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Big Sister Ava and Little Brother Miles

Big Sister Ava and Little Brother Miles

Bigs aren’t the only ones who can be role models. Little Brother Miles is a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Youth Ambassador and is a role model for LGBTQ youth all over the country. He spoke at the 2017 “Time to Thrive” conference as the youngest of the 15 Youth Ambassadors.

After his speech, kids gathered around him to take photos. “I felt like because I’m a younger kid, that because I’m still going through high school, for the kids that look up to me as a Youth Ambassador, I’m more relatable,” he says.

Having a relatable role model is so important for kids, especially LGBTQ kids, Miles says. Since Miles began his process of coming out at age 11, he’s experienced what a lot of LGBTQ kids experience – kids at school bullied him, and his family struggled to understand him and his identity.

“My whole middle school career was getting bullied every day no matter what,” Miles says.

Miles persisted at school and insisted that he be called the correct name and that students and teachers use he/him/his pronouns. He even advocated for the sex-ed curriculum to be more inclusive of LGBTQ identities.

“Having a person who is a little bit older, who has gone through life, who can see you as a person, and how you identify yourself, having that person is not only validating, it’s comforting.”

– Little Brother Miles

With his family, Miles still struggles. “I am the first person to come out in my family as queer—the rest of my family is cis and straight, and it’s hard. Nobody in my family understands how hard I have it.”

Miles does have a lot of great adult role models in his life now, including at the Colorado LGTBQ community center Rainbow Alley, through HRC, and his Big Sister, Ava. Ava submitted a recommendation letter for Miles to become a Youth Ambassador and attended HRC’s Time to Thrive conference with him and his mom. Ava was also the one who connected Miles with Rainbow Alley, which gave him a safe space to be himself.

When Ava and Miles were first matched, Miles was just starting his coming out process, and had not identified yet as male. When he first started coming out, he didn’t hesitate to talk to Ava about it. He knew that she accepted him unconditionally, which was something he did not always feel from family and friends.

“Having a person who is a little bit older, who has gone through life, who can see you as a person, and how you identify yourself, having that person is not only validating, it’s comforting,” Miles says.

Miles and Ava have stayed close through the three years they have been matched, and she says it’s easy to see how he’s grown as a person.

The role of a Big isn’t to provide parenting, she says, but to listen and affirm. “Just be patient and don’t assume things, be curious about their identity, because they probably have enough people telling them who they are and how to be.”

When Miles grows up, he hopes to work as an advocate for LGBTQ people, to continue to be a role model. Because of the work he’s done in coming out and sharing his story, he says, he hopes that what he has gone through will create a safer, more accepting world.

Big Brother Eric and Little Brother Mondre

Little Brother Mondre was in fifth grade when his mother looked into getting him a Big Brother through BBBS of Northeast Iowa. Mondre’s father was not in the picture, and she felt he needed a positive male role model in his life.

“We hit the jackpot with Eric,” Mondre’s mother says.

Eric signed up to be a Big after the youngest of his two daughters left for college. He had a lot more time on his hands, and rather than spend it perfecting his golf swing or building a man cave, he decided to get involved in a young man’s life.

“I have come to realize that my life is generally more fulfilling when the focus is on others and not solely on myself,” Eric says.

“Neither one of us are the type that want to sit around and talk about our thoughts and feelings, but through our consistent interaction those do come out.”

– Big Brother Eric

Big Brother Eric and Little Brother Mondre immediately bonded over their shared interest in sports. They played basketball one-on-one, threw darts, and attended sporting events. Eric took Mondre to his first Iowa Hawkeyes football and basketball games.

Eric knew Mondre loved sports, but one of his goals was to expose Mondre to as many other experiences as possible. When he noticed that Mondre was choosing the same restaurant every time they went out to eat, he pushed him to try new places. “We agreed that we would not eat at the same restaurant twice,” Eric says. “That has led us to dozens of different dining experiences – some great, and some not so great, but always a new experience.”

Eric also pushed for Mondre to be exposed to college. Whenever they went to watch the Hawkeyes play, Eric wanted him to have fun, but he also wanted Mondre to be able to picture himself among the students. “I don’t want college to seem like something that is unattainable or outside his world,” Eric says, “but instead, something that he sees others not unlike himself doing and realizes it is something that is possible for him.”

Mondre says creating opportunities to try new restaurants and visit a college campus are only a couple of the things Eric has done for him. He gives Eric credit for showing him how to work out and how to use proper manners. As a lawyer, Eric has also shown Mondre the importance of having a good job. Mondre says that Eric has taught him so much, he could write a book about everything he has learned from his Big Brother.

