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.

Big Brother Steve and Little Brother Cesar

Big Brother Steve and Little Brother Cesar

Nearly every Saturday morning for the last nine years, Big Brother Steve has knocked on Little Brother Cesar’s door to pick him up for an outing. Sometimes they go kayaking or biking, sometimes they work in the yard, and often they go to a sporting event. Consistency is one of the keys to mentorship, Steve says. “So many ‘Littles’ have dealt with so much disappointment in their lives and need someone that is truly dependable, keeps their word, and follows through on their promises,” he says.

Keeping with that consistency, Big Brother Steve has tried to attend as many of Cesar’s games as possible over the years, despite traveling heavily for work. One of his goals is to help Cesar prepare for and deconstruct his performances on the football field and basketball court when he can.

“I feel like he’s one of the few people who believe in me.”

– Little Brother Cesar

One Saturday, Steve knocked on Cesar’s door as usual, and they headed out to a soccer game. “My neighbor’s son, who is autistic, was playing in a soccer match, and Cesar and I were going to be cheering him on,” Steve says. Many of the players had physical challenges, including the goalie, who used a wheelchair. Steve and Cesar spent the morning supporting the players and praising them after the game.

On the way home, Steve told Cesar he was proud of him for enthusiastically supporting all the players. Steve remembers Cesar saying, “Steve, when I hear you cheer for me, it makes me feel famous. So today, I wanted your neighbor and all his friends to feel famous, too.”

“At that moment, I realized the importance of my relationship with Cesar and his relationship with me,” Steve says.

Cesar’s mom says she knows that Steve has had a positive impact on Cesar and guided him to a bigger future. “Steve gives Cesar advice and helps him understand things in life better,” she says. “It’s nice that Cesar has someone else to give him advice other than myself.”

Cesar is happy for that extra advice and guidance, seeing Steve as both a best friend and role model. He says his Big Brother has helped him not only improve with sports but also get better grades and make progress towards his future goals. “His encouragement is one of the things that inspires me to try harder,” Little Brother Cesar says. “I want to make him proud.”

Steve is already nothing short of proud, so much so that’s he confident that Cesar will one day “become a Big Brother, and change the life of his ‘Little.’”

Big Sister Keri and Little Sister Kiana

Big Sister Keri and Little Sister Kiana

Becoming a Big requires a drive to give back.  Bigs dedicate time and energy to mentor a child who needs a role model. Big Sister Keri had that drive when she signed up to be a Big, and at her first match meeting, she found out her Little Sister Kiana had it too.

Big Sister Keri had been told that Kiana didn’t talk much, so she was a little nervous about that first meeting. Keri wanted to bring her somewhere familiar and comfortable, so they went to McDonald’s. They played on the restaurant’s playground and worked up an appetite, but Kiana ate only a few fries. She divided her meal into sections, naming off each of her six brothers and sisters, saving food to bring home to them. “At her young age, she cared more about others than herself,” Keri says.

Through the 11 years they have been matched, Big Sister Keri has continued to nurture Kiana’s instinct to care for others. Together, they have found ways to give back to their community. They have gardened at a food pantry’s farm, baked cookies for the homeless, and visited with nursing home residents. “Keri and Kiana participate in volunteer activities throughout Lubbock, and they have inspired the rest of our family to give back,” Kiana’s mom says.

“My Big Sister Keri has been a positive influence in my life by molding the person I am today.”

– Little Sister Kiana

Big Sister Keri and Little Sister Kiana have also worked through some struggles Kiana was having with her behavior and her schoolwork. At one point in their match, Kiana was tested and was found to be reading far below her grade level. Big Sister Keri helped her enroll in tutoring and encouraged her to keep at it, even when her tutoring sessions were on Saturday mornings.

“Some Saturdays were harder than others, but she did really well with her studies,” Big Sister Keri says. “She is making better choices and talks about her concerns for her siblings and fellow students.”

Her behavior at school has improved, and now, Kiana reads at grade level.

“Keri has always been there when Kiana needed help, whether it was making better decisions, learning new skills, or exposing her to new opportunities,” Kiana’s mom says.

Kiana says Keri has also changed her perspective and helped her dream bigger. “I am scared of heights, but I want to be in the Air Force,” Kiana says. Keri told her not to let her fear keep her from doing something she is passionate about, and it made all the difference. “Now, I am still a little afraid of heights, but I know I can overcome it when I become a pilot one day.”

With her drive to give back and her belief in herself, the sky is truly the limit for this selfless future pilot.

Little Sister and Rising Star Student Asma

This summer, Minor League Baseball and Esurance named Little Sister Asma an “Esurance Rising Star Student” and awarded her a $5,000 scholarship for college expenses. She accepted the award during an on-field ceremony before the Salt Lake Bees game, her hometown Minor League Baseball team, on May 12, but her journey to becoming a scholarship winner began long before she even stepped foot in a classroom.

Approximately 18 years ago, Asma’s mother fled Somalia, making her way to the United States, toting three toddlers and pregnant with twins Asma and Anisa. She had to leave her husband behind in Somalia. Two years later, they would all be reunited in America.

“You have little kids, no husband, and you don’t know who to speak to,” Asma’s mom says. “It was very hard.”

Growing up, Asma faced challenges of her own. She always excelled at school, but dealt with bullies who teased her for her skin color, religion, ethnicity, and language skills. A teacher saw how much Asma and her twin sister were being picked on, and she referred both girls to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The twins’ first matches were with Big Sisters who were also twins themselves. They had other School-Based Big Sisters throughout elementary school and then transitioned to the Community-Based program in middle school. Asma says her involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters helped her accept herself.

