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Big Brother Mr. James and Little Brother Kaleb

Big Brother Mr. James and Little Brother Kaleb

Little Brother Kaleb grew up angry and upset that his father wasn’t involved in his life. He would call and sometimes his father wouldn’t answer. His father would make plans and promises but then wouldn’t show up. “Sometimes I don’t understand why my father doesn’t want to talk to me, and I don’t know what I have done,” Kaleb says.

Kaleb wanted a male figure in his life and he says his attitude in school was a product of not having one. He was constantly getting in trouble, and his teacher resorted to sending him out of the classroom when he was disruptive.

Kaleb’s mom was at a loss when it came to her son’s behavior. “Kaleb was suspended so many times and his behavioral challenges were so overwhelming that I wanted to give up,” she says.

“It is so nice when I come home after school, and I have someone to talk to when I am feeling down.”

– Little Brother Kaleb

His teacher asked her colleague, Mr. James, to work through these challenges with Kaleb, and he was up for it.

“I ended up having to see Kaleb just about every day for poor behavior,” Mr. James says.

For months, he spent time with Kaleb when he needed discipline and guidance. Kaleb’s teacher asked Mr. James to sit in on a parent-teacher conference with Kaleb’s family. At that meeting, Kaleb’s mom mentioned that she thought Kaleb could use a Big Brother.

“As she said this, I immediately interjected and told them that I would love to be Kaleb’s Big Brother,” Mr. James said. “I also told them how great my Big Brother was and how influential he is in my life.”

When Mr. James was a Little Brother, he dealt with issues similar to what Kaleb was dealing with. His father was absent, and he was being raised in a house full of women. He needed a male role model, so his mother enrolled him as a Little Brother. “We still communicate to this day, but the highlight of our relationship was the day that he got the opportunity to meet my Little Brother, Kaleb,” Mr. James said.

Now, Kaleb is doing well in school and has been involved with the student council. He will complete his freshman year in high school this spring. “Kaleb has a 3.0 GPA now, and he can still be a class clown, but he knows how to get himself back on track.”

Kaleb and Mr. James have played laser tag and paintball together. They even have a secret handshake.

When the two make plans and promises, Mr. James shows up and keeps them, and when Kaleb calls, Mr. James always answers the phone.

Big Sister Megan and Little Sister Samantha

Big Sister Megan and Little Sister Samantha

When Little Sister Samantha beamed confidently from the stage while competing in the “Miss Kearns” pageant, her Big Sister thought about the shy little girl she used to be. On stage, Samantha was almost a different person. “She exuded a confidence that I would have never known existed when I first met her,” Megan says.

Big Sister Megan and Little Sister Samantha were matched when Samantha was 10. Back then, Big Sister Megan had to work hard to get her to say anything. “Getting to know Sammy in the beginning was a slow process,” Megan says. “She didn’t say much unless I asked her questions, and even when I asked her questions, sometimes I only got short answers.”

“She is always there for me when I’m in need of guidance, when I need advice, for anything.”

– Little Sister Samantha

Over time, the match built trust and Samantha began to come out of her shell. “Conversations are no longer a struggle with her,” Megan says.  Samantha eventually began to talk about her friends and her family with Megan, and Megan stayed consistently involved in Samantha’s life, even when things got hard. Samantha’s home life was unstable, and periodically, it became difficult to contact her because her family’s phone was turned off.

Megan found ways to see Samantha even when it was a challenge, and she was there for Samantha in high school when she was planning for her future. In high school, Samantha was an honors student with a 4.0 GPA. Knowing she would be the first person in her family to attend a university, Samantha needed the guidance of someone who had been there. “She is most definitely a role model in my life,” Samantha says. “Megan has helped me and has invested so much of her own time to help me apply for college and help me look for scholarships.”

Now, Samantha is working full time. She has been accepted to college and dreams of becoming a dermatologist. Even though she has graduated high school, she still keeps in touch with Big Sister Megan, who says she’s considering becoming a Big again now that Samantha has graduated.

“When I decided I wanted to become a Big, it never occurred to me what I would learn in the process,” Megan says. “Sammy has taught me patience, the importance of communication, the beauty of self-confidence, and the joy and pride that can be felt watching someone else succeed.”

Big Brother Ryan and Little Brother Nick

Big Brother Ryan and Little Brother Nick

At age 10, Little Brother Nick was already skipping school, smoking, and drinking.  He was constantly bullying other kids. “My grades were all right, but I had a bad attitude about school,” he says. “I fought a lot and got into lots of trouble.”

Coping with abuse and loss in his childhood, Nick acted out in school and at home. His mom decided to enroll him as a Little Brother to give him a role model who might help him deal with hard, emotional things in a more positive way. She wanted someone to be there for her son in a way his father wasn’t, and when Nick was in fourth grade, he was matched with his Big Brother, Ryan.

“I know that if Nick is having trouble in school or something else, I can tell Ryan and he will do whatever he can to help Nick out.”

– Little Brother Nick’s mom

Ryan volunteered to be a Big because he wanted to give back to a boy who didn’t have a positive role model in his life. When Ryan was 13, he lost his father, but he had his own brothers to look up to. He understood how loss could affect a child and how important it is to feel supported during a time of grief.

Together, Big Brother Ryan and Little Brother Nick drive go-karts, root for their favorite college football team, and talk about whatever comes up.

Nick’s mom says Big Brother Ryan’s influence has completely changed Nick’s attitude. “I think being matched with Ryan has made Nick more mature. He is a lot more grown up than the other kids in his class,” she says. .

Since being matched with Ryan, Nick has stopped using alcohol, smoking, skipping school, and bullying other kids. “I’ve changed a lot because I have a Big Brother. Ryan is like a real big brother to me,” Nick says. “He keeps me out of trouble and talks to me about safety stuff to keep me safe.”

Nick’s changes in behavior and outlook on life is important for his future. He dreams of going to college and then on to law school at University of Oklahoma, his Big Brother’s alma mater.

Big Sister Laura and Little Sister America

Big Sister Laura and Little Sister America

When Little Sister America wanted to dye her hair a bright aquamarine, her Big Sister Laura brought her to a trusted friend’s hair salon. When America wanted a piercing, her Big Sister Laura made sure the piercer was licensed and reputable. “She has never judged me when I wanted something that some people would think was crazy,” America says. “She always listens to what I want, encourages me to communicate with my mother, and helps me understand all of the pros and cons.”

Big Sister Laura sees that as her role: actively listening to what America wants, and carefully encouraging her empowerment and safety.

When they were first matched, Big Sister Laura learned that America was already dealing with some big challenges at home. Because of her father’s deportation to Mexico, America was raised by a single mom. The two shared a room in their tiny apartment. Her mother enrolled America in Big Brothers Big Sisters because she knew she needed a positive role model.

“America was about to enter her teenage years, and a lot of changes were about to happen,” America’s mom says. “I work a lot, so I was worried about how much time America would have to spend alone. I just wanted someone to be there for her.”

“I can tell her anything that’s going on and can always count on her to be there for me when I need help.”

– Little Sister America

Laura was that someone. In the six years they have been matched, Laura and America have worked toward many of America’s goals together.  “There were three things America wanted most when she was 11 – go to a WWE wrestling match, have a dog, and help children in Africa,” Laura says.

So, Laura took her to watch wrestling. She didn’t surprise America with a puppy, but she did foster America’s compassion for animals on their outings by collecting and delivering toys to a dog rescue center and volunteering at adoption events. As America grew older, her goals shifted. She hasn’t made it to Africa yet, but she does fully embrace her philanthropic spirit.

“America is paying it forward locally by volunteering her time through the Big Brothers Big Sisters High School Bigs program,” Laura says. She also volunteers at a memory care facility, helping elderly folks with their day-to-day needs. “To say America is altruistic is an understatement.”

Laura also has an altruistic streak, which extends beyond volunteering as a Big Sister. When America talked to her about the importance of a quinceañera, a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, Big Sister Laura scoured eBay for a quinceañera dress, arranged for Little Sister America to have her hair and makeup professionally done, and found a photographer to take photos of America and her mom for her birthday. It was a moment that allowed America, her mom, and her Big Sister to bond together as family.

Throughout high school, America kept a part-time job, racked up community service hours, and planned for her own future. The hard work paid off as this past June, when Little Sister America became the first person in her family to walk across the stage and graduate from high school. Her Big Sister Laura was, of course, in the crowd.

Big Brother Todd and Little Brother T.J.

Big Brother Todd and Little Brother T.J.

Big Brother Todd and Little Brother Tyrone, “T.J.,” were matched when T.J. was 7. At the time, T.J. was quiet and shy, and his mom worried about him growing up without a father. She was particularly concerned about his lack of interest in school. “Before Todd, it was hard for me to keep my son motivated,” T.J.’s mom says.

Big Brother Todd and Little Brother T.J. spent most Saturdays hanging for a few hours for one-on-one and family time. They often had breakfast with Todd’s parents or T.J.’s family, and then ran errands or did chores for Todd’s mom and dad, who T.J. calls “Mom No. 2” and “Dad No. 2.” After they spent time helping out, they would do something fun together. They both say that their relationship has been life-changing.

“I hope the impact I have had on TJ is as great as his impact on me.”

– Big Brother Todd

“Being a Big in Big Brothers Big Sisters doesn’t just have an impact on my Little, it has an impact on me,” Big Brother Todd says. “I have someone who makes me look at things in a different way.” From T.J., Todd has learned to be patient. He has learned not to jump to conclusions about someone before you get to know them. He has learned that it’s good to be curious and ask questions.

Spending time with Todd has helped T.J. focus and see the importance of education. Todd has encouraged him to express himself and embrace his personality. “Before I met Todd, I didn’t really think about my future. I was not sure if I really liked school,” he says. Now, he says he wants to concentrate on school so he can grow up to be a good man, like his Big Brother. He makes the honor roll every quarter. “I was relieved after Todd came into his life because now I know that Tyrone will stay in school, graduate, and go off to college,” T.J.’s mom says.

Now 13, Little Brother T.J. is nearly as tall as his Big Brother. They often joke about it. “Someday, my ‘Big’ will be looking up to me!” T.J. says.

Little does he know, his Big already does.

Big Sister Sophie and Little Sister Aaqila

Big Sister Sophie and Little Sister Aaqila

Growing up in Chicago, Aaqila was used to city life. She was used to her school and to the diversity of a city. She was used to being her mother’s only child.

When Aaqila was in first grade, everything changed. Her mother moved her from Chicago to Springfield. She changed schools. She was surrounded by fewer kids who looked like her. Not long after their move, Aaqila’s mom told her that she was no longer going to be an only child – a little sister was on the way.

“We didn’t have family in Springfield, and I knew that the new baby would take away a lot of attention from Aaqila,” Aaqila’s mom says. “This would also be another major change to her life. So to lessen the impact, and find someone who could give her that undivided attention when I couldn’t, I contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

“I want her to remember me always telling her to dream BIG and to know that I’m always here for her, to encourage her, protect her, and push her.”

– Big Sister Sophie

When she was 9, Aaqila was matched with Big Sister Sophie, who was outgoing, energetic, and silly. Little Sister Aaqila was shy and nervous, but the two eventually built trust and bonded. “As a kid from Chicago, if I wouldn’t have met Sophie, there are many things I never would have gotten to do,” Aaqila says. “Things like fishing, camping, and riding horses were really cool and new to me.”

Before being matched with Sophie, Aaqila struggled in her new school. She was one of only a handful of Black children, and she was bullied. The curriculum was different, and she often felt isolated. “As a result, she was held back and had to repeat the first grade,” Aaqila’s mom says. “The school diagnosed her with a learning disability and placed her in ‘special’ classes.”

Big Sister Sophie helped Aaqila adjust. She encouraged her to open up and to set goals for her future. By middle school, she was ready to re-enter general education classes, and she began to excel. When Aaqila was in high school, Sophie helped her learn about careers and apply for scholarships. Sophie brought Aaqila to a friend’s dental practice for a shadowing opportunity. “Because of that experience, I am planning to go to school in the fall to become a dental hygienist,” Aaqila says.

Now, Aaqila has gotten used to her new life in Springfield. She is used to her silly, fun Big Sister being there for her. She’s used to Sophie attending her basketball games and helping her talk through problems. And now that Aaqila has started college, her Big Sister Sophie is once again reprising her role of helping her Little Sister adjust to a new school.

Big Brother John and Little Brother Leondre

Big Brother John and Little Brother Leondre

Every Friday night for years, Big Brother John sat on a bleacher, cheering on his Little Brother Leondre. John never missed one of Leondre’s football games, and supported him off the field as well. He even joined Leondre’s school’s “Quarterback Club,” which is designed for players’ dads.

“Leondre grew up without his father, as did I,” John says. “I grew up poor in a home without a father or any prominent male figure to help me navigate the path to manhood. I wanted to give Leondre that much needed, positive male figure.”

A positive male figure was exactly what Little Brother Leondre’s mom was looking for when she signed him up to be a Little. “I was worried about raising him by myself. As a woman, I knew I could raise Leondre to be a good person,” she says. “I didn’t know how to teach him to be a good man.”

“When you look into the eyes of a young boy and tell him that you are going to do something, you have to follow through.”

– Big Brother John

Leondre says that their similar upbringings allowed him to trust John. He was instantly able to see him as a role model for his behavior and ambitions. “John and I grew up exactly alike,” Leondre says.  They both grew up without a father, raised by single mom, and often caring for younger brothers and sisters. The challenges John faced were more than circumstances to overcome—they helped him become a loving, ambitious person, Leondre says, and he looks up to him for that.

