As part of the #DreamingBig Campaign in partnership with the Arby’s Foundation, we’re excited to share the stories of incredible Bigs and Littles who are still connected, 10, 20 and in some cases, 30 years later! We encourage you to visit this site often for new stories that will inspire you to become a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters movement.
From Little To CEO
I'm Jessica, a former Little Sister.
When I was 8-years old, my mom met with Big Brothers Big Sisters to enroll my brother in the program. He was the only boy in a house full of girls, and my mom wanted him to have a Big Brother. But I kept bugging my mother that I wanted a Big, too—she says I basically enrolled myself! And that’s when I met Deborah. She was 24 years old at the time. We have thousands of memories of our activities together over the years, but one of my favorite memories was going to the "Rockin' Hat Ranch" camping experience sponsored by the Arby’s Foundation—I loved spending time with the horses. Much later, when I was a high school senior, Deborah heard about a scholarship from the Arby’s Foundation and she helped me complete the application - I wouldn't have finished the process without her help, but I’m so glad I did! The $20,000 scholarship made an incredible difference in helping me afford my college education. Deborah and I traveled the circuit, doing interviews, even speaking in front of a huge crowd at the National Big Brothers Big Sisters 100th Anniversary conference, sharing my hopes for my future and my gratitude toward Big Brothers Big Sisters. The public speaking skills I learned by advocating for BBBS as a teen have been a great asset to me throughout my career.
Fast forward to today, Deborah and I are still best friends and sisters, and always will be. And I’m proud to say that I am now the CEO for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland, the same agency that introduced me to Deborah. Because I know so well how important match relationships are for our Littles, I am honored to help bring that experience to kids in Greater Cleveland every day. At the 2019 Big Brothers Big Sisters National Conference, I made sure to introduce myself to Stuart Brown from the Arby’s Foundation, so that I could let him know how BBBS and the Arby's Foundation changed my life.
50 years of friendship
It was the year of Woodstock and when the New York Mets won the World Series. It was also the beginning of a decades-long relationship between Big Brother Robb Amick met his Little Brother Ron (who goes by Ziggy).
In 1969, the two met through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati. At the time, Ron's mom felt her 8-year old son needed a positive male role model. The two connected on several levels and also shared a devastating common bond—both lost their fathers in accidents when they were very young.
Robb took on the role of Big Brother, friend, mentor, confidante. Robb said, "We have similar senses of humor, which helped a lot." Robb went on to mentor eight other Little Brothers over the years—two were in his wedding. And even though they don’t see each other often, Robb and Ziggy are still connected and enjoy reminiscing about life back then. Ziggy shares that when he reflects on their relationship, his message may seem simple, but profound, and he offers that same advice to Bigs today. “Robb stayed, he never left. (To other Bigs)…be there, today, the day after, and after that. You’ll have a friend.” For life.
two harvard diplomas
When Mike Auzenne, Director of Marketing Analytics for Inspire Brands, thinks about his accomplishments, he can’t help but reflect on how his introduction to Big Brothers Big Sisters was a monumental moment in shaping the next 20-plus years of his life.
Mike was 9 years old when he joined Big Brothers Big Sisters. He saw his Big Brother, Austin, as just another friend he could hang out with. His mother, however, had a different vision for their relationship. “My mom was a single parent working to support our family. She thought it would be good to have a male figure in my life, someone who would provide some structure,” Mike said.
From the start, Austin was instrumental in Mike’s development and was there for some of Mike’s most significant moments. When Mike’s grades slipped in his first semester of high school, Mike and Austin sat down and talked about expectations, and set goals for college.
Then there were the little things. Austin showed Mike what life was like outside of Atlanta, helped Mike learn to tie his necktie, and introduced him to Thai and Indian food. All these experiences shaped Mike and prepared him for a successful academic and professional path. Mike went on to get a college football scholarship and a degree from Harvard business school. Mike and Austin now have a lifelong friendship—they both served as the best man in each other’s weddings. Their families have bonded, too. An impact that Mike paid forward by becoming a Big Brother, too.
