The Ice Ball 2017 Host Committee: Having A Ball

As the Texas summer heats up, there’s one cool thing you can count on – Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2017 Ice Ball gala set for August 26 at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Austin. The Ice Ball Host Committee has been hard at work making plans and preparations for this major event – one of the largest fundraisers for the organization.

Christine and Blake Absher are chairing this year’s Ice Ball gala and have been involved with the organization off and on since 2008. “Our connection with BBBS began in Austin when I was a Big Brother for about 4 years,” said Blake, Austin market president of BB&T, the Diamond sponsor of this year’s event. “We moved to Houston for a few years, and then, when we returned to Austin, we knew we wanted to be involved with BBBS in some way. The Ice Ball Host Committee sounded interesting, and we’d never done anything like that before.”

Now, having been involved with Ice Ball for several years, Christine and Blake felt the moment was right to become even more involved in the event. “2017 is a great time to be event chairs,” Blake continued. “The agency has great momentum, the organization’s program metrics are at an all-time high, and we’ve been groomed for the last couple of years to further carry the Ice Ball baton.”

In accepting the leadership role, they’ve found themselves working with a great team. “The Ice Ball Host Committee is made up of an extraordinary group of people,” said Christine. “And they’ve become family. They are creative and selfless, giving out of the goodness of their hearts. They’ve been so inspiring and their enthusiasm is contagious. For many of them, this is their first connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They are raising money for a cause they’ve just come to care about, and they’re doing it so well.”

Team members heartily agree. “The members of the committee are focused, engaged and eager to contribute to the success of this year’s event,” said Connie Nelson. She and her husband Bill have been a Big Couple since 2011, worked as bid spotters for the Ice Ball that year, and subsequently served as Ice Ball Chairs in 2014 and 2015.

“Bill and I are honored to be serving on this year’s Ice Ball Host Committee,” Connie remarked. “The Ice Ball is SO important! It’s the largest BBBS fundraiser and monies raised help get kids off the waiting list and into the life-changing mentoring relationships they deserve. Guests attending the Ice Ball walk away with greater appreciation for everything BBBS does for Central Texas’ youth. Our 2017 chairs, Blake and Christine, are natural leaders with a passion for BBBS.”

Lauren Petrowski, news anchor for Fox 7, shares that passion for the agency and the event as well. “I look forward to the Host Committee meetings, seeing the other committee members, and knowing we’re making great things happen,” she said.

Lauren served as a Big Sister for 5 years and is still in contact with her Little Sister. “I was fortunate to have two loving, supportive parents growing up. Not every child has that, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the same opportunities to be happy and successful in life. Even with two parents, many kids can benefit from having additional positive influences in their lives. That’s what BBBS provides through mentorships, and I’m honored to help support an organization that does that.”

“As part of the Ice Ball Host Committee, it is also incredible to see the community and local businesses stepping up to help BBBS.”

Joanna Just of RSM, a Gold sponsor for the event, adds, “Ice Ball is a signature event that has grown over the years. To see where the event started and what it has become, is astonishing.  Ice Ball supports the wonderful things that BBBS does for children in our community.”

Not only is the team working to raise more dollars, new community connections are being made as well. “There are a lot of new people involved in this year’s event,” Christine continued. Blake agreed, adding, “We have a significant number of new donors. We are grateful for donors who’ve supported this event for years. It’s also a testament to the 2017 Host Committee members’ efforts that they have reached out to their own personal networks and friends to establish new relationships on behalf of the gala and BBBS.”

“I appreciate how the committee members have come together to support this event personally because of their dedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work,” Joanna added.

This year’s Ice Ball not only has new sponsors, it also has a new location at the J.W. Marriott. “There’s an excitement and a freshness with the new venue and the move downtown,” Christine said. There are also new live auction packages and new programming.

And make no mistake, it is a fun night for all involved. “It is such a fabulous night. Without a doubt, you’re going to have a good time,” Lauren said. “But for me, I love to see the room full of hundreds of people all coming together because they care about kids in our community having the best opportunities, and the brightest futures, possible.”

“The Ice Ball is the coolest place to be in August,” Connie added. “Great food, entertainment, incredible silent and live auction packages, and so much more. Bill and I love seeing friends at the Ice Ball year after year, and meeting new people who will enjoy a wonderful evening and learn more about BBBS!”

How does the Ice Ball differ from other galas around town? “Every dollar raised impacts children and families here in our community,” said Christine. “The fundraising is so local.” “It’s all about supporting underprivileged youth, having a positive impact on children’s lives, and educating people about BBBS” Blake added.

After months of planning and preparation, the night itself is a culminating celebration. “The event is a crescendo of a lot of work,” Blake said. “At the gala itself you reminisce about what everyone has done to make the event happen. I enjoy visiting with all of these amazing people and sharing what we’ve done collectively. It’s like going and seeing 800 of your closest friends,” he laughed.

In a word…

“Ice Ball is unforgettable,” said Lauren.

“It’s amazing,” said Joanna.

“It’s inspiring,” said Connie.

Don’t miss this cool, spectacular, life-changing event set for August 26, 2017 at the J.W. Marriott. You can learn more and get your tickets now at www.austiniceball.org.

The Importance of Male Mentors: Building Futures

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas became a reality due to the work in the early 1960’s of several men who recognized the need for adult mentorship for boys without fathers and boys in the juvenile court system. The men realized that these boys lacked, and needed, positive male role models in their lives.

Fast forward 50 years and the need for male mentors is as great today as when the agency first began. For every male who signs up to be a mentor, two more are needed. Over 80% of the kids who are actively looking for Bigs are boys, and we are running out of men to match them with (currently only 15% of volunteer inquiries are from men). Male mentors are essential to helping boys achieve a positive sense of their own strengths and identities, whether it’s playing catch with a baseball or, as one match discovered, building a coffee table for the house.

“I’ve never gotten to build anything before. It was pretty fun. I thought I would just be attaching a few pieces (for the coffee table),” said Little Brother Keontray. “I didn’t know I was going to do everything.” And he does mean, everything. Keontray soon discovered he would be sawing, planing wood, attaching the pieces, and assembling the whole table. The result was a hand-made coffee table that is so sturdy it can bear the full weight of his Big Brother, Chris.

“When we were done I stood on the table to show him how solid it was,” Chris said. “Keontray couldn’t stop smiling. He kept saying ‘I can’t believe I made that, I can’t believe I made that.’  The table is in his living room where he sees it every day and it reminds him of this one solid thing that he has done. He tells me he’ll be sitting with his mom and she’ll smile and point at the table and say, ‘You built that!’”

Learning to build things is one of many life lessons Chris is sharing with his Little Brother – life lessons that come from his own experiences, but also from his dad. “My dad came from El Salvador and he is an electrical engineer,” Chris continued. “I used to watch him build stuff like alarm clocks or pieces for computers, and it was always fascinating to me. When I was 11 I started helping him around the house. We replaced a fence that was old and rotted. That experience taught me that hard work pays off. When you build something, you can put in hours and hours, plus a lot of sweat, and have something to show for it. I look at that fence now and say ‘My dad and I did that.’”

The skills of creating, of making something with your own hands, and of enjoying hard work are all things Chris wants to pass along.  “Keontray had a rough 2016. His grandfather passed away and that was tough. His dad got out of jail, but he’s never been in Keontray’s life, so to lose a male role model like his grandfather was hard,” Chris said.

Chris understands the importance of mentoring. “When I was Keontray’s age I had both parents and I still went through a lot – fighting at home with my mom, dealing with very bad relationships with friends,” Chris explained.  “I went through many of the same things he’s going through, but my family wasn’t really there for me when I needed to talk about problems or when I had general questions about the opposite sex or about relationships.”

Consequently, Chris’ favorite part of the match is being there for Keontray, listening to his questions, and discussing the answers. The two talk about things that have gone wrong and how those things can be made better the next time.

“I just look forward to seeing Keontray and hearing about all that has gone on during the week,” said Chris, who is a senior at Texas State University. “He’s as much my friend as he is my Little Brother.  Our relationship is not just about him coming to me for advice. Our relationship gives him the opportunity to form his own opinions and thoughts.”

Another skill Chris is teaching Keontray is that of cooking. The pair have made lasagna and enchiladas and Chris has even taught him how to season and prepare chicken. “That way, when he does go out into the world, he’ll be able to fend for himself,” Chris laughed.

In Chris’s mind, their relationship is all about providing Keontray with a blueprint and the tools for success. “In addition to passing on skills and values, male mentors give boys an idea of what they can become, what to aim for, and how to act in the world,” Chris said.

“It’s important for boys to have someone in their lives who can say, ‘It’s okay to not be fine. At one point things were not fine with me, but I got through it and here’s how I did it.’ Boys need men who can serve as examples, and who are willing to invest in, and listen to, them.”

Chris acknowledges that he and Keontray are from very different backgrounds. Chris is a white young man from the suburbs and Keontray is an African-American teenager who has lived in a lot of different neighborhoods. “Keontray has experienced racist slurs from white kids at school,” Chris added. “In our match, it’s really important for him to see that not everyone is like that and that people of different races can care about each other.”

Chris encourages other men to become Big Brothers as well. “If you have experienced anything,” Chris says, “it’s your duty to pass that experience along to someone who needs it.”

Chris believes this so strongly that he has decided to put his plans to enter medical school on hold in order to remain a mentor to Keontray until he graduates from high school. It’s no wonder the two say they will be brothers for life. “When I first met Chris it was awkward,” Keontray admitted, “but now I actually see him as family.”

Life Lessons: Ellen and Montse

Together they’re going to break the cycle. Little Sister Montse is going to be the first in her family to finish high school, with her Big Sister’s help. It’s a goal that has faced more than one challenge as Montse has moved to two new schools in the past two years.

“The first move was difficult, but Montse was younger and she adapted quickly,” Big Sister Ellen said. “But the second move occurred right before her freshman year of high school. It was a shock because she was set to go to the school where her friends were going. She found out a few days before school started that she was going to be moving to a charter school that had different rules, that she would have to wear a uniform, and that she didn’t quite “click” with the people there.”

Ellen helped Montse focus on the positive aspects of the move and talked with her about her concerns. “I talked with her a lot. It’s definitely been harder for her at this new school, but she will come out on top,” Ellen remarked. “Montse’s a wonderful person. We have goal-setting sessions once in a while and her number one goal is always to graduate from high school. It’s very important to her.”

Part of that motivation comes from hanging out with her Big Sister. “I don’t think she would have had the support to do as well as she’s doing in school without a Big Sister,” Ellen admitted. “It’s not my telling her what to do. It’s just hanging out with me and knowing that I went to college and that I make decisions for myself.” Having Ellen as a role model has helped Montse avoid making the same choices her female relatives made when they dropped out of school.

“Doing something different is hard. It raises a lot of questions and uncertainty, but she is persevering,” Ellen said. “Montse is very artistic and wants to pursue her interest in special effects makeup. I have a movie producer friend who has a studio for that type of thing and we’re going to take a tour.”

Special activities like this and other outings with her Big Sister provide Montse with positive ways to escape the stresses of her day-to-day world. “Technically, she’s homeless. Her family is living with her aunt and cousins, and I know that’s hard. She shares a room with two other girls which is not conducive to getting homework done,” Ellen added. “We take breaks by going hiking, walking dogs, and volunteering.”

It’s this time together and the small things in their relationship that seem to have the biggest impact. “Things that I don’t think are of importance, Montse learns from and internalizes. She sees that even the small decisions I’ve made in my life have made a difference and impacted my happiness, and she emulates that,” Ellen said. “But Montse also teaches me new things every single time we meet. I’ve grown exponentially because of her influence on me.”