When Leondre was first matched with John, more than eight years ago, he was struggling at school and was a C student. Big Brother John encouraged him to take school more seriously and impressed upon him that he needed to not only pursue athletic achievement but also academic competence and educational goals. “He has motivated me to attend college and get an education and have a positive future and help my family,” Leondre says.

According to Big Brother John, Leondre has grown to be a role model for other students in the classroom and other players on the field. Leondre even says one day he would like to “pay it forward” by becoming a Big Brother himself.

Now, Leondre is in his second semester of college at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio. He is going to school on an athletic scholarship, hoping to become a social worker. He is still in contact with his Big Brother, John. “He asked me if I would still be his Big Brother once he graduated high school,” John recalls. “I replied, ‘Yes! I want to be there during your college years and…see you graduate college. I want to talk to you about your girlfriends, your wife, your kids. I will always be here for you.’”

 


partner-logo-gen2gen_logoGeneration to Generation
In partnership with Encore.org and Generation to Generation, we are working on recruiting new Bigs across the nation. Generation to Generation is a campaign that believes in the power of connecting older adults to kids who need their support. For more stories about mentors over 50, or to pledge to get involved as a mentor yourself, visit generationtogeneration.org.


Big Sister Dawn and Little Brother Phillip

Big Sister Dawn and Little Brother Phillip

Big Sister Dawn raised her two sons and called herself the “tomboy mom.” She taught her boys the traditionally male and female roles in their household, and felt comfortable raising boys. When her sons moved out and that “empty nest” feeling crept in, she volunteered to be a Big Sister.  She asked for a Little Brother.

Philip’s mom was looking for someone to be a role model for her son, and to be there for him when she couldn’t, due to working the night shift. At first, Little Brother Philip admits he felt “iffy” about having a Big Sister instead of a Big Brother. “But when she took me out for the first time, that all changed,” Phillip says.

Dawn was into sports, so she and Phillip began to bond over playing tennis. For Philip’s first birthday during their match, Dawn got him a baseball glove, and they started going to games, hoping to catch a foul ball.

“When my mom signed me up for BBBS, I thought I would want a guy Big, but now, I’d rather have Dawn.”

– Little Brother Philip

Cooking together has been another of Dawn and Philip’s favorite activities in the almost four years they have been matched. Philip had always been a big help in the kitchen with his mother, but he started chiming in and teaching her what he’d learned while cooking with Dawn. “All of a sudden, Philip was jumping in and adding little things that Dawn showed him,” Philip’s mom says. “And he even made all his own potatoes one time when we were grilling out. ‘This is how Dawn and I do it, Mom, let me do it for you,’” she says.

Big Sister Dawn makes time to see her Little Brother, even when she’s having a tough week. Dawn has a disease called sarcoidosis, for which she must get a chemotherapy shot each week. She intentionally plans her treatment early in the week so she can be recovered enough to spend time with Philip later in the week. Even when she’s not feeling well, she tries to see her Little Brother. “She is an amazing, strong woman for being in her medical situation and then taking on a 9- 10-year-old and being as active,” Philip’s mom says.

When Little Brother Philip’s mom enrolled her son as a Little in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, she was hoping to find someone to teach him how to be a man. Instead, she got Dawn, a role model who has taught Philip about focus, commitment, and strength — who happens to be a Big Sister and a “tomboy mom.”

Editor’s note: BBBSA received permission from the family to name Dawn’s diagnoses in this story.

 


partner-logo-gen2gen_logoGeneration to Generation
In partnership with Encore.org and Generation to Generation, we are working on recruiting new Bigs across the nation. Generation to Generation is a campaign that believes in the power of connecting older adults to kids who need their support. For more stories about mentors over 50, or to pledge to get involved as a mentor yourself, visit generationtogeneration.org.


Big Brother Nick and Little Brother Evan

Big Brother Nick and Little Brother Evan

Growing up an only child of a single mom can be lonely, so Little Brother Evan was more than ready for camaraderie and adventure when he was matched with Big Brother Nick, then an MIT student, nine years ago. “Nick and I play sports together sometimes, and he inspires me to work hard to be like him,” Evan says. Through hockey, Nick showed Evan how to be a good teammate, be confident, and challenge himself.

When Little Brother Evan and Big Brother Nick were first matched, Nick was attending MIT and playing on the MIT hockey team. Little Brother Evan and his single mom became Nick’s biggest fans. They attended every home game and most away games. Evan became an extension of the team. He assisted with the scoreboard, volunteered to take down the rink at the end of the season, and even skated with the team during practice.

“He inspires me to work hard to be like him,” Nick says. After playing for six years, mostly with Nick and his friends, Evan tried out for his high school hockey team and became a varsity hockey player.

As an only child of a single mom, Evan has had a limited support system. He and his mom are close, but being a family of two is not always easy. “For any child who represents exactly half of the family unit, there is for the child an imperceptible and constant sense of vulnerability and unease. It’s the feeling of being almost alone in the world, or one adult away from having to fend for oneself,” Evan’s mom says. “Nick, by being a stable and consistent part of Evan’s life, has calmed this sense of vulnerability.”

“While teaching Evan, I have become a more confident, patient, and empathetic man. When the time comes, I know the experience will make me a better father.”

– Big Brother Nick

Throughout his childhood, Evan lacked self-confidence and struggled to make friends. Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and a language disability, Evan was often frustrated with himself and uncomfortable in social situations. Nick says that for a couple of years, Evan would repeat the same phrases again and again, phrases that didn’t fit with the context of the conversation. “These are known as verbal tics, which are a hallmark of Tourette’s Syndrome,” Nick says. “Later, he would frequently say ‘I wish I didn’t have a learning disability’ or ‘I wish I wasn’t born like this.’”

Playing hockey has helped Evan both with his self-confidence and with his ability to make friends, and Nick has been there to support him. “I encouraged him to fight through these struggles, to embrace who he is, and to focus on what he can control,” Nick says.  He also found stories about successful people who had persevered through similar adversity and used these to try to inspire Evan. “Nick makes me feel good about myself,” Evan says.

Now, Evan is an honors student in high school. He is diligent about his schoolwork and committed to achieving his goals. And he has learned coping skills and self-acceptance from his mom and Big Brother. “I have not heard him repeat the verbal tics or complain about his learning disabilities in over a year now,” Nick says.

Just by stepping up to become a Big Brother, Nick doubled the number of important adults in Evan’s life. But he did even more than that for Evan, Evan’s mom says. “Nick, through introducing Evan to his larger group of friends, provided many good role models for Evan – men and women who were undeterred by hard work, who excelled at school and athletics, and who longed to change the world for the better. So it wasn’t just Nick modeling this behavior, but Nick’s large group of friends, too, whom Evan got to know,” Evan’s mom says. “All of them illustrating for Evan what is possible in life when you are determined and focused and committed.”

Editor’s note: BBBSA received permission from the family to name Evan’s diagnoses in this story.

Big Sister Katy and Little Sister Trina

Big Sister Katy and Little Sister Trina

Little Sister Trina and her two brothers were adopted when Trina was 3. She had been in and out of foster care for her whole life. She was quiet and withdrawn.

Three years after her adoption, Trina’s mom brought her to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon so Trina could be matched with a Big Sister.

“We were unsure of getting a Big for her, as we didn’t know if they would stay committed to Trina,” her mom says. “Knowing her pain of being tossed back and forth between birth mom and stranger, she needed a stable and loving Big.”

Big Sister Katy was matched with Little Sister Trina, who was 6 at the time. “The first time I saw Katy was at Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors,” Trina says. “I’m pretty sure I got chocolate chip mint.”

“Being Trina’s Big Sister has been a privilege. I hope to encourage Trina to do good things and push her to do better with the opportunities in her life. I know she does the same for me, without even knowing it.”

– Big Sister Katy

Katy had considered becoming a Big for a long time before she officially volunteered. She served on the Board of BBBS of Central Oregon and thought about what it would be like to mentor a child herself. She held off because she was nervous. She asked herself dozens of anxious questions. “Was I good enough? How could I change a life? What could I offer a Little Sister? Did I have the time? Would she like me?”

When she met Trina for the first time at that ice cream shop, though, those questions disappeared. “I realized I didn’t need the answers to all those questions,” Katy says. “Rather, I made a commitment to focus my energy on helping someone else in whatever way I could, to be present for her.”

In the past four years, Little Sister Trina and Big Sister Katy have spent countless hours baking cookies, doing crafts, walking Katy’s dog, reading, and talking. Being able to open up to Katy has helped Trina gain self-confidence. “Trina was shy and reserved over the first part of our match, very different from her outgoing, spunky self today,” Katy says. “Over time I’ve seen her open up, talk to strangers, order her own dinner at a restaurant, try new activities she wouldn’t [try] before, even begin to like school more.”

When Little Sister Trina talks about Katy, it’s clear that she values her Big Sister’s consistency as much as her foster mom does. “Katy is so amazing because she doesn’t ever give up on being my Big Sister even though she is so busy and works so much,” she says. “I want her to be my Big Sister as long as I can have her. As long as I know her.”