol made the move from Ohio.

BBBS of Central Texas is a larger agency than the one in Dayton, but Joe still oversees a variety of functions – customer service, enrollment, match support and the agency’s scholarship program.  “BBBS is a fun place to work,” said Joe. “We have great leadership, a new building, and I have an amazing team. Our staff are always looking for ways to improve. Their enthusiasm and the heart they bring to our mission are amazing.”

Joe’s favorite part of his job involves seeing the impact that mentoring makes. “The first meeting of a match, the introduction of a Big and a Little, is just the coolest thing,” said Joe. “The Little is super-excited, awkward and nervous, and the same is true of the Big. The new Big is ready to launch into a new relationship and have an impact on a child and their family, but they are also nervous. The program staff get to see Bigs and Littles interact, find shared interests, and discover how exploring life together can make a difference. We also get to interact with matches that have been together 8 or more years and that truly feel like real brothers and sisters. Seeing the ways that mentoring benefits children, families and volunteers, and helping to create and strengthen these relationships, is really rewarding.”

Joe and Carol, and their dog, a 90-lb Goldendoodle named Murray, are enjoying the Austin area, especially all of the outdoor activities available. Joe has also become the agency’s BBQ connoisseur. Once a month he organizes staff visits to BBQ restaurants in the Central Texas area.

BBBS’ 2018 Bigs of the Year

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie & Kirida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas and Tiy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen and Montse: A Transformational Year

Over the past twelve months we’ve shared stories of some of the matches your support has made possible. As 2017 comes to a close, we followed up with one of these matches to learn more about their year. They have experienced some exciting changes.

When we introduced you to Big Sister Ellen and her Little Sister Montse last spring, Montse was trying to adjust to a new school as a high school freshman. At the time, one of Ellen and Montse’s primary goals was to help Montse become the first person in her family to graduate from high school.

Now, months later, with a year of high school behind her and encouragement from her Big Sister, finishing high school is not her only ambition. Montse has particularly enjoyed studying psychology and learning about the emotional and physical aspects of the human brain. This has inspired her to want to become a physician and she knows that to achieve this goal she will need to attend college.

It is a dream that she has been working toward even though she is only a sophomore. “Montse went on a school-sponsored trip to Louisiana to visit colleges last year,” said Ellen. “This year’s trip is to Washington, D.C. and she really wants to go because she wants to visit one of the schools I attended. However, this trip costs a lot more.”

Montse didn’t think that making this year’s trip was a possibility. She knew that her parents couldn’t afford to send her and she wasn’t sure she could raise the money. She sold popcorn as a fundraiser through her school, but was only able to raise about $100.

“That’s when we decided to set up a fundraising website that I shared through my network,” said Ellen. “We posted a lovely letter Montse wrote explaining who she is and what her aspirations are. I think both of us had low expectations.“

“The response was incredible,” Ellen continued. “We raised almost $800. Even people I work with whom I’ve never actually met donated. I work for a very generous company and the people there always want to help out.”

To make her dream of becoming a doctor a reality, however, the obstacles Montse faces are not only financial. She must also overcome her family’s doubts. Though her family is proud and supportive of her, some members do not believe that she can achieve her dreams. “She has family members who still joke that she will probably just drop out of high school and get married,” Ellen said. “Montse says, ‘I don’t listen to them anymore. They are wrong.’”

Montse has backed up her statement with action this year. “I’ve always encouraged her to do well in school, and she has always been a good ‘B’ student, but she was young and she was dealing with a lot as a kid,” Ellen remarked. “But this year, she has been so much more motivated to be at the top of her class. I’ve never seen that kind of determination in her before. She is now number 1 or number 2 in her class. She loves talking about psychology and about how the brain works. She’s just super excited about it.”

“Eight months ago, Montse wanted to be a special effects makeup artist. That has changed into her wanting to become a doctor,” said Ellen. “I think that’s a really cool transition. She knows what she likes and as she’s exposed to more things, her interests are evolving. It’s super cool to watch.”

Montse has also established some personal goals. She is starting to think about college resumes and is working toward gaining more leadership and service experience than is required by her school. “She really wants to get the Gold Standard for service hours,” said Ellen.

In the past year, Montse has come a long way from simply trying to adjust to a new school. “I actually think that moving to a new school was a blessing,“ said Ellen. “Montse had a lot of friends at her old school and it was a comfortable place. She moved to this new school where she didn’t know anyone, and she put her energy into excelling academically.”

