Chris & Jeremiah: Growing Together

Little Brother Jeremiah could hardly contain his excitement when he finally got to meet his Big Brother Chris three years ago. Despite his enthusiasm however, Jeremiah was not completely ready to trust in this new relationship. In fact, according to his guardian, it was hard for him to trust any adult since he felt most adults in his life had walked out on him. However, his new Big Brother began to change all of that.

“He had no self-confidence,” said Chris. “He’d moved around between homes and hadn’t had any stability. He didn’t have anyone who was giving him attention for any extended time. I began talking to him about the things he was great at and the things I loved about him. I told him about ways I had failed in the past and ways that I had overcome adversity, helping him to see that it’s okay to fail and that failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad person.”

One activity that stands out as a huge confidence builder for Jeremiah is the reading the two have done together before their regular outings. When the match began, Jeremiah could barely read and had been held back for his second grade year. “So, I shifted the focus of our outings to education,” Chris explained. “During the first 45 minutes of each visit we would get kolaches, go to my house and spend time reading and writing. Then we would go swimming.”

Chris often took a creative approach to helping Jeremiah learn.  “I noticed that he loved technology and always wanted to play with my phone,” Chris continued. “So, I started having him text members of my family, pranking them into thinking it was me. Jeremiah loved it and came up with the most off-the-wall-texts, but he was reading and writing.”

The creative approach plus the structured reading time paid off as Jeremiah passed his grade level and made all A’s and B’s this past year. “He’s proud of himself and I let him know that I am proud of him too,” said Chris. “I’m especially proud of him for continually trying, and working, and overcoming adversity.”

The pair also spend time going to video arcades, bowling, roller skating and swimming. Jeremiah has gotten to know Chris’ wife and son as well.

“Jeremiah is a great kid. He’s become family,” said Chris. “Sometimes I’m a father figure, or a brother, uncle, or friend. There’s a lot to love about him.”

“My upbringing was less than ideal, and spending time with Jeremiah helps me reframe my childhood. It helps me see it through the eyes of an 8 or a 10-year-old,” said Chris. “This is one of my closest relationships. I’m glad Jeremiah’s in my life.”

Your support makes life-changing relationships like this possible.  Thank you.

Learn more about our Game Changers program at www.gamechangersaustin.org.

Learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Giving Society here

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

BB&T: Making A Difference

It’s been 3 years since BB&T bank signed up to be a Diamond Sponsor for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Ice Ball gala. During that time, the company has not only seen BBBS grow and change, the company’s relationship with BBBS has grown and changed as well.

“Three years ago, we were looking to further support the community by partnering with an organization that aligned with our values, and whose mission fit well with BB&T’s mission – part of which is to make the world a better place to be,” said Blake Absher, BB&T’s Austin Market President and a former Big Brother. “BBBS was near and dear to us. We liked that funds raised for BBBS would go back to our community and to supporting youth.”

The relationship between BB&T and BBBS proved to be a perfect match and each year BB&T’s impact on, and support for, BBBS has grown. Over the past three years, the company has increased annual donations for the Ice Ball Gala through an employee-led fundraising campaign, spread the word about BBBS’ work and mission to the organization’s employees, clients, friends and associates, and recruited others to support BBBS as volunteers, mentors and donors. It’s a growth no one really saw coming.

“In the beginning, we knew we wanted to connect our associates with BBBS. We wanted to be more than a gala sponsor. We wanted our team to feel invested in the agency’s mission,” Blake said. “But seeing how things have grown, and how passionate and involved our employees have become, is really amazing,”

“We have employees who have taken leadership roles in fundraising and advocacy, joined committees, and who want to become Bigs themselves. We have associates who are out there championing BBBS’ work while also championing BB&T’s mission. I didn’t think it would grow like this,” Blake admitted. “The snowball effect has been incredible. Our partnership has affected our organization, our employees and our clients. In addition to our own team members, we now have clients coming in as Ice Ball sponsors, joining the Ice Ball host committee, and then leveraging their own networks to fundraise for BBBS. Seeing this evolution has really been rewarding.”

