Spotlight on Emily Burdette

Just a few years ago, while working in the online marketing field in Nashville, Emily Burdette realized she was ready to make a change.

“I started thinking about how I wanted to be remembered,” she says, “and how I wanted to make a difference.”

Seeking time and space to consider new possibilities, Emily left Tennessee to teach English in South Korea and travel throughout Asia. Discovering meaningful and enduring new friendships along the way, she ultimately felt drawn to follow a new professional direction in the non-profit world.

Her move to Austin set her on the path that eventually led to her current position as a Customer Relations Specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas.

Serving as the initial point of contact for the families and volunteers reaching out to BBBS, Emily gets the ball rolling logistically when people want to become involved with the agency. By keeping these first steps moving smoothly, she plays an essential role in supporting BBBS’ mission to help all kids succeed in life.

“I find a lot of satisfaction in knowing that I’m starting the process that ultimately leads to good outcomes,” she says.

Families and potential volunteers rely on her to learn the essentials about BBBS and to decide if the agency’s programs fit their needs. If so, Emily guides them through the necessary application and screening processes, finally bringing together clients and Enrollment Specialists in-person for intake interviews.

In her customer relations role, she generally sees just the beginning of a match relationship. After helping families and volunteers move on to the interview process, her first-hand contact with them lessens. Even so, she remains enthusiastically engaged in BBBS’ progress, proudly watching the numbers on the waitlist decrease and knowing that she’s played an essential role in helping Bigs and Littles find each other.

“That’s my favorite part of the job– connecting people,” says Emily.

At other times, however, her work is more challenging. Families approaching BBBS for the first time are often facing difficult circumstances and strong emotions. “They come to us for help in all kinds of situations,” she says.

As a result, at times she finds herself offering not only information, but also an empathetic ear.

Balancing work with a variety of outside interests, Emily makes time to travel, upcycle furniture, listen to live music around town, and spend downtime with her husband and their Rottweiler. Currently, however, her favorite way to relax is to float in a sensory deprivation tank.

“I wish I had one in my home!” she says.

She and her husband also pursue a shared interest in indoor and outdoor aquaponics, enjoying a bountiful harvest of kale, spaghetti squash, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers!

Relaxing and recharging helps Emily maintain her energy and enthusiasm for her vital role as BBBS’ first point of contact with families and volunteers. Creating a positive first impression, instilling confidence and extending empathy, Emily is undeniably helping to set the course for life-changing relationships.

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.

Playing The Long Game

For 19 years Brandon Christensen has been on a roll, participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids bowl-a-thon. And he’s not about to go on strike. He continues to be, in his words, “relentless,” in raising funds and forming teams for the event.

“I really like helping an organization that I feel has a direct impact,” said Brandon. “The first year I participated, I organized a group of 5 friends and we began collecting money. When I do a campaign or fundraiser, I’ve always been the type of person who goes pretty big. Especially if it’s something I believe in. That first year I think I raised $1,700.”

The reason he is passionate about BBBS? He can relate to the kids benefitting from this event. “Growing up, my mom worked really hard to raise my younger brother and me. We definitely struggled at times,” he continued. “I didn’t have a father figure in my life. I know what it’s like to have hard times, so I can relate to the cause and the kids BBBS supports.”

It was while he was in the Air Force that Brandon experienced a pivotal moment in his life. One that instilled in him a desire to give back. He was “volun-told” by his sergeant to sell raffle tickets to provide a Christmas party for local low-income families. Brandon took the project to heart and sold a lot of tickets, but he also took the assignment one step further and attended the event. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “It was great to see these amazing kids enjoying the food, the clowns and the gift exchange. At that point I knew I was going to be active in giving back and providing community support for a long time.”

Brandon has been true to his word, as he has not only participated in BBBS’ Bowl for Kids, he has steadily raised awareness of the event at the company he works for, SHI International. He’s encouraged co-workers to form bowling teams as well, and even established a competition to see which team could raise the most money. The winner received a very nice dinner provided by one of the company’s partners. “These are sales teams so they’re very competitive,” Brandon laughed. “My team won last year, and we’re in the lead this year. I take this very seriously.”

He takes fundraising seriously, but Brandon has also upped his game with BBBS, becoming a Big Brother himself two years ago. It is another part of his life that he feels passionate about. “I was matched with Javon,” said Brandon, “and he is awesome. He is a fun kid and very outgoing. He’s also artistic and very creative.”

The two share a love of comics and comic book movies, and Brandon has nurtured Javon’s interest in robotics, programming and art. They have visited Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art and the Art on 5th gallery.

“On our one-year match anniversary, I gave Javon a collage of pictures of our outings, and he sent me the nicest card about how he values our friendship and our relationship,” said Brandon. “I think it is critical for Littles to have adults (Bigs) in their lives who they know have made time just to be with them.”