“He has definitely become more than just a Big Brother,” Mondre says. “He is family to me, and I know that he will always be a part of my life.”

Eric echoes that sentiment, saying that that he started his mentoring journey believing he would have an impact, but that it has turned out that his life was impacted just as much.

They both hit the jackpot.

Big Sister Jesse and Little Sister Jasmine

Big Sister Jesse and Little Sister Jasmine

Nearly 10 years ago, Little Sister Jasmine was matched with Big Sister Jesse through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City. At the time, Jasmine thought that attending school was a low priority. If she missed the bus or just didn’t feel like going, she would stay home.

“There would be weeks when she would tell me about going to school only once or twice the entire week,” Jesse says. “I started to express the importance of not only getting good grades, but also attendance.”

Jesse did more than just express the importance. With her actions, she showed the importance. When Jasmine woke up late and missed her bus, Jesse would give her a ride to school. Jesse felt that it was better to arrive late than not attend at all.

“She’s someone I can talk to and call on for help with anything.”

– Little Sister Jasmine

Over time, Jasmine’s absences dwindled and so did her need for Jesse’s rides. Attendance had become a priority, and she never went back to her habit of waking up late and missing her bus.

“It was amazing to see her transform and really start to care about school,” Jesse says. “She would be so excited at the end of a week that she attended school every day. She would get in my car and light up telling me about it.”

By the time Little Sister Jasmine entered middle school, her focus shifted from just attending school to exceling at it. She stayed caught up on her schoolwork and pushed herself to do even more. At the ceremony for students finishing 8th grade and entering high school, Jasmine gave a speech as the class valedictorian. She credits Jesse for her success.

“Without her help, these things wouldn’t have happened,” Jasmine says. “She’s the extra motivation I need sometimes for whenever I change my mind or want to give up. She’s an amazing Big Sister and a very good role model.”

Jasmine’s academic success is only part of their match. They talk a lot about goals and schoolwork, but they also enjoy baking desserts, visiting parks, and attending concerts. Jesse also helped Jasmine land her first job at a local AMC.

“Sometimes I forget that the program is the reason I met her,” Jasmine says. “I don’t see her as just a match through the program, I see her as an actual Big Sister.”

Jasmine recently graduated high school and is now in college. She attends one of the schools that she and Jesse visited together on a college tour. When Jasmine loaded her stuff into her freshman dorm room, Jesse was there with Jasmine’s entire family to help her move in.

The school is in a different city, so Jasmine can’t quite get Jesse to give her a ride if she wakes up late, but the things Jasmine learned from Jesse will always be with her.

Big Brother Tony and Little Brother Nasir

Big Brother Tony and Little Brother Nasir

At a breakfast for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware, a mother stood up and told the crowd about her son and the impact that his Big Brother was having on her son’s life. Future Big Brother Tony attended the event with a friend and listened to the mother’s story. He was moved by her words. “It touched me, and at that moment, I knew I wanted to become a mentor,” he says. He decided he would volunteer for one year.

BBBS of Delaware matched Tony with Little Brother Nasir when Nasir was 7. Nasir had told his mom he wanted something he’d never had before: a brother. He had heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters at school and he knew that with his dad out of the picture, he needed a male role model.

“My Big Brother is special because he is always there for me no matter what.”

– Little Brother Nasir

Tony says he remembers the first time he met Nasir like it was yesterday. “I asked him what he wanted to be when grows up, and he said, ‘I’m going to be a baller like Lebron James.’ I offered to help him with his game, and he said, ‘Help me with my game? I can help you with your game.’”

Little Brother Nasir’s bravado stopped with basketball. When Tony asked about his grades, Nasir wasn’t so quick to answer. He was getting C’s and D’s. Tony encouraged Nasir to focus on school, and decided to make helping Nasir improve his grades a priority during their match.

The “one year” of mentoring that Tony told himself he would be doing flew by and quickly turned into a second year. The two found themselves racing go-karts, attending sporting events, and checking out vintage automobiles at car shows. Tony even taught Nasir how to drive.

With encouragement from Tony, who earned two master’s degrees during the time they were matched, Nasir’s C’s and D’s turned into A’s and B’s, and he has made the honor roll every year since middle school.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Tony and Nasir’s competitiveness on the basketball court. “I always like to beat him,” Nasir says.

Before Tony knew it, he had spent much longer than a year mentoring Nasir.  The memorable activities, personal growth, and friendly competition still continue now, 10 years later.

Tampa, Fla. (October 23, 2017) – Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the nation’s oldest one-to-one mentoring organization, is pleased to announce the addition of five new members to its National Board of Directors.

Joining the board are Guy Adami, an investment expert and one of the original Wall Street traders on the show “Fast Money;” Shannon Mattingly, Strategic Partnership Manager at Facebook; Ernest Greer, co-president of Greenberg Traurig LLP; Ken Burdick, CEO of WellCare Health Plans, Inc.; and Steven Wheeler, CEO of Centurion LLC and President and CEO of MHM Services, Inc.

“Our newest board members truly embody the spirit of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and I am delighted to welcome them,” said Pam Iorio, BBBSA president and CEO. “Mentoring young people is more important than ever. We are honored to have such a dedicated National Board to support our mission and values, as we continue to positively impact communities across the nation.”

Guy Adami

Adami works as the Director of Advisor Advocacy at Private Advisor Group in Morristown, New Jersey, a network of advisors. He is an original member of CNBC’s “Fast Money.” Adami has had considerable success in fundraising for charities in the past, including in 2012, when he and the eight-member team he assembled raised nearly $700,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  “I am so inspired by the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters in creating positive change in the lives of young people. I am honored to join the National Board and hope to move more Americans to get involved by supporting these mentoring relationships or by volunteering,” Adami says.

Shannon Mattingly

As Strategic Partnership Manager at Facebook, Mattingly brings experience and insight into branding and social media. In her role at Facebook, she works with non-profit organizations and public figures to help strengthen and amplify their messages for a social media audience. Before joining Facebook, Mattingly founded her own business, ShowStoppers, selling multiple product lines on HSN and in hundreds of stores across the country. She has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area and Catholic BBBS of Los Angeles, as a Junior Board Member.

Ernest Greer

As the co-president of Greenberg Traurig LLP, Greer is a highly accomplished business litigation attorney who is known for his service to his community, Greer brings decades of experience in supporting his community and causes related to education, public health, and human rights causes. Greer was the first lawyer to serve as the Chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and he has served on the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Police Foundation, the Center for Civil & Human Rights, the Atlanta History Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Achieve Atlanta.

Ken Burdick

Prior to becoming CEO of WellCare Health Plans, Inc. in 2015, Burdick was the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and CEO of the Medicaid Division of Coventry Health Care. Under Burdick’s leadership, WellCare became the first BBBSA corporate partner to support BBBSA’s Bigs in Blue program, which recruits police officers to become Bigs to children who live in the communities they serve.

Steven Wheeler

As the CEO of Centurion, a company which provides correctional health services, Wheeler understands how mentoring can make a difference in preventing involvement with the justice system.  As a Big Brother himself, he mentors a child in his area’s community-based mentoring program. In his role at Centurion, Wheeler actively encourages his teams to be involved with their communities and to participate in BBBS activities, especially those focused on helping the children of incarcerated parents.

The role of the BBBSA Board of Directors is to support and govern the National Office of BBBSA, which helps the nearly 300 Affiliates as they mentor youth in every state across the country.

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Since 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters has provided children facing adversity with strong, enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships. Big Brothers Big Sisters ensures that the children in its program achieve measurable outcomes, including educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors, higher aspirations, greater confidence, and better relationships. Learn more at www.bigbrothersbigsisters.org.

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For more information contact:
Lauren Klinger
Communications Manager, BBBSA
Lauren.Klinger@bbbsa.org
813.605.7425

Big Sister Sheila and Little Sister Alexis

Big Sister Sheila and Little Sister Alexis

Most match journeys have some hurdles along the way. Little Sister Alexis and Big Sister Sheila’s match actually began with one. On the day of their first match activity, Sheila couldn’t make it. She was trapped inside her house.

“I had a 5- to 7-foot drift of snow in my driveway, and no way to get out, and no way to contact Alexis’ mother,” Sheila says.

The two didn’t let the hurdle stop them, though. They had their first match meeting not long after that and began to develop their relationship. Alexis had never been to the library before their match, so Sheila made it a point to change that. The library quickly became one of their favorite places. They loved checking out books and reading to each other. Sheila also taught Alexis how to sew, which she now loves doing.

“She acts like a true big sister.”

– Little Sister Alexis

After they had been matched for about a year and a half, Alexis was placed in foster care. For a while, Sheila lost contact with her. She was patient and committed, though, and the match continued. “I was able to find out through BBBS where she was placed, and stayed in touch with Alexis throughout her stay with her foster family,” Sheila says.