“I work for a non-profit and we do good things for lots of people, but I never understood the importance of making an impact on one person’s life so deeply until I became involved with BBBS. Realizing that the smallest things I do or say have such a huge impact on someone else – that’s why I’ve done this for 3 years and it’s why I will never stop being Montse’s Big Sister,” Ellen concluded.

“People want to save the world, but I think helping one person is so much more powerful. I can’t save the world, but I can help Montse change hers… and that’s significant.”

Contributions to BBBS create relationships like this, changing children’s lives for the better, forever. Learn more about how you can support BBBS with a one-time or monthly gift here

BBBS Launches Bigs in Blue Program

Bringing different members of the community together has always been part of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission to help children succeed in life, because children are connected to communities. Now, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas has started a new program aimed at building relationships between youth and law enforcement officers.

Created by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Bigs in Blue is a national initiative aimed at recruiting law enforcement officers to serve as mentors to youth in their communities. BBBS believes these mentoring relationships will create stronger, healthier bonds between law enforcement personnel and the children, families, and communities they serve.

The program already exists in about 20 cities across the country. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas is currently launching a Bigs in Blue program in Central Texas. One of the keys to a successful program is the enthusiastic support of the local chief of police, and, to that end, BBBS has developed a relationship, and completed a Memorandum of Understanding, with Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and the Austin Police Department.

“The Austin Police Department is excited to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas to support the youth in our neighborhoods,” Chief Manley said. “Bigs in Blue offers officers an opportunity to have a relationship with young people that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Such a connection is beneficial to all involved, as well as the community as a whole.”

“At a time when law enforcement is under intense media and public scrutiny, it is more important than ever for young people to understand that police officers are not a force to be feared. Police officers want to protect and serve their communities,” said Philip Kearney, Administrative Specialist in Chief Manley’s office, and a BBBS Big Brother.

“Police officers are human. When young people have positive interactions with police officers, they get to see the human side of them, and vice versa.  The only way to resolve differences or to overcome distrust is by establishing heartfelt respect that flows in both directions.”

Older officers tell Philip that, years ago, when children were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said ‘a police officer,’ but that that has changed. “I think we need to re-establish that connection,” Philip said, “to help young people understand that police officers are just normal people who have chosen to protect and serve their neighbors and to introduce them to a fulfilling career path that might interest them.”

Philip believes that BBBS’ Bigs in Blue program can help all involved “see each other with new eyes.” “Just as community members can start to fail to see the humans behind the badges, sometimes police officers can begin to experience compassion fatigue from dealing day-in and day-out with negative things that happen in the community,” Philip explained. “It’s a two-way street.”

“Working with young people will remind police officers that the people they serve are their neighbors, and that the young people they protect represent the future of their community. And working with officers will help young people understand that police officers are their neighbors and friends as well.”

Philip was a Big Brother long before Bigs in Blue was initiated. He was matched with his Little Brother about 6 years ago when he was in his 20’s and Malik was 9, and laughingly says that they’ve both grown up together. Philip believes that Malik has been a grounding influence in his life.

“Since I don’t have kids, sometimes I can think that my negative behaviors and attitudes only affect me, so ‘who cares?’  But now that I’m conscious of being a role model, I am more conscientious in all aspects of my life and have become a better person for it,” Philip admitted.

As for Malik, he’s been able to enjoy things he might never have experienced if he hadn’t become a Little Brother. “His interests can change from week to week, or even day to day,” Philip continued. “No matter what he’s interested in that week, whether it’s robots, or disc golf, or playing guitar—I get to say, ‘Okay, how can I help you explore that interest?’  And then we go for it.”

Philip says the same is not true of Malik’s peers who don’t have mentors.  “They just seem so bored, and so resigned to a life that doesn’t involve the pursuit of dreams,” he said. “Not Malik, though. He has a light in his eyes, a fearlessness, and a confidence that he is going to go to college and make all of his dreams come true.  Knowing that I had a part in that, whether large or small, gives me a sense of fulfillment and joy like nothing else.”