“Each Big Sister allowed me to embrace my own identity,” Asma says. “Just having the presence of someone who cared about me outside my family was so important.”

Now, with a scholarship in hand, Asma is headed to college this fall to study neuroscience. This summer, she’s participating in an internship program for surgical technology. She wakes up when it’s still dark out in Salt Lake City and heads to the hospital to start her day. The job of a surgical technologist is to label the medications so the patient receives the right one during surgery, sanitize the surgical tools and hand instruments to the surgeon.

“Just being in the operating room makes me happy, it’s amazing. And I’m getting a feel of how being a surgeon is,” Asma says.

Seeing how Big Brothers Big Sisters affected her life has led Asma to want to support other girls in the same way. She won the Miss Africa Utah scholarship pageant in her senior year of high school, and while she could have used the scholarship money for tuition, she chose instead to use it to create a curriculum for girls.

“It’s a six- to eight-week curriculum to encourage minority females to be themselves, unapologetically,” she says. “I want to teach these girls that they can be themselves and they are beautiful.”

The curriculum has been her side project throughout the summer and will continue into her freshman year in college. Part of her motivation to keep her grades up and excel is her mom, who she describes as her best friend. “Part of my way of paying her back for everything she did for us, for bringing us here, is obtaining that education and being successful, so that she knows her struggle and coming to the U.S. was worth it.”

Seeing her children succeed was once only a dream for Asma’s mom. Now, it is a reality as she sees her daughter start college.

To meet our other 12 2017 Esurance Rising Star Students, click here.


ALEX AND ANI Big and Little Dipper Set

At the BBBSA National Awards Gala in June, BBBSA highlighted some of the corporate partners that make our mission possible.

Chairman’s Award – ALEX AND ANI

In 2016, we worked with Alex and Ani to create the Big and Little Dipper Set of Two Charm Bangles. From the sale of those bangles, Big Brothers Big Sisters has received nearly $300,000 in the first year of the partnership. More importantly, this partnership has created a symbol that is worn by so many Bigs and Littles across the country to signify their never-ending friendships.

President’s Award – Jack in the Box

For 19 years, Jack in the Box has supported Big Brothers Big Sisters. This year, Jack in the Box celebrates the 13 years of Operation Bigs, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for mentoring kids from military families. They were the founding sponsor to launch the program, and they now support Operation Bigs matches across the country, and they not only invest in programs, they also collaborate with the National Office and the network to support Operation Bigs and also the Hispanic Mentoring Initiative, First Meal Programs, and Bowl for Kids’ Sake

Community Impact Award – The 250 Club

For more than 46 years, The 250 Club has hosted an annual dinner in Cleveland to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters. Over the years, The 250 Club has donated more than $2 million to BBBSA and local agencies.

Enterprise Award – Savers

Savers has helped nearly 40 agencies by turning their community’s used clothing and household items into big donations to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Savers creates thousands of jobs and generates millions of dollars in revenue each year to support local affiliate.

Common Good Award – Hill Impact

The entire network has benefited from the work of Dan Hill and his firm, Hill Impact, which has provided countless hours of pro bono public relations services to the National Office since 2012.

Little Sister Caira and Big Sister Debbi-Jo (D.J.)

Nerium International has been a strong partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters since 2012. Each year, thousands of Nerium Brand Partners donate a portion of their monthly commissions, raise funds through Bowl for Kids’ Sake, and many have become Bigs.

Debbi-Jo (D.J.) is one of those Brand Partners who, after attending the Nerium Get Real Conference, decided to become a Big Sister. She was inspired by the Nerium Chief Leadership Officer Renee Olson, who spoke at the Conference about being a Big to her Little Sister, Ryan.

“I remember thinking, ‘If Renee Olson, whose life is even crazier than mine, can find the time, I have no excuse,’” D.J. says.

When D.J. got back to her home in Rhode Island, she simply asked the local affiliate, BBBS of the Ocean State, “What do I have to do?”

Not long after, she was matched with Little Sister Caira.

Caira was 16 at the time of their match. It’s around that age that many affiliates stop matching youth. She still had two years to be mentored before graduating high school, though, and  D.J. felt strongly that she could make a difference for Caira.

The two years have been nothing short of amazing, D.J. says. They have enjoyed getting their nails done, gardening, making dream boards, and so much more.

“She is shy, but once she’s been around you, she just, like, comes out of herself,” D.J. says. “She really has blossomed.”

Now, Caira is preparing for college. She hopes to become a social worker and work with children with disabilities. Her “official” match through BBBS with D.J. may be ending, but she knows that she’ll always have her Big Sister in her corner if not by her side.

“We’ve already decided we are going to remain friends forever,” D.J. says.

Corner Store Country Run Kickoff in Denver, CO

For the fourth consecutive year, Corner Store is hosting a “down home family fun” event across the nation with their Corner Store Country Run. Proceeds from the race will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters and local children’s charities in each city.

Participants are encouraged to wear their best country attire, with many runners donning their best cowboy hats and rocking their best pigtails. While a lot of racers do wear typical race gear, many do come to the event dressed in flannels and overalls.

When the race starts, runners go through a farm-themed trail, encountering experiences such as hay bales, tractor tires, and farm animals (inflatable ones) throughout the 5K.

When the race is over, everyone is invited to a post-race party with giveaways, food, and more.

The Country Run kicked off in early July in Denver, but will continue in the fall in four other stops. If bringing out your inner cowpoke or cowgirl and running for a good cause interests you, don’t miss it!  If you can’t make it to a race, visit your local Corner Store in the month of September to donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters.