Kristie Gonzales on The Power of Mentoring

There are thousands of TV stations across the country, but only 16.5% of them have female general managers, and very few of them are minorities since less than 8% of all general managers are minorities. One of these talented women is KVUE-TV President and General Manager Kristie Gonzales. Kristie is a community leader who will tell you that her success is due, in large part, to having a mentor.

“Mentors have had a huge impact in my life,” said Kristie. “Those of us who are in leadership roles in this business have had a lot of people who have opened doors for us, lifted us on their backs, and made the difference in our careers. If I hadn’t had mentors early in my career, there’s no way I’d be sitting where I am today.”

Kristie started her professional life as a college student working as a production assistant for the local PBS station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A straight-A student in high school, her favorite pastime was painting but she soon realized that that was not going to pay the bills. “I didn’t recognize my own potential. I was following the path of least resistance,” said Kristie.

“As a student, I wasn’t worried about money because I had a full scholarship, but then I graduated and started looking for a job. I’d always been interested in journalism and television, so I took a TV 101 class. The teacher was an executive producer at KNME-TV and he said, ‘You have a real knack for video editing.’ He then hired me for my first television job when I was 19 years old, and it was a paid position, which was rare. That experience was pivotal, and it is why I am sitting in the general manager’s chair now. Early on, someone saw a talent in me and changed my path forever.”

After graduating, Kristie got hired at a local news station in Albuquerque where she became one of the best editors despite facing enormous challenges in her personal life. At 23, Kristie left an abusive marriage. A few weeks after her divorce, her younger brother died. “At that point I felt like my life was over, not just beginning,” said Kristie. “To deal with my personal struggles, I worked. It was a distraction and it filled up my time. As a result, the station made me chief editor.”

Kristie’s editing skills ultimately took her to one of the strongest TV stations in the country, WPVI in Philadelphia. She was hired for her production skills, but needed to write for the promotion department as well. “They didn’t know I couldn’t write,” laughed Kristie, “because I told them I could. I just had to figure it out on the job. I had to have some confidence to be able to do that, and I think it came from surviving some of the violence I experienced growing up. Those early struggles taught me that I could survive, and even thrive.”

It was in Philadelphia that Kristie connected with another mentor who influenced her career. “The general manager there, Rebecca Campbell, is someone I looked up to,” said Kristie. “I finally had a chance to have lunch with her and I said, ‘I want to find out how you became a general manager. How did you get to where you are in your career?’ Rebecca then took me under her wing and became my career sponsor for the next 10 years.”

As Kristie climbed the corporate ladder, Rebecca gave her a challenge. “She said, ‘You know what I did for you. Now, go and do that same thing for other women and minorities.”

It’s a challenge Kristie took to heart. Looking back at her high school years, she says she didn’t realize that she needed to maximize what she was learning in school. She didn’t know what she needed to do to succeed. It’s why she sees such value in mentoring today.

“In order to develop your own potential, you need to have conversations with people who can teach you how to get to where you want to go and who can show you new paths.”

“That’s why BBBS is so important,” Kristie continued. “BBBS exposes kids to different lifestyles and to new opportunities, and that is huge. Otherwise, kids have no idea that life can be different from what they experience every day.”

Kristie is quick to point out that mentoring is not a “taking,” but rather a reciprocal, relationship. She encourages young people in mentoring relationships to do their homework, to identify goals and to try to be specific about what they want to achieve. “When you’re younger, just being exposed to different paths that are open to you is important,” said Kristie. “For instance, it’s important to understand that you may start a media career as an editor, but that you don’t have to be an editor forever. You can become the news director or the general manager one day, because the people in those roles started out in the same place you did. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that without having someone there to show you what you are capable of and how to get where you want to go.”

Kristie also encourages kids to ask adults about their lives and careers. “If you see someone doing something interesting, ask them how they did it. Be curious and interested in the people and the larger world around you. You never know what kinds of doors your questions might open.”

Even though she is currently a general manager, Kristie is still working with mentors in the media business and still has goals to achieve. “My CEO is now mentoring me,” said Kristie, “because I’ve told him that I want to be a CEO one day.”

Being responsible for the ins and outs of a TV station is a demanding position, but Kristie says she handles it by having a good circle of friends and by giving back to the community and mentoring others, which is where her kinship with BBBS surfaces. Kristie will be speaking to BBBS’ high school graduates and incoming freshman as the keynote speaker for the agency’s 2018 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony on June 16th.