It’s this kind of transformation that speaks to the potential and promise of the Bigs in Blue program… the ability to create change that can help law enforcement and civilians clear up misconceptions about, and fear toward, one another.

“Bigs in Blue has the power to change young people’s perceptions of law enforcement and they will share those impressions with their friends,” Philip said. “And officers can have huge impacts as Big Brothers or Sisters while also having a ton of fun. Mentoring improves the life of a young person while enriching the mentor’s life in the process. It doesn’t feel like volunteering and the reward is immense.”

And the benefits of each mentoring relationship extend far beyond the Big and Little themselves, affecting the lives of those around them and the greater community as a whole.

As members of a community, we are all connected, and the quality of our connections matters.

Bigs in Blue is designed to foster relationships and understanding between two groups who have much to learn, and gain, from one another.

Amplify Austin Has Begun!

Amplify Austin runs from 6 p.m. March 2nd to 6 p.m. March 3rd. We need your help to Amplify our impact for children in our community.  Please give now!

We have a goal of raising over $20,000 to provide life-changing mentoring services to even more kids in Central Texas! With more than 600 kids on our waiting list, every gift makes a difference!

Shannon and Mykayla

Shannon has been a Big Sister to Mykayla for over 8 years. The two have enjoyed seeing movies, swimming, eating out, and shopping. But most of all, they have enjoyed simply sharing what’s happening in each other’s lives.

It’s the sharing that’s been key, as Mykayla has been through a lot for someone so young. The only child of a single parent, Mykayla was the primary support to her mother who suffered through cancer, taking her mom to doctor’s appointments and providing day-to-day care. As a result, Mykayla’s grades and academic focus started to suffer, until her Big Sister stepped in to offer assistance and stability.

“Mykayla is an excellent student and has been in Advanced Placement classes. She loves to sing and is in her school’s most accomplished choir. She has many other great attributes, such as her amazing ability to stay focused and calm, as well as her sense of humor,” Shannon said.  “When I think back to the shy 10-year-old girl I first met, and the amazing 18-year-old young woman I know today, I can hardly believe she is the same person. I am so proud of who she has become.”

Now that Mykayla is graduating from high school, the conversation has turned to college preparations. “Our relationship has deepened so much over the years,” Shannon continued.  “I told her when we were first matched that our time together was a time she could just be a kid and have fun. Now our time is more about me trying to help her decide which college to choose.”

Looking back, Shannon acknowledges that while she became a volunteer in order to give to a child, she is the one who has received a gift. “Being a Big Sister has taught me what it means to give back,” Shannon explained. “I have had the opportunity to be a part of Mykayla’s and her mom’s lives and have developed friendships that will last for the rest of my life.”

Your gift creates relationships like these. Please give now!  Thank you!

A Real “Roll” Model

mike-mcshaffrey

He only bowls once a year, but when he does, Mike McShaffry makes it count. He bowls at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids event, and he challenges others to “keep gaming” for a great cause.

Mike has been a part of BBBS’ Bowl for Kids for many years.  A senior software engineer with mobile gaming company ArtCraft Entertainment, he was recruited to the event 7 or 8 years ago by another local gamer who challenged all gaming company employees in Austin to participate.

“When my friend moved on to other things I kind of picked up the baton,” Mike said. “Now I send emails out to game companies and try to recruit teams.” One of his recruits was Stefan Sinclair who not only ended up bowling at the event, he eventually became a Big Brother and was named Texas’ Big Brother of the Year in 2015.

Why has Mike been so focused on helping with Bowl for Kids? Like any good gamer, he knows the program on several different levels.

Mike first became involved with BBBS as a Little Brother. “I was a Little in 1979 in Ft. Worth when BBBS was just getting started in the state of Texas,” Mike recalled. “My mom was recently divorced and she reached out through our church and found Big Brothers Big Sisters. My brother, sister and I were all paired with a Big Brother who was a senior at Texas Christian University.”