“I think our involvement with BBBS has brought our organization together city-wide,” said Cathy Haines, BB&T’s Retail and Small Business Leader, and a former Big Sister. “We have 15 branches in Austin. Fundraising for BBBS has fostered friendly competition among all our teams and teammates. We look forward to giving back to BBBS, and we gain as much as we give. BBBS is a wonderful organization that we have all got behind, and our partnership with BBBS makes us proud.”

BB&T’s support for BBBS extends far beyond the walls of the company. “I help manage the annual fundraising campaign from the branch level, and I would definitely say that we do take it home with us,” said Susan McNeight, BB&T’s Market Leader, Onion Creek Branch. “Many of our team members not only try to raise funds through their interactions at the bank, but they also go home and tell their friends and families what they’re doing. They go on social media and say ‘Hey, I’m fundraising for BBBS. Would you consider donating?’”

“One of our tellers was a former Little, and our relationship with BBBS really means something special to her. And again, she talks to everybody she knows and tries to raise funds,” Susan said.

BB&T’s employees are also committing to more personal involvement with BBBS as well. “Every year, I’ve gotten more involved,” said Susan, who is currently a member of the Ice Ball Host Committee. “Ultimately, I’d like to become a Big Sister.”

BB&T’s support for BBBS not only brings their employees together, it also brings the company closer to its clients. “I reached out to my personal network when I was fundraising last year and I got a response from a company that donated $3,000, which I was not expecting at all,” Susan continued.  “The owner said ‘I just wanted to donate. I hope this contribution helps you reach your goal. My daughter is a Big in San Antonio, and BBBS is an organization I’m really proud of and believe in.’ He and his wife have been mentors to young kids in the past, so our campaign really touched him, and I’d had no idea. I was just making a request and his response was a surprise. This year, when I reached out to them again, they bought a table at Ice Ball. They’re coming to the gala from San Antonio and bringing some of their clients with them.”

Through all of the fundraising and networking however, BB&T never loses sight of the fact that the real goal of their activity is to get kids off of BBBS’ waiting list and into positive mentoring relationships. “That’s really been a motivating, driving factor,” Blake said. “We know that there are still 600 kids out there who are waiting to be matched with mentors of their own, and that’s something that drives us to tell every client who comes through the door about our partnership with BBBS.”

“BBBS has just moved into a new building that will give them room to grow. The agency’s program metrics are at an all-time high, and the organization has won a number of awards for program quality and impact. Now BBBS needs to increase its financial resources in order to serve more kids. We want to help make that happen.”

“I handle weekly calls with the captains of each branch and we talk about how much we have raised and how many kids those funds will get off the waiting list,” Susan said. “That makes the impact of our efforts very real and very personal. We know our activities are affecting kids’ lives.”

“When you look at the impact that BBBS makes on an individual basis, the difference a one-to-one relationship can make in a child’s life, it is very powerful,” Cathy added. “As former Bigs, Blake and I have witnessed this first-hand. To me, communicating that message is really important. Helping children, helping community members, and making the world a better place is an important part of what we do at BB&T. Working with BBBS allows us to put our mission into action.”

“At BB&T we have a saying that ‘No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.’  Blake concluded, “But, as our relationship with BBBS shows, by working together, we can do even more.”

Hobie Day 2017

Sun, water, boats and fun! Big Brothers Big Sisters’ recent Hobie Day was a big hit with Bigs and Littles alike. Set at Bob Wentz Park on Lake Travis, BBBS matches enjoyed the unique experience of sailing on catamarans courtesy of the Austin Hobie Cats, a group of sailing enthusiasts who have hosted the event for almost 40 years. Over 300 matches, families, volunteers, and staff turned out for the special event.

“It was a great new experience with my Big,” said Little Brother Adonis. He and Big Brother Russell enjoyed being out on the lake together.

Big Sister Jessica and her Little Sister Nadia also enjoyed their first experience on a catamaran, though Nadia said she was a little scared at first. Both found the ride to be different than they were expecting but still a lot of fun.

“It was very interesting. They explained about the different parts of the boat and different sailing techniques,” said Big Sister Kemisha. “I asked a lot of questions because I’d never been sailing before and it’s something I’d always wanted to do.” Her Little Sister Lia added that the ride was really nice.

A few matches who sailed last year, like Angel and Patrick, got to have some new adventures. “I got to hang out on the trapeze over the side of the boat and drag my feet in the water,” said Little Brother Angel, who conquered his fears, put on the safety harness, and enjoyed the new experience.

“I’d like to thank all the guys who came with their boats and volunteered,” Patrick added. “That was wonderful.”

The AustinCats supplied the catamarans and have also donated countless hours preparing for and hosting the event.  The Young Men’s Service League Cavaliers Chapter provided volunteers who helped with tasks like equipping attendees with life jackets, assisting people as they got onto the boats and cleaning up after the event.

Hobie Day is one of the few BBBS-organized events where Bigs and Littles get to spend time with the Little’s family members as well. In addition to sailing, attendees enjoyed swimming, playing games and lounging along the shoreline.

Big Sister Liz and Little Sister Angel enjoyed their first year at Hobie Day. “Whenever they turned the boat we were getting splashed with water,” Liz said, “and a big wave came and splashed Angel.” Little Sister Angel wasn’t bothered in the least. She had a big smile on her face after finishing the ride.

Special thanks to the AustinCats, the Young Men’s Service League Cavaliers, Hapi Drinks, Yeti, and Zilker Boat Rentals for their support and involvement. We couldn’t do hold this annual event without such great partners, staff, volunteers, Bigs, Littles and their families. Events like these are where memories are made.

Opening Doors: Joe and Brian

Recognizing the role of mentors in your own life is a step toward understanding BBBS’ mission and impact. Having benefited from mentoring himself, Joe Gomez is now seeking to “pay it forward” as a Big Brother to his Little Brother, Brian.

“My father, like Brian’s, was incarcerated during most of my youth,” said Joe. “We have both been raised by single moms. As busy as his mother is, it’s really difficult for her to spend time on academics and athletics.”

Joe considers himself a “personal trainer” who is helping his Little Brother work harder in school and on the field so that he can see the positive results of his efforts. “Our time together gives Brian the opportunity to challenge himself. We work on basic skills, motivation, and on refining what he’s focusing on.”

“When we were first matched, college wasn’t something Brian looked forward to or thought about,” Joe continued, “so I took him to visit the University of Texas campus where we walked around, met some of the staff, checked out the football field, and ate in one of the dormitories.”

“I wanted him to see how everyone on that campus is different – different races, different backgrounds. I wanted him to know that the people there are people just like us who are going to a university, graduating, and going on to the next stage of their lives. Our tour made college seem real and tangible, rather than like an unattainable pipe dream.”

College is the reason Joe became so focused on the importance of mentoring himself. Growing up without a father figure, Joe was influenced by an uncle who went to college, and who inspired Joe to follow in his footsteps. “Having a relative who went that far and who believed in me is the reason I am where I am today,” said Joe, who is now an account executive with The HT Group. “The circumstances I grew up in didn’t define my future as much as having someone in my life who told me that I could do, and be, more.”

Joe is passing this knowledge and encouragement on to his Little Brother. “I’m seeing a growth in his self-confidence,” Joe said. “I saw the biggest breakthrough when we were working out because it was the first time Brian could really see that he was getting better, that he was getting stronger, and that his efforts were making a difference. Once he saw some progress, the value of his efforts, and his ability to change things, became real. Plus, it created some momentum. I hope that no matter where he goes in life, if there’s ever a door that seems beyond his grasp, he’ll take a shot at opening it. That he won’t accept limiting beliefs or circumstances.”

“The kids who enroll in BBBS’ program are hungry for attention and hungry to grow. They will listen and they will try. They just need a little push.”

“Mentoring is a living, breathing process that never ends…. A constant giving back and paying forward,” Joe concluded. “So far, I’ve learned three main things – one, I’ve gotten just as much out of being a mentor as I’ve given; two, we really need support from other people in the community to do this; and three, it’s amazing how little it takes to change somebody’s life for the better.”

Community Partners Support Our Matches

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has always worked hand-in-hand with the community to ensure that children succeed. One group that exemplifies this collaborative spirit is BBBS Match Discount Partners – a group of businesses that offer their services for free, or at a reduced rate, for BBBS’ matches. These partners often assist with special events as well. By offering their support to BBBS, whether through products or services, BBBS’ community partners show how much they value our mission, the children in our community, and the importance of giving back.

“It’s such a positive partnership, especially with an organization like BBBS that’s doing the right thing for kids,” said Jeff Wilkinson, owner of PLAYlive Nation Austin; one of BBBS’ newest Match Discount Partners. Jeff’s business is an upscale video gaming lounge located at Lakeline Mall. PLAYlive Nation offers a safe social environment where matches can play video games and collectible card games like Magic and Pokémon.

“We’ve created a really family-friendly environment. We don’t allow cursing or yelling or screaming,” Jeff continued. “Bigs and Littles can feel comfortable coming in and having a good time together. It’s all about having fun.”

Jeff was referred to BBBS by a cousin who was a Big Sister. “She mentioned that Bigs are always looking for things to do with their Littles,” Jeff said. “It just seems like a win-win if we can offer something that helps matches.”

PLAYlive Nation is just one of the new activities and experiences that BBBS’ Match Discount Partners offer. Businesses and organizations contributing to the program include The Austin Aquarium, Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art, The Bullock Texas State History Museum, Austin Zoo, the Loralee Foundation, Thinkery, Austin Rock Gym, and Rick’s Cleaners, among others.

One partner that has been involved with BBBS since 2010 is CiCi’s Pizza in Round Rock and New Braunfels. A family-owned franchise business, CiCi’s first connected with BBBS when their corporate offices supported a BBBS Bowl for Kids event. “I then thought I needed to do something individually with BBBS because it’s a great organization,” said Chad Goodwin, owner. “No one needs support more than a young man or woman who doesn’t have a role model in their life to help them find the right path. The fact that Bigs provide that help is a testament to the type of people they are, and that’s something we want to encourage.”

Chad has always ensured that his businesses have been community and kid-focused. “Kids and pizza go together,” Chad laughed. “One of my fondest memories is of going out to eat with my parents. At CiCi’s, we try to bring people together through food. It’s one of the reasons we decided to do the discount partnership with BBBS. We wanted to provide opportunities for matches to sit down and talk without any other distractions, and we didn’t want Bigs to be burdened with providing that meal.”

Having community businesses partner with BBBS is a huge help for the agency and it supports our mission. “The support from community members and discount partners allows our kids and their Bigs to participate in a wider array of activities that are fun, engaging and affordable,” said Christina Eisenlord, enrollment specialist and program coordinator. “It also provides our kids with opportunities to expand their worlds and to discover all that this city has to offer.”

Business partners recognize this as well. “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bigs are providing much more than I am providing by giving a free meal,” said Chad. “They are making an impact on young men’s and women’s lives. And those young people are going to grow up to be our customers, our employees, and contributing members of our community. We want to positively impact them.”

Though Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is part of a national organization, our agency works at the local level. Working with community partners connects us to the community, benefits the children, families and volunteers we serve, and expands our circle of influence and impact in a way that is mutually beneficial. It is a win-win for our agency, our matches and those who partner with us; one that raises the tide for the community as a whole.

BBBS is always looking for new partners who are interested in supporting our mission. To learn more about participating in BBBS’ Match Discount Partner Program, contact Christina Eisenlord at ceisenlord@bigmentoring.org or 512-807-3611.

For a complete list of BBBS’ current Match Discount Partners, please visit our website at Bigmentoring.org/Volunteer/Match Discount Partners or click here

All In The Family

Big Brothers Big Sisters has always been about relationships, whether between Bigs and Littles, between the agency and the Littles, Bigs and families we serve, or between the organization and its donors and community partners. Like biological families, these relationships are built on trust, love, compassion and commitment. It’s no wonder then that such strong bonds often influence the family members of Bigs to become involved with the agency as well, creating impacts that affect not just individuals, but generations.

“I know the commitment to a Little requires flexibility, creativity and compassion,” said John Nelson, whose wife Claire is a Big Sister. “I’ve watched my wife develop strategies to keep her Little Sister entertained, engaged and challenged. It was really great seeing her excitement after she and her Little connected during a particular outing.”

Claire has been matched with her Little Sister, Lizette, for a year. “I do talk about the program sometimes, and John sees me leave each week for the outings, but I didn’t have to encourage him to get involved,” Claire said. “He’s the type of person who wants to make a difference. That’s why he joined the Austin Police Department. When I let him know that APD was partnering with BBBS, he took the initiative to become a Big himself.”