Time with Javon has intensified Brandon’s commitment to raising money for BBBS and participating in Bowl for Kids. He now serves on the planning committee for the event and he works to help people understand that the event is not a bowling tournament or competition – it’s an event where participants can dress in costume, have fun, eat pizza, do a little bowling, and raise money for a great organization and cause.

“As a Big, I see how the money we raise allows BBBS to create mentoring relationships for more children in Central Texas, and I know, first-hand, what the campaign is truly about and what it means to be matched. Being a Big myself, I understand how the money raised affects kids from single-parent or low-income homes, as well as kids who need additional motivation or positive reinforcement to be successful.”

Bowl for Kids is a fun event but, for Brandon, it is more than an annual celebration and tradition. It is about forming, and sustaining, mentoring relationships that create lasting change, growth and opportunity for children and adults alike.

Bowl for Kids is coming soon, but there’s still time to get in the game. Join Brandon in making a positive impact in our community. Donate or form a team and participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Bowl for Kids 2018 – an event that makes a lifetime of difference.

Register or donate at www.bowlforkidsaustin.org

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.”

All About The Team: This Former Little is ‘Playing it Forward’

Years ago, he was credited with being a Little Brother in one of the longest-lasting matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. Today, Dave Rappold serves on BBBS’ Board of Directors and is heading up the agency’s 2018 Bowl For Kids event.

“When I was 4 years old my dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly,” said Dave. “That set the stage for BBBS becoming part of my life.  I went through the next few years in a sort of daze. When I was about 7 years old my mom talked to me about an organization that helped kids by matching them with adults. My first response was ‘I’m getting a dad,’ but she explained how BBBS worked and asked what I would look for in a mentor. My only thoughts were that I wanted him to like bicycles, to like tennis, and to have a mustache. That’s when I met Dale Wiseman.”

Dale became Dave’s Big Brother, and it turned out that he not only liked bicycles, he also liked motorcycles, was a spelunker, played tennis (which he taught Dave), and didn’t live far from Dave’s house. He also had a “wonderful Tom Selleck mustache.” “Having Dale in our lives was great medicine for me and my mom,” said Dave. “I didn’t have the deck stacked against me like a lot of the kids in our program do, but Dale came in fresh and he took me away from all the stuff going on at home. He never knew about everything I’d been through. We never talked about the loss of my dad. We just went and did fun stuff that kids are supposed to do. And I think that’s one of the main things it takes to heal and move forward.”

Dave’s Big Brother helped him cope with the difficult loss of his father. There were still negative things in his life, however. He says he stumbled through school, and that he was distracted and angry, but that having a Big Brother kept him engaged in constructive activities with someone who was a really good person and a wonderful influence. A situation that reduced the chances of his getting into trouble.

When a child loses a parent at such a young age, Dave believes that that loss is always with them in some way… that the sense of loss never leaves. But for Dave, that sense of loss is combined with a deep love for BBBS. “They were there for me,” Dave said of the agency. “And it never really left my mind to re-engage with BBBS at some point.”

Dave has always felt that he should have become a Big himself, but his life changed as he went through college, military service, got married and became a father to two kids of his own. He has found other ways however, to plug in and to advance BBBS’ mission. In 2016 he joined BBBS’ Executive Board. Now, he is leading the campaign for BBBS’ 2018 Bowl for Kids event set for April 27 & 28 at Highland Lanes.

“Last year we had a record-setting Ice Ball gala,” said Dave. “This year, I’d like BBBS to have a record-setting Bowl for Kids event. That would really help reduce the agency’s 600-kid waiting list.”

For Dave, the opportunity to participate in Bowl for Kids cuts across all socioeconomic lines. “Corporate donations are important and get the fundraising ball rolling,” he said. “but everyone can participate. Individuals giving $20 of their gas money are just as important.”

Creating a successful Bowl for Kids event is a team effort that embodies the BBBS spirit. “Bowl for Kids provides a great opportunity for a different type of social mingling and camaraderie,” said Dave. “Participants get together for pizza, beer, water, sodas, and to cheer each other on. There are no diamonds and high heels at Bowl for Kids. It’s just a bunch of folks getting together to support BBBS’ mission and to have a great time in the process. There are participants from corporations, from the community, Bigs, Littles, Board members and staff. All these people come together with one thing in common, they believe in BBBS and want to help the agency serve more kids.”

Dave challenges everyone to participate. “Come and make an impact,” said Dave. “At BBBS we’ve proven ourselves. We’ve proven that our one-to-one mentoring model works. We have a new building. We have a great staff and board. We have all of these important tools and processes and people in place to take care of kids and to serve them really well. We also have a long list of children waiting for the life-changing opportunities that a Big Brother or Sister can provide. What we need to be able to serve more kids is money.”

“Bowl for Kids is a wonderful way to impact BBBS’ ability to serve more kids in a quality manner and to reduce the waiting list for children in need.”

Dave knows all about the difference BBBS can make in a child’s life. He’s been there. Now, he wants to extend that same opportunity to more children whose lives would be impacted, just as his was.

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.”

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.”