Although they were only matched for a year, the connection had lasting impacts for Mike. “Al was our Big Brother and all three of us had a great experience in the program,” Mike added. “Al took us on outings, just like matches do today. We went to get pizza and we went swimming. I attribute my interest in computers, in bicycles and in community service to him. He took us to the computer center at TCU and a lot of our outings were bike-related. He introduced me to all these things.”

Mike’s interest in giving back has not only turned into fundraising for Bowl for Kids, but also into being a Big himself.  “My wife Robin and I were paired with an older child,” Mike said. “Being his Big for a year was very rewarding and very heart-wrenching at the same time. Bigs sometimes want to solve all of the problems in a Little’s life, and that’s hard because some of these kids face challenges that are very complex.”

Mike and his wife worked to provide their Little with positive experiences and encouragement, introducing him to a variety of job possibilities such as riding with a firefighter at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, and rewarding him with special outings as an incentive to stay in school.

“The experience taught us how important it is for kids to see something other than what they think is a fated future for themselves,” Mike continued. “Many of these kids think ‘This is my only reality and I can’t get out of it or change it,’ but a Big can open new doors for a child and help them see that there is something more for them if they apply themselves and try to overcome the problems or obstacles they face.”

The Big and Little relationship is one Mike sees as having “forever” impacts. “I think if you help one kid, then that kid becomes an adult who can pass that on to so many other people. That is what’s so important about Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Mike added. “With BBBS you don’t just help one kid, you help every single person that child interacts with for the rest of their life. And that’s a big impact.”

That’s why Mike continues to be a major supporter of BBBS’ Bowl for Kids. “I love it,” he said. “It is such a fun event. I love seeing colleagues at the lanes in costumes, having a great time and, on top of that, raising money for BBBS to help children stay in or get into the program every year.”

Of course, being a gamer, there is competition involved. “I love the competition aspect, because game companies always like to one-up each other. Typically, we’ll all be watching our phones during the event looking at everyone’s fundraising,” Mike laughed. “And we’ll see ‘Oh, Certain Affinity (another game company) just broke $3,000. Everyone put in another $50.’ That definitely happens.”

In Mike’s experience, it all combines for a very positive result. “Having groups of people compete to fundraise for such a great cause is such an easy way to do something really good,” he said.

Plus, for this leader of team “Strikeadelic”, BBBS’ Bowl for Kids event fits his general philosophy of life. “No matter how you choose to use your time,” he said, “try allocating a little bit for making the world a better place than you found it.”

Game on, Mike.

BBBS’ Bowl for Kids is set for March 3 – 5, 2017 at Highland Lanes. To sign up go here.

Jess And Rebekah

rebekah-and-jess

They’ve only been matched for a short time, but Jess and Rebekah are already busy enjoying their time together.

“As a Big Sister, I was looking forward to building a special relationship, being a role model, and also learning from my Little,” Jess said.  “I think relationships are reciprocal, especially in terms of growth.  And with Rebekah being a teenager, our relationship has been more like hanging out with an adult. It’s been really fun.”

The two have been exploring city trails and doing a lot of hiking, something Rebekah enjoys but doesn’t get to do with her family. “We like to do a lot of outdoor activities,” Jess continued, “but we also enjoy playing games and cooking.”

Rebekah was looking forward to having a Big Sister she could talk to and who has gone through some of the things she’s struggling with. “Rebekah is very wise and has a good head on her shoulders,” Jess added. “She knows that there are things she wants to improve upon, and she realizes her friends aren’t always going to be the best ones to help her with those things.”

As Jess points out, the more positive role models we all have in our lives, the better.

“It’s easy to get caught up in being adults and worrying about our full-time jobs, about insurance… about all of these things… and losing track of the child within us,” Jess concluded. “Being a Big helps me step back and say ‘What are the things in life that I really enjoy?’ It helps me appreciate the little things in life and allows me to have a relationship with a young person in which we can both learn from one another.”

Monthly contributions from our BBBS Game Changers make relationships like these possible. To learn more about how you can become a Game Changer, go to www.gamechangersaustin.org.