John is one of the first APD officers to sign up for Bigs in Blue, a new BBBS program that matches law enforcement officers with Littles. “The personal relationship between a Big and a Little provides a nice contrast to my professional work as a first responder,” John explained.

As an officer, John has brief contacts with youth in emergency situations. “Being a Big will allow me to develop a longer-lasting relationship with a young person and to have a significant impact,” he said.

“BBBS brings people from different parts of the community together and helps to build bridges and connections, which is important.” Claire added. “Relationships formed through BBBS shatter ‘us-vs-them’ thinking, encourage empathy, and foster deeper understanding. These things create a greater sense of community.”

Claire has experienced this in her own match. She and Lizette come from different backgrounds. In trying to understand and reconcile their differences, Claire said that she became a better listener. As a result, she and Lizette developed a bond that has helped Lizette open up.

“Having one family member pave the way and set an example as a Big definitely eases the anxiety other family members might have about taking on such a responsibility,” Claire continued. “It also allows other family members to see the benefits that a mentoring relationship can have for the Little and Big alike.”

Another Nelson family is sharing the BBBS experience through generations. Connie and Bill Nelson and their three children have been connected to BBBS for almost 15 years. Their relationship with the organization began when their oldest son, Bill Jr., became a Big Brother right out of college and was matched for 5 years.

“I had a great experience as a Big,” Bill Jr. said. “I enjoyed being a mentor and watching my Little Brother grow up.” This positive experience had an impact on Bill Jr.’s younger brother, John, as well.

“I hung out with Billy and his Little Brother when I was in college here and I learned a lot about BBBS then,” John explained. “I was impressed with the agency’s mission and success.”

Both sons suggested that their parents, Connie and Bill, get involved with the organization as well. “Mom and dad love supporting young people who have goals,” Bill Jr. continued. “BBBS seemed like it would be a natural fit for them.”

And, indeed, it was. Connie and Bill have not only been a Big Couple to their own Little Brother, Thomas, they have also been tireless workers and champions for the Ice Ball gala, BBBS’ largest fundraiser. Their son John has now joined the Ice Ball Host Committee as well.

“People might think that, due to our age difference, we wouldn’t have that much in common with our Little Brother,” Connie said. “Surprisingly, we do! We love to do things outdoors, go to movies, play mini golf, and ride in go karts.”

Thomas and John also “clicked” right away and spend time playing video games together and watching movies.

And it hasn’t just been the boys. The Nelson’s daughter, Kristen, has also been involved in match activities whenever the family has gotten together. “We’re Thomas’ Big Family,” Connie laughed. “He feels comfortable talking with all of us, and our experience with him and his family has enriched our lives and our relationships with one another.’

Sometimes just being around a family member’s match can prompt other family members to get involved, but usually it’s seeing the impact that the mentoring relationship has that motivates other family members to volunteer. This was the case for father and son Ron and Lawrence Nourzad.

“The best recruitment tool is the power of example,” Lawrence said. “Seeing my dad (Ron) and his Little Brother Zach get along so well was inspiring. When a match relationship is successful and both parties are enjoying their time together, it prompts those who are watching to want the same thing.”

Lawrence is now in the process of becoming a Big Brother, just like his dad. “I’ve yet to meet my Little, but the information I’ve received from my Match Support Specialist makes me think we’ll be two peas in a pod. It sounds like we have a lot in common,” Lawrence said.

“It’s definitely the power of example,” Connie agreed. “Bill and I learned from Billy’s very positive experience as a Big 20 years ago, and his siblings are learning from us. They may not all become Bigs, but I’m sure they will be involved and will continue to give back.”

“Getting to know Thomas and his family over the last 6 years has been a humbling, learning and inspiring experience for us as a family,” Connie said. “We have developed a deeper understanding of some of the challenges others in our community face. We’ve always believed that we gain much more from a relationship than we give, and that’s certainly been true of our relationship with Thomas. It’s a blessing to be part of his life.”

Traditions, togetherness and support. Mentoring is a gift that benefits not only Bigs and Littles, but those around them, creating a virtuous cycle that moves through generations and that, ultimately, impacts and strengthens the community as a whole.