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Big Sister Chelsea and Little Sister Esmeralda

Big Sister Chelsea and Little Sister Esmeralda

Having everything in your life figured out isn’t a requirement for being a Big. Seven years ago, Big Sister Chelsea was a little lost. She had just dropped out of her second semester of college and she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. She did know she wanted to give back to her community, so she signed up to be a Big Sister. She was matched with Little Sister Esmeralda.

Going to Esmeralda’s house for the first time, Chelsea was nervous, but right away, sassy, outgoing Esmeralda made Chelsea’s nervousness vanish. The two bonded immediately. They began meeting every week and their bond grew. It wasn’t before long that Esmeralda was excitedly greeting Chelsea and calling her “Sis.”

One day, when Chelsea picked her up, Esmeralda was crying, having just failed the third grade. Esmeralda was now the one a little lost. Over ice cream, the two talked about what to do next.

“Chelsea is the best thing that has happened to my daughter.”

– Little Sister Esmeralda’s mom

“We decided we would practice reading that summer, so that she would be an even better reader after the summer,” Chelsea says. Esmeralda was eager to start and wanted to read right then to get better. They worked on it constantly, reading a couple of books each time they saw each other.

Before long, Chelsea no longer had to read the menu for Esmeralda when they went out to eat. The next year, she passed third grade. “I didn’t know I was capable of being so proud of someone, and I couldn’t stop smiling,” Chelsea says.

Chelsea and Esmeralda both looked forward to when Esmeralda’s father was set to be released from prison. She was buzzing with excitement. She had looked forward to having a dad for so long. “Over our four years of being matched, she talked about how much she missed him and about how she didn’t really know him since he was in prison for over half of her life,” Chelsea says.

But in the first three months after his release, he saw Esmeralda only once. In the past year, she hasn’t heard from him. The relationship she was hoping for was not the relationship she was getting. Big Sister Chelsea helped her deal with her disappointment and move forward. “I continued to be there for her, listening to her stories as well as watching her cry about her father,” she says.

Chelsea and Esmeralda are still matched, and Esmeralda is gaining confidence and self-esteem all the time. But Esmeralda isn’t the only one who has grown since their match first started out. Mentoring Esmeralda has had such a positive effect on Chelsea’s life that she decided to study social work, and she’s now working towards her master’s degree. She plans to pursue a career helping children facing adversity.

Both Chelsea and Esmeralda, together, have come a long way since the days they were a little lost.

Big Brother Harrison and Little Brother Michael

Big Brother Harrison and Little Brother Michael

Little Brother Michael had a sad and troubled childhood, his adoptive parents say. “Imagine running away from an abusive situation to be eventually placed with people you don’t hardly know in an unfamiliar town in a different state with a new school and culture.” With all that uncertainty and change, they knew their son needed a Big Brother.

Michael was matched with Big Brother Harrison, who was then a college student. The two bonded immediately. At their first match meeting, their match support specialist and Michael’s mom left them alone to get to know one another. “We played basketball and talked for what must have been two hours,” Harrison says. “It got to the point that [Michael’s mom] said she would go home and I could drop him off when we got done, since we were having so much fun.”

They have continued having fun together for almost four years. “Ever since that first day it has been a nonstop ride of bowling, basketball, soccer, riding bikes, getting ice cream, eating, talking, and some of the most fun I have had in my life,” Harrison says.

“He is someone I can trust. Someone I can get help from. Someone who is always there for me.”

– Little Brother Michael

Michael says that having Harrison’s support has been life-changing. “I feel like I can say my feelings and talk about what goes on in my life with him,” Michael says. “He is a person who listens to me and helps me to see things in a different way.”

Harrison has also taught Michael by example. As a graduate student studying to be a pharmacist, Harrison has shown Michael the importance of focusing on academics. “We believe Harrison has helped Mike to drastically improve his grades as he transitioned to junior high school this year,” Michael’s parents say.

In the last four years, Michael’s parents have also noticed him becoming more comfortable in his own skin. “Mike is much more confident out in society and in new and uncertain situations than when he first came to us,” his parents say. “Harrison provides an outlet for Mike away from us and his daily concerns.”

To this day, Mike says these outlets are still light-hearted and fun for the both of them. “More often than not, when we get done playing sports or doing whatever it is we’re doing, we’ll be on our way to drop Mike off, but neither of us wants to stop hanging out yet, so we’ll turn up the music in my car and drive around for a while longer just to hang out for a bit more.”

After all these years, Big Brother Harrison and Little Brother Michael have still retained the excitement and shared bond they discovered at their first match meeting.

Big Sister Shari and Little Sister Ajaea

Big Sister Shari and Little Sister Ajaea

Ajaea was 5 when her mother died suddenly. With her father incarcerated, she and her sister went to live with their grandmother. Losing her mom left Ajaea feeling lost and scared. She would barely leave her grandmother’s side. “I came home from school and she wasn’t there anymore, and I didn’t want that to happen to my grandma,” Ajaea said.

While shifting her life to accommodate being the only parent to two young girls, Ajaea’s grandmother was also dealing with her own grief. She knew that Ajaea needed another supportive adult in her life, so she enrolled her as a Little Sister. At age 6, Ajaea was matched with Big Sister Shari.

“Over the years, Shari has helped me to understand a lot of things that I never understood.”

– Little Sister Ajaea

“Shari understood how Ajaea felt about the loss of her mom,” Ajaea’s grandma says. “Shari encouraged Ajaea to open up about her feelings, and that helped Ajaea to deal with emotions she didn’t understand.”

At first, every new experience was difficult for Ajaea. She was shy and overwhelmed, but luckily Shari was patient and empathetic. “Shari gently sat down beside me and told me about how her mom had died unexpected also, and how she felt, and that it was okay for me to feel the way I was feeling,” Ajaea says.

Before long, Ajaea and Shari were going to the library and playing board games. They took up drawing and painting. And over time, Shari helped Ajaea cope with her sadness and develop her confidence.

Now, Ajaea is finishing her freshman year in high school and is involved with the local Salvation Army. “This shy, traumatized girl now plays several instruments in the band, teaches, and volunteers time with children younger than her, regularly attends sleepaway camp, has developed a healthy social life, opened a savings account, rings bells at Christmas, participates in church services, and volunteers in the nursery,” says Big Sister Shari.

Little Sister Ajaea and Big Sister Shari are still matched, and they are committed to staying in each other’s lives. “Shari is more than just Ajaea’s Big Sister with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She’s a member of our family,” Ajaea’s grandmother says. “Not only is she loved by Ajaea, she is loved by our entire family, and I know that Ajaea’s mom would love her just as much as we do.”

Big Brother Jamie and Little Brother Elijah

Big Brother Jamie and Little Brother Elijah

Elijah’s grandmother prayed that a mentor would come into her grandson’s life. With both his mom and dad out of the picture, he didn’t know how to deal with the extraordinary loss in his life. Instead, he acted out in school. He was even expelled from kindergarten. His grandmother was at a loss as to what to do next, and then he was matched with Big Brother Jamie.

“My intent when I volunteered to be a BIG was to make a difference in someone’s life, but I don’t think I ever realized how spending time with someone like Elijah would brighten my days and make me a better person.”

– Big Brother Jamie

Jamie wanted to become a Big because when he looked around at his peers, he realized that he had grown up with advantages that not everyone else has. With two supportive parents and a close family, he was set up for success from the start. After college, he decided it was time for him to give back to those who didn’t have the same advantages. “I didn’t want to just donate money or time,” Jamie says. “I wanted to make a commitment to try to make someone’s life better.”

Despite getting married and having children since they were first matched, Jamie has stayed committed to Elijah. In between outings, they often chat and play video games online together. “Even when we are not together in person, we still stay connected through social media or by phone, and communicate very often,” Elijah says.

The biggest effect that Jamie has had on Elijah, Elijah says, is showing him that college is within his reach. Jamie, his father, and his brother are all Penn State alumni. “They have included me in tours of the campus, tailgating to football games with the family in their R.V., and have greatly influenced my decision to attend that school because of the firsthand experience that I have there,” Elijah says.

The Little Brother who was once struggling so much with his feelings and behavior is now a positive influence on his Big Brother. “Little did I know that his positive attitude, laughs, and inquisitiveness would make my day every time we would get together,” Jamie says. “I was trying to give back, and he was making my day.”

Big Sister Ann and Little Brother Darius

Big Sister Ann and Little Brother Darius

At 11, Little Brother Darius already has college plans. He’s going to be a Vanderbilt University Commodore, like his Big Sister, Ann.

He was first introduced to Vanderbilt by going to basketball games with his Big Sister, who is a proud Vanderbilt alum. Darius’s mom says visiting the campus for charity events, basketball games, and football games has made Darius “bleed black and gold.”

When Big Sister Ann first volunteered to become a Big, she envisioned being matched with a Little Sister. But the waiting list for Big Brothers is often much longer than the waiting list for Big Sisters, so she was matched through BBBS of Middle Tennessee with a Little Brother. “The thing I admire most about Darius is his fearlessness,” she says. “He may be a little smaller than other boys his age, but the child is determined, full of self-confidence and a positive attitude.”