Marcus was 12-years-old when he met his Big Brother Jeff in 1994. “I remember we were selected to share our mentoring story on television, “said Jeff. “Marcus was so nervous and froze on camera--he never said a word. But after the interview when he was a lot more relaxed and we watched a basketball game, Marcus started talking non-stop. And that's when we knew we would be a perfect match--he talks more than I do!”
Like all of the children in our program, Marcus had great potential but Jeff noticed he was struggling in school. Jeff and Marcus’ mother worked together to create a plan to help him learn more responsibility, his grades started to improve and his self-esteem grew, too. “Having Jeff as a Big Brother was a blessing…[I only had] my grandfather in my life,” said Marcus. “Jeff and I had good times and he taught me a lot, he showed me the importance of family and how to balance the two. He still made time for me, and his family treated and loved me like family.” Life gets busy and they don’t talk as much as they’d like, but when they do reconnect, they pick up right where they left off—they are forever brothers. And Jeff now helps other Littles like Marcus, he’s the Chief Development Officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois.
A former Little - now a Big
You’ve heard of paying it forward, the three you’re about to meet, believe in that—and more! This story from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties (KS) is about three generations of mentoring.
First, Big Sister Veronica was matched with Little Sister Marisela in the late 1990’s. When Marisela turned 18, she decided to give back and become a Big Sister, too. Big Sister Marisela was paired with Little Sister Maritza. When Maritza started college she signed up to be a Big Sister. Big Sister Maritza was paired with Lexi.
What this story illustrates is when you pour into one person the impact has a ripple effect. Veronica, who started it all, shared this. “I learned that you just have to be yourself, don’t try to be something you’re not. I wasn’t trying to impress her with fancy things, the little things made a difference. It’s a life-changing experience. You may not think it’s a big deal, but you’re able to find things you didn’t know about yourself.”
connecting through the arts
I’m a Little Sister
I got started with Big Brothers Big Sisters when I was 13 years old, in middle school, Kelly was my Big Sister. We met for the first time at the Norristown (PA) Big Brothers Big Sisters office. Kelly and I went to different places each time we got together, including the arts, theater, movies and we loved learning about gardening. I remember when I turned 18 and our match relationship officially closed when I graduated from high school. Kelly gave me a photo book with all our memories together. But we still kept in contact with each other. After high school, I went to college and got my bachelor’s degree and now I’m working on my master’s. Now, I have a new job at a child care center, I teach toddlers, I really like it! One day, I hope to become a Big, too.
Former Little Brother Jay can’t help but chuckle when he thinks about how his life has evolved. As a media research consultant, podcaster, and former radio host, he spends his days talking—a lot! Being at ease interviewing guests for stories, Jay says his Big Brother Kris may have had a little something to do with that.
Kris remembers when Jay, who was 13-years-old at the time, would respond with one word answers, no eye contact at all. When they were paired up through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area (CA) their interests on paper lined up, but both admit they had reservations about whether they would be a good fit: they didn’t practice the same religion and had different sexual orientations. And as they look back, Jay and Kris will tell you, that’s what makes this mentoring program so real and so special. Getting to know a person for who they are is what matters most, and celebrating those differences, too.
Some of their favorite memories: seeing the Rolling Stones in concert and the annual Polaroid snapshot for every birthday. Kris even ended up being matched with Jay’s best friend Deion, who was waiting a long time for a Big, too.
And for Kris, his all-time favorite memory was when one day, out of the blue, after they had been matched for a while, Jay called him up and told him, “I’m really glad you’re my Big Brother.”
A 28 Year Friendship
When Big Sister Emily Chen and her Little Sister Denñys connect these days, the conversations revolve around career advice and work-life balance. Today, their friendship has evolved quite a bit since their weekend lunch outings 28 years ago when Emily would flip through flash cards to help Denñys improve her math skills.
Denñys (pronounced Denn-yez) was 8 years old and growing up as an only child in New York City. Having a Big Sister allowed Denñys the opportunity to just be a kid. But the lessons that came through sharing their very different lives, are the moments Denñys valued most with her Big Sister Emily. “Families are not always available and may not be able to give a child another point of reference or view. But Bigs offer objective, unbiased advice and a different perspective. The friendship introduces them to other aspects of life,” said Denñys.
Emily’s desire to give back is inspired by the caring adults who supported her when she came to the United States at age 5. The impactful friendship that grew over the years earned Emily and Denñys the opportunity to visit the White House in 1998 when Big Brothers Big Sisters of America recognized Emily as the National Big Sister of the Year. Fast forward to today, and they still laugh about the little things. Growing up Emily stressed to Denñys the importance of being on time—now Denñys is the early one when the pair meets up, and Emily is often late. Big Sister Emily is amazed and inspired at how Little Sister Denñys never gives up and remains calm and level headed no matter what is happening.
As a donor, Treasurer and member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Board of Directors, Emily believes investing in children achieves the best returns. “Through the Littles I’ve met, I’m able to see first-hand improvements in their confidence, self-worth and grades along with higher rates of high school graduation and attending college while setting career goals. The program fosters strong long-lasting life changing relationships. I’ve also met kids on the wait list and heard how much they would love to have a mentor. Unfortunately, that list is too long.” You can make an impact, click here to find out how you can become a Big today.
Perfection Not Required
When asked why more people don’t volunteer, Big Brother Albert has a simple answer. “They get caught up thinking, ‘…maybe I’m not exactly where I want to be in life…why would someone listen to me? I don’t have much to give…’’”
But Albert like many of our Bigs will tell you, it’s a misconception that could keep you from building a great friendship with a young person who can impact your life, too. Chad was in high school when he was matched with Albert in 2004. “Being an only child in a single-parent home left me with few role models. I needed someone I thought was ‘cool’ to mentor me!,” said Chad.
The idea behind mentoring is not about being the perfect person, with the perfect job and perfect life. It’s not about the ‘things’ you wish you had, but what you do: a sense of trust, you’re consistent, not judgmental, a good listener. Albert was exactly all of those things for Chad. He admits he didn’t understand in the moment, just how important it meant knowing Albert was there for him. “I did some of the dumbest things as a kid to impress people who were a bad influence,” said Chad. “I have done even crazier things as a kid being bored. (Especially) during this pandemic, kids need mentors to engage in positive activities to not only help shape their future, but help them maintain mental health in the present.” A friendship that sparked Albert’s interest to dedicate his life to help other young Black men prepare for college and careers. All because he made that call 17 years ago to become a Big.
By the way, perfection? Not a requirement here. Being cool, now that’s a plus.
Friends Worth Writing About
Big Brother Rahsaan and Zion met 13 years ago through Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, and since then, they have remained a constant in each other's lives—the former Little Brother is now in college. “Zion reminds me how important it is to slow down and be present. And when I hear him repeat things I say verbatim, I realize, it truly matters what I say,” said Rahsaan.
In fact, Rahsaan created a children’s book based on their friendship, inspired by an essay Zion wrote back in middle school. The book, “Me & My Big Brother” was written to show others about the importance of learning, friendship and giving back to the community. The illustrations in the book show how Rahsaan and Zion’s friendship began with two people who had different backgrounds and interests, who eventually found that they actually had a lot in common. The two bonded over their love of running track, trying new sports and learning Spanish.
Today, Rahsaan and Zion’s friendship continues, and they plan to keep it that way.
The Arby’s Foundation is a proud partner of BBBS. Over the past three decades, this partnership has resulted in 2 million one-to-one mentoring relationships across the country. The Arby’s Foundation is proud to work with organizations that are a force of change, making a difference in communities across the country every day. The mentoring connection isn’t just when the friendship begins but has a long-lasting impact years later. One of the core values of the Arby’s Foundation is that every kid deserves to ‘Dream Big’, and that’s what Big Brothers Big Sisters believes in, too: when children are encouraged to dream big and are equipped to pursue those dreams, they have unlimited potential do amazing things.
Are you a former Big or Little? We want to hear from you! We’d like to feature you in our #DreamingBig Campaign. Or if you know of a great Big Brothers Big Sisters alumni story, click the link below.