Tips from BBBS staff regarding things you can do to move your match along through each stage of the relationship:
Early Development Stage – This stage is largely about getting to know one another, establishing routines, and building trust.
- Without prying, learn facts about your Little and reference them in your conversations, eg: favorite things, best friend, where they’ve traveled.
- Be consistent and flexible. Do what you say you are going to do.
- Be patient and remember that relationships have ups and downs, they don’t just happen by themselves.
Growth Stage – During this stage of the relationship, Littles may try to test Bigs to find out where the boundaries in their relationship are and to determine if their Bigs are going to leave. Bigs may desire some input from Littles.
- Show your Little that he/she can trust you through your reliability, consistency and time together. As trust develops, your Little will probably begin sharing bits of information with you.
- Keep in close contact with your Match Support Specialist for ideas.
- Recognize and praise accomplishments.
- If you need to give advice or address behavior problems, give reasons and avoid “shoulds.”
Maturity Stage – By this stage, Bigs and Littles have typically developed a comfortable and familiar relationship with one another.
- Develop long-term shared interests and activities that you do frequently together and that you both enjoy.
- Identify and celebrate past shared experiences and enjoy shared jokes.
- Learn something that is new to both of you, together.
You hear the stories, you see the results, and you’re interested in becoming a Big Brother or Sister. What is one of the most important things you need to know before becoming a Big?
It takes time.
“It takes time,” said Ellen Harsch, enrollment supervisor at BBBS. “It takes time for any person to build a relationship with someone else, but it especially takes time for kids to build trust and to form meaningful relationships, particularly with new adults that they don’t know at all.”
This is something new Bigs can easily forget at the beginning of a match as they get caught up in their enthusiasm to help, to mentor and to make a difference. The time factor can also get lost behind preconceived notions regarding how a match “should” progress. Consequently, BBBS holds training sessions for Bigs to help them understand the common stages of match relationships.
“Every match is different and moves through the stages at their own pace,” Ellen continued. “But when you look at matches across the board, there are a lot of similar patterns. And it is important for Bigs to understand these stages so that they know what to expect and that they are not alone. For example, if your Little doesn’t immediately trust you, this is normal. Other Bigs experience this too.”
The first stage of a match relationship – the “Early Development Stage” – is about building trust. At this point, Bigs and Littles are trying to figure each other out. Littles may try to get their Big’s approval or to impress them.
“At the beginning of any relationship you’re nervous, excited, and unsure but committed to the relationship,” said Christina Snell, match support supervisor. “There’s an emphasis on getting to know one another, talking, asking questions, and being consistent in the time you give. If you don’t see each other and get to know one another, it’s hard to build a strong relationship.”
Being consistent with communication and time is critical during this early stage, especially during the first 3 months. For Bigs with younger Littles, it’s even more important, as parents are working to feel comfortable with the Big/Little relationship as well.
“We had 8 and 9-year-old siblings in a match who were home-schooled by their mom and the match had to adhere to a rigid schedule,” said Christina, “because younger kids work better with a schedule and so do parents. With every match, the parent or guardian, the Little, and the Big all need to work together to find the rhythm and pace that works best for them so that they are all on the same page.”
“At the beginning of a match, if the parent doesn’t offer as much support, a Big may also need to be prepared to take the initiative to keep match activities and plans going,” Christina added.
After the initial stage, matches move into what is described as the “Growth Stage.” This is probably the most crucial period in the development of the Big/Little relationship, possibly even a turning point in the relationship. It is common during this stage for Littles to test their Bigs to learn more about them and to find out how much they can get away with. The Little may also be observing the Big to find reasons not to not trust them or to determine whether the Big will leave.
“During the Growth Stage matches often say, ‘Okay, we know each other. We’re in an established relationship. Now what?’” Christina said. “This is when they need to start exploring interests and activities, and doing new things that might be outside of their comfort zone, just to keep the excitement alive and the relationship moving forward.”
“This is also when Bigs may start wanting and needing more input from their Littles. Bigs will sometimes say ‘I’d like my Little to give me ideas for match activities,’ ‘I need them to say thank you,’ or ‘Does my Little really like me?’” Christina said. “At this point Bigs sometimes start to question the match. For example, if a match is doing the same thing all the time – going out to eat or to the movies, the Big may tell us ‘There’s got to be more to the match than this.’ But when we ask the Little about the match they’ll say ‘This is everything to me. This is just what I need.’ So, we remind Bigs that their Littles just enjoy being with them. They don’t care as much about the type of activities they do with their Bigs as they do about the time spent together. This is also a stage at which BBBS’ match support team can offer suggestions and recommend new activities.”
The next stage in the match relationship is the “Maturity Stage,” a point at which the match relationship has become more positive and realistic, and where activities are often less structured. By this point most Bigs have shed their preconceived notions regarding the match and their Littles. Bigs have also often seen their Littles grow and develop.
“This is the coolest level. This is when they really get it,” said Christina. “By this point the Big has shown that they’re committed to the relationship, that they are not going anywhere, and that they know they’ve just got to keep the conversation going. Both Big and Little realize that they are in the match relationship to be friends, and that the Big needs the Little as much as the Little needs the Big.”
According to BBBS’ match support team, this is also the point when both Bigs and Littles need to be reminded of the importance of their relationship. “People get really comfortable in relationships and may feel taken for granted,” said Christina. “At this stage, we offer a lot of positive reinforcement and feedback. We let the Big know that their Little’s family has a lot of good things to say about them and that they are so grateful for the time they give. And we let the family know how much the Big looks forward to spending time with their child. This support reinforces and validates the relationship so that Bigs and Littles know they are on the right track.”
Helping Bigs, and families, understand the natural stages of a match relationship is another way BBBS provides match relationships with the support they need to thrive. “We want happy participants,” said Ellen.
Happy participants lead to positive mentoring relationships, which lead to more kids succeeding in life. It’s all just a matter of time.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
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.
She loves kids and believes in community. This year Christina Eisenlord celebrates 10 years of pursuing both of these passions as an enrollment specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.
“My job is to interview and assess those coming into our program, from volunteers to family members to kids,” Christina said, “in order to make sure the program is a good fit for them. Then, with all of the information gathered during the interview and intake process, I work to make the best matches possible between new Bigs and Littles.”
It’s a responsibility Christina loves. “There are two things that keep me here,” she continued. “First, I love kids. I think they are amazing. I feel blessed to be able to be a part of their lives. They inspire me.”
“Second, I’m a big believer in community, and a strong community is built with strong kids,” she added. “Mentoring is a key component to building strong kids. I think BBBS helps kids become stronger members of the community.”
Christina takes the individual personalities and preferences of those she meets into account when forming a match. “The stronger the foundation a match has, the better the relationship will be,” she said.
Creating successful matches is not just Christina’s goal, it is one of her favorite things about her job. “I often hear stories of Littles whose behavior changed significantly after becoming part of our program,” she said. “For instance, several years ago a young man who entered our program was being disrespectful to those around him. He was having trouble managing his anger and was not doing well in school. I found a fantastic Big Brother for him and he is now treating his mom well, doing better in school, and being a better brother to his siblings. Stories like that motivate me. I know that mentoring works. Getting kids into positive mentoring relationships can make a world of difference for everyone involved.”
Even with its inspirational elements, the job has its challenges. One of the hardest for Christina is that of interviewing boys who want to have mentors, but not having enough men signed up as Big Brothers to match them with. The agency is continuously recruiting volunteers and raising funds to get as many children matched with Big Brothers and Sisters as possible.
The other challenge Christina experiences is that of being very involved with families and volunteers when they enroll with BBBS, but having less involvement with them once they are matched. “I only get to touch a part of their lives,” Christina said. “I get to interview these amazing kids, and then, when they’re matched with a Big and assigned their own match support specialist, I don’t see them as often.”
She works to make up for this by helping with monthly events held in BBBS’ new Youth Activity Center. “That’s when I get to see the kids and watch them interact with their Bigs,” Christina explained. “That’s always really fun.”
Christina is also part of BBBS’ Big Futures committee which is developing strategies to support Littles as they make the transition from high school to college and career.
She knows a thing or two about transitions herself since her father was in the military. “We lived in California, Texas, Japan and Michigan,” Christina said. She ended up attending college in Michigan where she received two degrees – one in social work and one in small business entrepreneurship. She tried working in the business world until she realized that her true calling was in social work and in helping kids, which is when she joined BBBS of Central Texas.
What does she do when she’s not working? “I’m a music freak,” Christina laughed. “It’s easy to catch me listening to music in my car, at my house, at my desk. I love rap and hip hop. And one of my favorite things is going dancing.” She also enjoys working on functional and creative projects around her house. As she says herself, she doesn’t get bored easily.