“I plan to grow up and be successful so that I can become a Big myself and show other kids how to enjoy life.”

– Little Brother Darius

The two have bonded over sports and adventure, and Darius says the best activity they have done together is ziplining. “We had 10 obstacles to go on, but the last one was the best, because it was the longest and highest line,” he says. It’s no wonder Big Sister Ann describes him as fearless.

A couple of years ago, Big Sister Ann enrolled Darius in a summer football camp at Vanderbilt. He was immediately at home on the college field. “When I walked him into the camp, he was greeted with high fives, fist bumps, and overwhelming welcomes from the Vandy crew who knew him from being at events,” his mom says.

At camp, Darius learned to run in cleats, throw a spiral, and catch with both hands. He says the experience empowered him to try out for the school football team.

On the last day of camp, the coaching staff gave out awards for the kids’ achievements during the week. Darius was awarded “Best Attitude.” Ann says she was prouder of that award than anything else he could have earned.

“This child who I know to be fearless, confident, and positive was being recognized for those very things by a totally impartial collegiate coaching staff,” she says. “I realized then that the most meaningful thing that I can do for Darius is to nurture those instincts.”

With a Big Sister like Ann, it won’t be long until Darius is continuing to nurture those instincts at Vanderbilt University.

Big Brother Kevin and Little Brother Aden

Big Brother Kevin and Little Brother Aden

When Big Brother Kevin was growing up, his father wasn’t home much. He worked 13-15 hours a day. “Not once do I remember throwing a football or baseball to him,” Kevin says. “It was like he was there, but he wasn’t there.” So Kevin relied on his uncles to be role models. Knowing that there were many boys growing up like he did, with a dad not involved or not present, he decided to become a Big Brother.

Kevin was matched with Little Brother Aden six years ago, when Aden’s mom decided to enroll her son as a Little Brother because his dad’s involvement was inconsistent at best. “I wanted Aden to have a consistent, positive role model in his life who could take him to experience new things and help improve his self-esteem,” she says.

“He helped me become the young man I am today.”

– Little Brother Aden

Together, Little Brother Aden and Big Brother Kevin have gone golfing, participated in Bowl for Kids’ Sake, and completed projects around the house. They even visited the local police department once so Aden could learn what it would be like to be a police officer. In college, he hopes to study criminal justice.

Kevin’s goal with Aden is always to plan activities that help him gain confidence and self-respect. “The activities Aden and I do are infused with lessons to ensure he’s developing into a young man who understands his potential is unlimited,” Kevin says.

In the middle of last season, Little Brother Aden’s basketball coach quit the team. Without a coach, they wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the season, so Big Brother Kevin stepped up and became the new coach.

He had always been at every game, and as coach he was now at every practice, showing his Little Brother what it meant to follow through on a commitment. “I make this commitment to him because it’s important that he knows I’m there for him,” Kevin says, “because we all benefit from having extra people in our lives who remind us that we matter.”

Little Brother Aden couldn’t agree more. “He’s helped me with lots of my problems and tells me how to deal with future ones,” he says.

Whether it’s on the court or off of it, current problems or future problems, Aden knows he always has a Big he can count on.

Big Sister Julia and Little Sister Breyonne'

Big Sister Julia and Little Sister Breyonne'

When Breyonne’ and her family first moved to Columbia, she felt homesick for Atlanta. Her mom enrolled her as a Little Sister thinking it could help her adjust, and that helped a lot. Breyonne’ was matched with her Big Sister Julia.

“The consistency of Julia’s relationship with Breyonne’ helped her become more acclimated to her surroundings, therefore making the transition a lot easier,” Breyonne’s mom says.

After making Columbia her home, it wasn’t before long that Breyonne’ was trying to change it for the better.

“Spending time with Julia is lots of fun because she takes me to different places and she makes sure I’m having fun.”

– Little Sister Breyonne’

In fifth grade, she noticed her route home from school was dangerous, so she tried to secure a crossing guard. “All my friends walk home from school, and I did not think it was safe,” she says. “Some have to walk over a mile home and cross busy streets.”

When Little Sister Breyonne’ decided to advocate for the school crossing guard, Big Sister Julia was there to watch her speak at the City Council meeting.

“She is a very intelligent young lady,” Julia says. “I often wonder how she knows all the things she does.”

Breyonne’s service projects didn’t stop when the crossing guard started. With her Big Sister Julia, she continued to brainstorm ideas and talk out future plans.

“She inspired me to want to help children,” Breyonne’ says, “so I decided to start Breyonne’s Act of Kindness Foundation.”

The foundation’s goal is to stock a supply closet of uniforms for kids who need them. Big Sister Julia helped recruit some of the first donors.

“Julia is supportive in all aspects of Breyonne’s life,” Breyonne’s mom says.

Now, Breyonne’ is fully adjusted to life in Columbia and she is looking forward to her future. Big Sister Julia took Breyonne’ to tour the campus of the college her son attends, which has solidified her desire to go to college. When the time comes, she will have plenty of philanthropic projects to discuss in her college essay.

17-03-big-news-kenneth-cole-heroes

Some heroes wear capes, take on crime, and protect a big city. But some wear normal clothes, take on mentorship, and do heroic work in their hometown.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Kenneth Cole will be partnering to celebrate heroes through Kenneth Cole MANKIND HERO’s “Hometown Heroes” initiative during National Volunteer Week, April 23 – 29, 2017.

National Volunteer Week, created by Points of Light, is an opportunity to recognize volunteers who lend their time, talent, voice and support to causes they care about in their community. Kenneth Cole Fragrances, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, will share the stories of heroic Big Brothers to inspire others and encourage everyone to take action in their community.

The inspiration behind Kenneth Cole’s MANKIND HERO fragrance is rooted in the evolution of today’s modern heroes – the courageous leaders, inspiring guides, and committed mentors. At the core of the campaign, MANKIND HERO represents the fundamental mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, reinforcing the importance of performing small acts of courage, kindness, and integrity – reminding us that everyone can be a hero to someone.

“Heroes come in many forms – those who fight to make the world a better place and those who make just one life better with their presence,” said Kenneth Cole, Chairman and CEO of Kenneth Cole Productions.

Kenneth Cole Fragrances is proud to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of America through its “Hometown Heroes” initiative in support of the mission to offer mentorship to today’s youth. For every purchase of specially-labeled limited edition Kenneth Cole MANKIND HERO 3.4 oz and 6.7 oz Eau de Toilette fragrances, $2.00 will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to support the work of local affiliates.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer Lavonte David with Littles from BBBS of the Midlands

Tampa Bay Buccaneer Lavonte David with Littles from BBBS of the Midlands

Big Champion Lavonte David continues to be a great ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters. In early March, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker went back to Nebraska (having played college football at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and visited BBBS of the Midlands in Omaha.

Lavonte spoke at the BBBS of the Midlands’ Man2Man Lunch, an event for Bigs and Board members to invite friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, (preferably men) to learn more about the BBBS mission and to gain a sense of what it really means to be a Big.

Lavonte told the crowd a personal story about his girlfriend, who is a Big Sister, and what it was like to meet her Little Sister for the first time. He also participated in a Q&A with a local Big Brother, a sports reporter for one of the local television stations.

“They talked about mentoring, positive influences in Lavonte’s life, college football, and professional football,” said Jim Frederick, the Director of Marketing & Recruitment at BBBS of the Midlands. “The luncheon was a great success. We have lots of interest from individuals wanting to become Bigs. We received a handful of donations and many expressed interest in participating in some of our upcoming fundraising events.”

That night, Lavonte led BBBS of the Midlands Littles and Littles on the waitlist through a mini football camp called “Football Fun with Lavonte.” In groups, Littles rotated through five stations, some run by local high school football staff and players and one run by Lavonte, who worked with kids individually at his station.

Lavonte made an instant connection with a Little Sister, who knew nothing about football at the start of the camp. He did all the warm-up drills with her and made sure to find her when her group got to his station. By the end of the camp, she was ready for the pros.

The event was a huge hit for all the Littles. Lavonte took pictures with each Little and signed shirts and footballs for them.

“We were so excited to have Lavonte visit Omaha,” Jim said. “We would love to have him back again. This guy is a home run as a Big Champion!”

17-03-big-news-konrad-little-scholarship

When former NFL tight end Konrad Reuland died at age 29 of a brain aneurysm in December, his family knew right away that he would want them to find a way to help youth, which he cared deeply about his whole life.

Konrad was committed to mentoring and helping young people fulfill their dreams. As a high school student in California, he spent his offseason helping others train and improve. His family describes him as a true giver who impacted thousands. Fellow player Antonio Cromartie described Konrad as “A hard worker and would do everything he could for the team.”

In his honor, Konrad’s family and friends have established the Konrad A. Reuland “Little” Endowed Scholarship through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Each year, proceeds from this fund will be awarded to a Little Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program who has an interest in playing football and attending college. Through this yearly scholarship, other young men will continue to be inspired by the life of this outstanding role model.