“I’m very excited to share my story at the Scholarship Ceremony,” said Kristie. “I feel a connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. I grew up in a difficult, and often violent, household. I know what it’s like to face hard circumstances and to have to figure out how to survive and thrive. That’s when mentors can make the greatest difference and offer hope.”

Kristie was able to find hope and strength despite her struggles. And, with the help of her mentors, she developed survival and work-related skills that have helped her later in life. “In this industry you have to have a strong voice,” said Kristie. “As a child, I developed a strong voice in response to the violence I saw at home. I have turned that into a gift because now I’m not afraid to be on stage, to face a room full of people, or to fight against social injustice.”

“I refuse to be limited by my past. And that keeps me pushing forward and sharing my story.”

And, as Kristie continues to move forward in her own life and career, she is committed to making it possible for others to do the same.

Promising Futures: New Opportunities

As the school year comes to a close for most students, many high school seniors are making plans for the next chapter in their educational journeys.  Whether attending trade school or college, securing scholarships and resources to achieve their goals is key for most students. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Promising Futures Scholarship Program is an important resource for Littles who want to further their educations.

BBBS’ scholarship program was founded in 1986 when the agency received a donation from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program to encourage Littles to complete high school and pursue post-secondary education. The program was the first of its kind throughout the nearly 350 BBBS chapters.

Jacelyn Calderon, a health care student at Texas A&M University, is a recent scholarship recipient. “BBBS opened a window for me to continue my education,” said Jacelyn. “I appreciate that so much. The scholarship the agency provided helped me get the books I needed and enabled me to be successful in my classes.”

Jacelyn is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in health. After that, she plans to apply to nursing school to get her nursing degree. “Ten years down the road I plan to be working in my field and I hope to own a home,” said Jacelyn. “That would give me a sense of stability.”

Scholarships can fuel such life-changing goals. Since 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters has promised nearly $5 million in college scholarships to 2,500 Little Brothers and Sisters in Central Texas.

This year, the agency has established two new scholarship opportunities for BBBS Littles: one that is being offered through a partnership with the Cagle Law Firm, and another that is being offered in association with the College of Health Care Professions (CHCP).

“We love presenting our kids with scholarship opportunities,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs at BBBS. “Anything we can do to encourage our young people to pursue higher education, and to make it more accessible to them, is a good use of our time, energy, and resources.  We’ve made scholarships that range from $500 to $5,000 available to our youth, and we love helping them apply and seeing them awarded!”

The Cagle Law Firm of Austin reached out to BBBS to initiate a new scholarship opportunity last year. As a business dedicated to helping others, the firm was drawn to the lasting impact BBBS has on the lives of young people. Mr. Cagle, in particular, thinks very highly of BBBS, so when the company elected to offer a scholarship, partnering with BBBS was a natural fit. In 2018 the firm will grant two scholarships worth $1,000 each to two students who are part of the BBBS program. Each check will be made payable to the recipients’ schools to help cover tuition costs and related expenses.

Another new BBBS scholarship opportunity is being offered by the College of Health Care Professions in Austin. It is a matching scholarship for students interested in studying one of CHCP’s many clinical and administrative health care programs. BBBS Littles are eligible to receive up to $4,000 in scholarship funds through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ existing scholarship program. To support the agency’s mission, CHCP Austin will match this BBBS scholarship, in the amount of $2,000, which combined with the BBBS scholarship, could significantly decrease the cost to BBBS Littles attending CHCP.

“CHCP believes in helping students change their trajectories in life,” said Sara Rambikur, CHCP Austin Campus President. “There are many BBBS Littles who might benefit from a smaller college setting that has additional support services and career guidance in focused areas of study. We hope this scholarship eases the financial burden on BBBS students and helps them pursue careers in health care.”

“Big Brothers Big Sisters exists to help kids succeed in life,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, “and we’re always looking to establish connections within the community that facilitate that goal. Partnering with The College of Health Care Professions opens a door for BBBS kids to enter the health care field that we haven’t had before. We are also grateful for our new relationship with the Cagle Law Firm. We appreciate their generosity in supporting the academic aspirations of our students.”

BBBS has established scholarship matching opportunities with a number of institutions of higher education in Texas as well, thereby helping Littles’ BBBS scholarship dollars go twice as far. For a complete list of matching opportunities and application details, visit www.BigMentoring.org or call 512-807-3642.

BBBS’ scholarship program provides significant support for Littles who are entering their college years and taking steps toward academic and career success. We are proud to partner with our Littles, Bigs, families, community partners, businesses, and academic institutions to help BBBS Littles develop their talents and pursue their dreams in the world.

Bowl for Kids 2018: A Win-Win for Everyone!

It was all hands on deck for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ pirate-themed Bowl for Kids celebration at Highland Lanes April 27th and 28th!

There were eye patches and hooks aplenty as the annual event raised over $136,000 to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas match more kids with caring adult mentors, changing their lives for the better, forever.

More than 1,000 participants enjoyed the spirited festivities complete with costumes, refreshments, souvenirs and prizes. A generous crew of fundraisers– including businesses, individuals, families, volunteers, staff members, and Bigs and Littles, all joined in for two days of bowling fun.

“Bowl for Kids is a good time that ultimately makes a huge impact for kids and families in our community,” said Brent Fields, CEO of BBBS of Central Texas. “This is one of our signature events that gets children off our waiting list and connected with mentors who can make a positive difference in their lives. With over 400 children waiting to be matched, every contribution matters.”

Pirate flags, parrots, mermaids and other buccaneer décor contributed to the festive mood, while a large-scale pirate ship constructed by Rhonda Karcher-Logan of Pape-Dawson Engineers and her merry crew provided a creative photo backdrop for capturing memorable moments.

Even the youngest of participants took part in the fun, donning tricorn hats and wielding foam sabers as junior pirates-in-training. Everyone came together, including many bowlers who have participated in this event for years, to have fun and help kids.

Essential to the event’s success, Bowl for Kids’ 2018 business sponsors included financial consulting firm RSM US LLP – the event’s Kingpin Sponsor, computer technology company ARM, Wells Fargo bank, and Bridgepoint Consulting, as well as our generous host, Highland Lanes. RSM, ARM, Wells Fargo and Bridgepoint Consulting all fielded bowling teams as well, and were joined by a variety of other teams and sponsors from Central Texas architecture, printing, construction, gaming, healthcare, technology, legal and media companies, among others.

“This is the first time my co-workers and I have participated in Bowl for Kids,” said April Justice of General Motors. Her team, Jolly Roger and the GM Gals, really got into the spirit of things by dressing up in pirate hats and specially decorated bowling shirts.

“Wearing the group costumes helped us become more immersed in the event. We had a great time learning more about Bowl for Kids, interacting with other companies, and learning why they are involved with BBBS,” said April. “It also gave us the opportunity to bond outside of work and to do it all for a great cause. It was really the best of all worlds.”

It was especially exciting to see so many fundraisers earn ‘Very Important Bowler’, or VIB, status by raising $1,250 or more.

“This year we had eighteen fundraising teams earn VIB status, which was really great” said development associate, Sara Grauerholz.

By reaching, or surpassing, this fundraising level, VIBs provide the funds needed to support a mentoring relationship between a Big and Little for an entire year. In recognition of their exceptional fundraising efforts, and the difference their contributions make, VIBs enjoy special perks and prizes.

Although the pirate flags have come down, the swords have been put away, and many of our participants’ ships have set sail for other lands, BBBS’ Bowl for Kids 2018 isn’t quite finished. Team fundraising pages will remain online to accept donations for another week or two, meaning there’s still time to contribute to the important work of helping children achieve success in life.

By any measure, Bowl for Kids is a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

Special thanks to our event sponsors: RSM US LLP, iHeartMedia, KVUE, ARM, Highland Lanes, Wells Fargo, Bridgepoint Consulting, Austin Emergency Center, HDR, IE2 Construction, Moody National Bank, O’Connell Robertson, Pape-Dawson Engineers, The Portley Family, Twisted Pixel Games, The Austin Chronicle, Do512, Los Comales on 7th Street, Mueller Living Magazine, and MyEventIsTheBomb.

To make a donation, go to www.bowlforkidsaustin.org

See our 2018 event photos here

See our 2018 photo booth photos here

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.”

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.

Spread the word!
Share our emails and social posts with your friends, and be sure to tag #AmplifyATX!

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.”