When Alexis moved back with her mother, the match picked back up even stronger than before. The adversity they have faced has only brought them closer.

“She has become part of my family, and she knows if she needs anything, I will be there for her,” Sheila says.

The two continue to participate in many of their favorite activities, but as Alexis has grown older, they have begun to talk more about college and Alexis’ future.

“I never thought about college,” Alexis says. “When I did, I thought of it as an ‘if’, but now it’s a ‘For sure, I’m going to college. No doubt.’ That thought would have never come to mind if it weren’t for Sheila.”

Going to college always presents its own set of hurdles, but if this match has proven anything, it’s that they’ll be able to overcome them all.

Big Brother Jacob and Little Brother Arual

Big Brother Jacob and Little Brother Arual

Little Brother Arual was at a crossroads. He had big dreams about playing sports and earning scholarships, but he was also tempted to give in to peer pressure from the wrong crowd. His mom was determined to find something to pull him onto the path towards a brighter future. “I was so worried that he might get more involved with these kids, that I had trouble staying calm about it,” she says. “I was asking Arual, ‘Why?! Why?! Why are you hanging around them? He would not listen to me, so I reached out for help.” She enrolled him as a Little through Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County, and he was matched with Big Brother Jacob.

“When he says, ‘Oh, you got this,’ I feel like I have hope.”

– Little Brother Arual

Right away, Arual’s mom says she knew that getting her son a Big Brother was a good decision. “As his mom, I can get emotional about some things because I care so much about his safety and his future,” she says. “So, he’s not confident to say much when he’s speaking to me.” When Arual was considering following his friends and making poor choices, Jacob stressed that his future would be affected.

“There was a time when my friends wanted me to do bad stuff with them. I was really thinking about trying it,” Arual says. “But Jacob got me thinking about the risks involved instead. I don’t want to do things that are bad for my health when I’m trying to earn a basketball scholarship. I don’t want to have trouble on my record that keeps me from getting into my favorite colleges.” Arual wants to go to Florida State or Oregon, and he says he knows he has to focus on his big goals.

Now, Arual is doing well in school and pursuing his dream of going to a great college. “My grades are pretty good now. I’m doing really well in math,” Arual says. “I’m not quite where I want to be in my other classes. I want my grades to be even higher, because I have higher aspirations for myself.”

Jacob recognizes that he met Arual at a critical time in his adolescence, when he could have taken a different path. “Middle school is a dynamic time,” he says. “It’s easy to go one way or another.”

Big Sister Paula and Little Sister Mackenzie

Big Sister Paula and Little Sister Mackenzie

Big Sister Paula still remembers meeting Little Sister Mackenzie nearly six years ago. “Mackenzie was so shy, she hardly made a peep!” Paula says. “But I could tell from the gleam in her eyes, she was excited about the match.”

Mackenzie had been waiting to be matched with a Big Sister for about a year, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for her to finally meet her Big. That initial match meeting fell on Mackenzie’s birthday and it was the first of many big moments the two would share together.

“Though we may not be blood relatives, I am proud to say I still have family here: I have a little sister.”

– Big Sister Paula

Four years after that first meeting, Mackenzie attended Paula’s wedding. A year after that, Mackenzie met Paula’s infant son. Paula watched Mackenzie graduate from 8th grade and was there to see Mackenzie graduate from high school.

“She’s been there for the big moments and the small ones,” Paula says.

The smaller moments have included shopping, getting pedicures, going out to eat, baking chocolate cake, cooking chili, and volunteering in the community.

Mackenzie’s mother says that volunteering with Paula has nurtured Mackenzie’s love for helping others and encouraged her to study nursing in college.

“When we meet, she is always interested in what I have been up to in my schoolwork, the latest trends, and any new friends in my life,” Mackenzie says. “She’s all-around a great person.”

Through it all, the two have grown together.

“I have watched her grow from a quiet, shy pre-teen to a much more talkative, focused young woman,” Paula says about Mackenzie.

“It has been an amazing experience to get to know someone and see them change over the years,” Mackenzie says about Paula.

Mackenzie mom feels like the match couldn’t be better even if she had selected the Big herself.  “This is more than just a match,” she says. “They will forever be intertwined in each other’s lives.”

Paula and Mackenzie couldn’t agree more. Mackenzie recently started college, but she says her relationship with Paula will continue in the future, through big moments and small.

Big Brother Cynric and Little Brother Kameron

Big Brother Cynric and Little Brother Kameron

Big Brother Cynric often thought about how his life would be different if he’d had a mentor, or if he could go back in time to mentor himself. Before becoming a Big, he thought mentoring was for people who had it all figured out. “I always felt like being a mentor was a thing I should do as a man and as someone who cared about their community,” he says. “But for a long time I didn’t think I was the right guy.”

The more he thought about it, he decided that maybe his mistakes could make him an even better mentor.  “It was those mistakes that pushed me to sign up,” he says.

Cynric enrolled as a Big, and he was soon matched with Little Brother Kameron. Their first meeting was over ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery.

“I was nervous at first,” Kameron says, thinking back to when he was seven.

“He treats me with so much respect and he acts like he is truly my real brother.”

– Little Brother Kameron

Growing up, Kameron was having trouble making connections with people. At school, he was bullied and left out of activities. At home, his single mom didn’t have time to spend with him one-on-one time because he had so many brothers.

Big Brother Cynric remembers getting one-word answers to all his questions in the early days, but after being matched for seven years, he now says that, Kameron “shakes his head or rolls his eyes” at all of his jokes. The two have bonded over playing video games and watching movies, and Little Brother Kameron even says that he enjoys raking leaves and mowing the grass.

“I like doing yard work with him because it teaches me how to maintain a yard using different tools,” Kameron says.

Little Brother Kameron has grown a lot from the boy who was nervous over ice cream, and he gives a lot of credit to Cynric. “Now that I have my Big, school is great,” he says. “He helped me get through those tough times, and now I’m confident in myself.”

Cynric says he knows his relationship has had affected Kameron, but that the biggest impact may have come from his mistakes. “I can tell – by what he says – that Kam thinks about the mistakes I made when I was in his shoes and how I dealt with it (or didn’t), when he figures out how to handle problems in his own life.”

Editor’s Note: The photo first posted with this match story was not the correct photo for the match in the article. The photo was updated on 9/29/17 and is now reflective of the match in the story. We regret the error.

Big Sister Diane and Little Sister Jaelynn

Big Sister Diane and Little Sister Jaelynn

For over 18 years, Diane was the owner/operator of a hair salon. For years she heard clients talk about their experiences of being a Big, and three years ago, she decided to become one herself. “I took the plunge and contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters of Windham County,” she says.

At the same time, a single mother of four children was signing up her daughter Jaelynn to be a Little. “My mom and I thought I needed someone to hang out with and to go see new places, try new things,” Jaelynn says. Mom and daughter got exactly that when Big Brothers Big Sisters matched Jaelynn with Big Sister Diane.

On their first outing the two bonded almost immediately. “We went out for ice cream and I was comfortable right away,” Jaelynn says.

A lot of their first outings included going out for ice cream, but the match really came to life when they started cooking their own food in the kitchen. Jaelynn loved to learn new things and Diane was happy to teach her. “We have produced dozens and dozens of hand-decorated cookies, chocolate-covered Oreo truffles and even apple pies,” Diane says.

“I want Diane to be a lifetime friend.”

– Little Sister Jaelynn

However, Diane hasn’t been doing all the teaching in the kitchen. Back at home, Jaelynn has taught her siblings how to make truffles as well, telling them all about learning to make them with Diane. “I know the truffle recipe she taught me by heart,” she says.

Last winter, the two took on ice skating, seeing it as a learning opportunity for both of them. They started with ice skating training aids, and made it a challenge to see who would shed them first. “Of course, Jaelynn was quickly skating circles around me as I was hesitant to let go of the training aid,” Diane says. Luckily, Jaelynn did slow down to help Diane get up to speed.

Nowadays, Jaelynn helps out Diane at her hair salon by organizing her shelves. She gets paid for her time, but she doesn’t take the money home right away. Instead, she puts it in special envelopes. “Each envelope is for something different – college, car, nail polish, clothes, and beauty supplies,” Jaelynn says. “My college envelope has the most money in it, because I want to go to college and learn to be a veterinarian.”

The match has been more than anything Jaelynn or her mom expected. “Diane is one of the most loving and caring individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing,” Jaelynn’s mother says. “She is a great role model for my daughter.”

Jaelynn and her mom are thankful for the role Diane has played in Jaelynn’s life, but Diane says she has gotten even more joy and satisfaction out of the match than Jaelynn.

But all involved owe a thanks to Diane’s hair salon for not only being the place that helps Jaelynn save for college, but for also being the place where Diane was first inspired to become a big.