“She is so much more confident now that she’s gained a sense of purpose and a passion. She seems so much more centered and calm,” said Ellen. “This is new. When we were matched three years ago Montse had issues with aggression and she was angry at everyone. Now she knows what she wants to be and she is taking steps to get there. And I will always support her through graduating high school, attending college, and becoming a doctor. It’s been a great year.”

Your support makes matches, and possibilities like these, possible. Montse’s Big Sister has provided her with the support and encouragement to envision and pursue a future that she could not have conceived of before. Thank you for helping Montse, and more children like her.

Our 2017 Holiday Party – Snow Much Fun

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! On Sunday, December 10th, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas held its annual Holiday Party. This merry celebration welcomed over 300 Bigs, Littles and staff members to the Texas Museum of Science and Technology (TxMOST) where matches came together to enjoy the holiday season.

It was an afternoon filled with classic games, educational experiments, and engaging museum tours. From playing Connect Four to touring the museum and visiting the Planetarium, Bigs and Littles enjoyed yummy snacks as they bonded over countless activities. They snapped silly photos at the photo booth and learned how to create circuits with the help of LEDs and playdough.

One of the most popular attractions was the toy booth. Our Littles’ eyes gleamed with joy as they saw the abundance of toys! Their faces lit up when they were told they could chose a gift to take home.

“This Holiday Party is very special to us and it keeps growing year after year!” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It is awesome to see the museum filled with matches bonding with each other. This is a great opportunity for us to connect with matches, and with one another.”

This is the second year BBBS has held this event at the Texas Museum of Science and Technology and our matches were in for a treat! Attendees were able to experience the Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion exhibit. The exhibit features over 40 interactive pieces of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs and the kids loved it! They experimented with the impressive recreations as they learned more about Leonardo’s career.

“Everyone has a great time,” said Adriana Adams, BBBS customer relations supervisor. “A lot of the matches come every year and look forward to seeing their friends. And we look forward to seeing them too!”

This special event would not have been possible without the help and participation of our sponsors and donors. A huge thank you to the Texas Museum of Science & Technology, AECOM, RSM, General Motors, Alpha Phi Alpha, MyEventIsTheBomb, ADP, Young Men’s Service League, Junior League of Austin, National Society of Black Engineers, and Hapi Drinks.

Thank you for creating holiday magic and lasting memories for the children, families and volunteers we serve.

See our Flickr album of photos from the event here

See photo booth photos here

SantaCon 2017

On Saturday, December 9th, more than 500 Santa-clad guests and friends descended on Rainey Street to participate in the first annual SantaCon event benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. The merry crowd raised over $8,000 to help BBBS create more life-changing friendships between at-risk youth and caring adult mentors. It was an afternoon of fun with a serious purpose.

The jolly Saint Nicks began the event at Lustre Pearl where they enjoyed drinks and reindeer games, received SantaCon swag and wore their red and white with pride. They then traveled to several other venues where the games and fun continued. There were elves aplenty as the group rang in the holiday season in style.

“SantaCon Austin will definitely make my list of most memorable days in 2017,” said participant Kevin McCrea. “Rainey Street was filled with Santas who were all out to have a fun afternoon and support a great cause.  I have no doubt that SantaCon will become a popular tradition that continues in Austin for years to come.“ 

The event was organized by a number of BBBS supporters, including BBBS’ Big Impact Group. “BBBS’s first SantaCon event rallied Austinites from all over the city,” said Oliver Davis-Urman. “Over 500 participants, dressed head-to-toe in many styles of Christmas attire, were treated to a beautiful day on Rainey Street, and spread holiday cheer through each of the participating venues. I know this event will continue to grow, and I look forward to being part of its continued success.”

“Everyone had a blast and participants were very creative with their costumes,” said Patty Morton, special events manager for BBBS. “SantaCon is an event that has benefited Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies from coast to coast and it is now officially in Austin. The funds raised through this event and others throughout the year allow us to create and support more mentoring relationships. A big ‘thank you’ to all who attended, to those who continue to support our mission, and to our sponsors.”

SantaCon is a Santa-themed pub crawl that includes games, prizes, networking, and fundraising. “This year’s event was such a success that we’re already making plans for 2018,” said Patty. “Next year we hope to quadruple participation with up to 2,000 Santas – enough to close down Rainey Street!”

Special thanks to our sponsors:

The BIG Impact Group, 365thingsaustin, DO512, 512ATX, Lustre Pearl Rainey, Bungalow, Container Bar, Clive Bar, The Parlor Room, and Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden.