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People Magazine published its annual list of “25 Women Changing the World,” on November 2, and the list includes our President and CEO, Pam Iorio. While the headline may be “25 Women Changing the World,” we see the story as how Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies, our Bigs, and our partners are working together to change their communities.

We are celebrating this recognition in a national publication and taking a moment to reflect on the impact being made in the lives of young people, their families, and our Bigs. In the last 10 years, nearly 2 million youth have been served by Big Brothers Big Sisters. In all 50 states, Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies match youth with Bigs who help them increase their self-esteem, improve their grades, strengthen their social skills, and work toward their biggest possible futures.

In the interview with People Magazine, Pam said that she’s inspired by the impact that Bigs have in helping Littles realize their full potential. “It’s very emotional for me to meet a Big and a Little and to hear them talk about their relationship. Just recently one said to me that their Big Brother was the first person in his life who had high expectations for him. That’s the sort of thing that I hear all the time.”

Big Sister Michelle and Little Sister Jennifer

Big Sister Michelle and Little Sister Jennifer

After spending years in foster care, Little Sister Jennifer began living with her mom again. It was a tough transition, and her mom knew Jennifer needed someone else in her corner. She signed her up to become a Little Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, and that decision changed the entire trajectory of Jennifer’s life.

“Early on in childhood, I experienced repeated trauma and frequent instability due to caregiver mental illness and growing up in a family struggling with poverty,” Jennifer says.

Those adverse childhood experiences left Jennifer dealing with extreme anxiety when she faced unfamiliar situations. She had an especially hard time meeting new people and going to new places. She spent a lot of time stuck in their small apartment. “To cope, I kept my inner thoughts close to the vest, preferring to immerse myself in books instead of interacting with people,” she said.

“It’s not the mentor’s role to fix everything or do everything for them, but to share opportunities with them.”

– Little Sister Jennifer

All that began to change when she was matched with Big Sister Michelle.

Michelle was new to Arizona when she first volunteered to become a Big Sister. She saw an ad for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona in the newspaper, ripped it out, and stuck it to her refrigerator. “It was one of my goals, when I got to a point in my life to make that commitment, to become a Big Sister,” she says.

Jennifer was slow to trust because of the challenges she had faced in her childhood, and Michelle was patient with her.

“I would stare out the window during our long car rides, lost in thought,” Jennifer says. “I struggled to come up with something that seemed worthy of breaking the silence. But Michelle never pushed. She asked questions about school, my home life, hobbies, likes and dislikes, and gave me all the time I needed to open up.”

Michelle says. “I wanted to project that I was not going to cause Jennifer any further pain. I was going to be steady and constant, and no matter what she shared with me, I wasn’t going to judge her.”

Through high school, Jennifer began to rely on her Big Sister for support and advice. Eventually, Michelle pushed Jennifer to get an after-school job. Jennifer was still experiencing anxiety and shyness around strangers, and Michelle thought a job would help. “I knew that it would expose her to other things and new people,” Michelle says.

Jennifer wasn’t sure about the job at first. Would she be okay, outside her comfort zone? She agreed to try.

Michelle was right–Jennifer loved it.

“I really enjoyed working. It was a way to take myself out of the day-to-day routine,” Jennifer says. “I came to find out that I’m a people person.”

When Jennifer graduated high school, Michelle was still there, steady and constant, for her to lean on. It was Michelle who took her to college orientation, answered her questions on what college would be like, and told her what she would need on her first day.

Now, 18 years after they first became Big Sister and Little Sister, Jennifer and Michelle are still close. Michelle encouraged Jennifer to embrace all that college had to offer, coached her through the decision to study abroad in France, and attended her wedding as an honored guest. They consider one another family.

“Without judgment, Michelle is there for me,” Jennifer says, “in happy moments, like the wedding, and in the really tough moments, too.”

Big Brother Randall and Little Brother Henry

Big Brother Randall and Little Brother Henry

When Big Brother Randall told Little Brother Henry he would be graduating with his MBA, Henry gave him a big high five and asked if he could attend. Randall immediately said yes.

“I knew this was a moment that would be a giant seed in his mind, and if he could see the graduation, and I could give him a high five there, it would be a huge positive influence in his life,” Randall says. “Thanks to the amazing team at BBBS Columbia Northwest, we were able to get the approval and have Henry and his mother attend.”

They had planned to meet in the lobby outside the gym where the ceremony was taking place, but the size of the crowd made it difficult to find one another. Randall took his seat without seeing Henry, but, luckily, Randall’s family spotted Henry in the crowd. They tipped off Randall to his location, and when it came time for his row to stand up, he looked straight at Henry and pointed.

“Knowing I planted a seed of self-confidence and personal motivation in his heart and mind is all the reward I could ever ask for.”

– Big Brother Randall

“He smiled huge and his eyes lit up as he waved,” Randall says. “I admit, there were some ‘allergies’ in the gym.”

Long before tears fell (or did not fall) at a graduation, Randall was Henry’s age and growing up in far from ideal circumstances. As he describes it, he grew up in home with physical violence, mental abuse, drug abuse, poverty, and sadness. It would’ve been a tough situation for any child, and Randall gives credit to one thing helping him get through.

“Looking at where I am now, and what I went through as a child, I realize I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for the love and generosity of others,” Randall says. “Simply put, I had several key mentors early in life who helped me realize there is more in the world that just what was within the walls of my home.”

Mentors helped defend Randall’s potential and show him that there was more out there for him. He eventually realized that potential and joined the army, became a police officer, and eventually started a career in telecommunications at Comcast. His gratitude for his mentors became the driving force for him becoming a Big.

“I truly believe the time my mentors spent with me as a child and teen were the best gift I’ve ever received,” he says. “I volunteer to give back to the community that humbly gave to me as a child, hoping I can inspire just one other person to be a champion for themselves and to others.”

Randall’s relationship with Henry embodies that. Before he was matched, Henry struggled with math, but thanks to Randall’s help, he now feels like it’s one of his stronger subjects.

Also, having Henry attend his graduation accomplished exactly what Randall thought it would. After the ceremony, Henry came up to Randall with flowers and gave his Big Brother another big high five.

“This was a very special day for my Big Brother, and I am proud of him,” Henry says. “Because of him, I want to graduate high school, and I also want to go to college and graduate.”

Randall is looking forward to attending both of Henry’s graduations.

Big Sister Portsha and Little Sister Arayah

Big Sister Portsha and Little Sister Arayah

Big Sister Portsha grew up with a very busy single mother. Her mom didn’t really have time to craft or read, or to be silly with Portsha and try to touch the tip of her nose with her tongue, as Portsha liked doing. She was devoted to working and providing for Portsha and didn’t have a lot of spare time. Because of this, Portsha felt she was missing a mentor in her life, so she made mentors for herself out of pop culture icons.

“My mentors and role models were the powerful and brave girls and women I would read about in books, like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird or see in movies, like Disney’s Mulan,” Portsha says. “And of course, Oprah. Everybody loves Oprah.”

By the time she was an adult herself, she knew she wanted to be a real-life mentor for someone. Signing up to be a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay was the perfect opportunity.

“I hope that every girl is as blessed as I am to have a Big like Portsha.”

– Little Sister Arayah

In 2015, she was matched with Little Sister Arayah. At the time, Arayah was struggling with reading and lacking confidence. Portsha saw the potential in her Little Sister. She thought she could be someone who was great at reading and believed in herself, so she set out to help Portsha become that.

They started with trips to the library. They would pick out books, read them independently, and come together after to talk about what they learned. Portsha didn’t stop there. She also would ask Arayah to read things like street signs, menus, and directions during their outings. Over time, Arayah became more confident in her reading and in herself. She now loves reading—especially comic books.  Her mom has noticed the changes.

“Portsha has been such a motivating force in Arayah’s life,” she says. “She now exudes a confidence I have never imagined and is willing to take chances.”

In fourth grade, Arayah decided that she wanted to help other kids, so she started a club at her school called “Helping Hands.” Her goal was to offer students a place they could go and air out their frustrations. She had no idea if anyone else would be interested, but it turned out that, like her, a lot of students needed that kind of outlet.

Arayah gives credit to Portsha for supporting her and her ideas.

“If I didn’t have her as my mentor, there would definitely be a big void in my life,” Arayah says. “She encourages me to never give up on my hopes and dreams.”

Portsha always knew Arayah had the potential to be a great reader and someone brave enough to be a leader and help others. She hopes to continue to help Arayah reach of her potential, and to be the real-life mentor she missed out on when she was Arayah’s age.

Big Brother Kevin and Little Brother Marcus

Big Brother Kevin and Little Brother Marcus

Millions of children are being raised by their grandparents, many because of their parents’ struggles with addiction. In 2017, nearly 10% of Big Brothers Big Sisters Littles were being raised by a grandparent, another relative, or a foster parent.

When Little Brother Marcus was just 3 years old, his aunt took full custody of him because neither of his parents were in a place to raise him. One of his parents was struggling with opioid addiction and the other was not a consistent presence.

Marcus has lived with his aunt and four female cousins since then, and he has struggled with dealing with his anger. Marcus often found himself called down to the school office for an outburst in the classroom or on the playground. When he was in first grade, his family received something special in the mail.

“One day, we received a letter about a program called ‘Big Brothers Big Sisters,’” Marcus’s aunt says. “After discussing it with the guidance counselor, we decided it was something that might benefit Marcus.”

“I look forward to many more years and adventures with him.”

– Big Brother Kevin

They signed him up to be a Little through BBBS of of Cumberland & Salem Counties and he was matched with Big Brother Kevin. Marcus’s life slowly started to change. At first, Big Brother Kevin visited Marcus at school, playing kickball or working on school work. When Marcus transitioned to middle school, they became a community-based match so they could see each other outside of school and on weekends.

“This was the beginning of the infamous ‘Marcus Sunday,’” Kevin says. “With Marcus in seventh grade, I started the tradition picking him up at 9:15 almost every Sunday morning.”

The two spent nearly the whole day together, often wrapping up after dinner. Occasionally, they took trips to Six Flags or explored Philadelphia, but a lot of the time, Marcus simply hung out with Kevin and his family. Kevin’s wife began making sure that Marcus was always included in the Sunday plans, and Kevin’s son played basketball with Marcus like they were actual brothers.

Marcus’s aunt saw a change in him. Kevin’s family was exactly what Marcus had been missing his whole life, she says. “As time passed, Marcus no longer belonged to a mentoring program,” she says. “He belonged to a family that loved and accepted him.”

Marcus felt that way, too. Kevin and his family helped him believe in himself and in what he could achieve in the future.

“If I never had Kevin, I don’t know what my life would be like,” he says. “Kevin helped me choose goals for my future, like playing football for the University of Florida. I want to be a Gator.”

Football is his first goal, but his backup plan is to pursue a career in business, following in the footsteps of his Big Brother, who is a successful business owner. Seeing the growth that Marcus has already made, his aunt can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

“Kevin has done much more than act as a Big Brother,” she says. “He has inspired Marcus to become a great man.”

Big Sister Jess and Little Sister Sky

Big Sister Jess and Little Sister Sky

From a young age, Sky felt her life spinning out of control. She grew up in a home with drug use and physical abuse, witnessed her house raided by police, and, at one point, was physically abused herself. She knew that she couldn’t live there anymore.

She moved in with a friend before finding a stable guardian in a different part of town. She found even more stability when she was matched with her Big Sister Jess through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota.

They didn’t have the typical journey to becoming a match. When Sky moved and enrolled at a new school, she was struggling in her personal life and academically. Her new guidance counselor was worried about her reaching her full potential and expressed concern to his wife, Jess.

“There is one certainty in this plan–I will be there to support her every step of the way.”

– Big Sister Jess

“[He] came home and said, ‘Jess, do you know a Sky that went to Washington a couple of years ago?’” Jess says. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I probably talked about her every day. Why?’”

Jess’s husband explained that Sky was a new student at his school. He wondered if reconnecting the two of them might be good for Sky. Jess expressed interest, so he checked in with Sky to see how she felt.

Sky was more than up for it. Jess had been her fifth-grade teacher, and Sky vividly remembered the first time they met — she was in third grade, and she had fallen down the stairs. Jess remembers it too.

“I happened to be walking in the hall when several little girls breathlessly told me Sky fell and was hurt,” Jess says. “I scooped her into my arms and brought her down to the nurse.”

From that moment on, Jess kept an eye on Sky.

“I noticed she would go out of her way to acknowledge me,” Sky says. “She was persistent in making sure I knew she cared. I didn’t always make it easy for her, but she never gave up on me, and that’s what I remembered about her.”

When the two reconnected in Sky’s middle school years, Jess knew she wanted to help her get through this tough time. She also knew she couldn’t do it all alone, though. She wanted the relationship to be supported and have set boundaries, and she thought Big Brothers Big Sisters would provide the perfect support system for them.

“I called Big Brothers Big Sisters and explained the situation, asking if it was a possibility for us to be matched,” Jess says. “Although they told me they couldn’t guarantee it, I had a peaceful feeling that all would work out as it should.”

After the vetting process and background checks, Jess and Sky were officially matched as Big and Little Sisters. Since then, Sky has grown both personally and academically. She says she has Jess to thank for her growth.

“She was there for me when I was down and at my lowest and she’ll be there when I’m up,” Sky says. “If I didn’t have that consistent reminder, I would probably have given up a long time ago and gone down the same road as my mom.”

At the age of 2, Little Brother Baylee lost his eyesight. As he grew up, his mother wanted a mentor for him because his dad wasn’t involved in his life, but she wasn’t sure if there would be a Big Brother who would be willing to be matched with a Little who is blind. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Wisconsin talked to Big Brother Al, and he didn’t balk at being matched with a blind Little Brother. They have been now been matched for nearly eight years.

“From the moment [our match support specialist] introduced us, we both knew we were the perfect match for each other,” Al says.

Baylee has always been bright, thoughtful, and sensitive, but since being matched with Al, he’s become a drummer, a fisherman, and a student scoring in the 93rd percentile of the ACT. Some of his favorite memories with Al have been fishing at the Wildlife Sanctuary, discussing his big future plans, and having dinner together.

“I can talk to him about anything I need to, and he’ll provide candid, wise advice, and he’ll help me solve my problem.”

– Little Brother Baylee

“Since Al came into Baylee’s life so many years ago, he has helped Baylee grow as a person, a friend, and a fine young man,” Baylee’s mom says.

Baylee also gives credit to Al for helping him accomplish many of his goals — some of which have to do with his disability — learning to use his cane more proficiently, getting a seeing-eye dog — and some of which are common to all teens — like figuring out where to go to college and how to apply for scholarships.

“He’s taught me if I want to take off in the world, be a writer, be an author, a husband and a father sometime in the future, that I need to work for it: practice my writing, work with people,” Baylee says. “He’s taught me to work my hardest to achieve the most.”

Al wasn’t the only one teaching. Baylee also taught Al a lot, like often how a person like him sees the world. When Baylee watches movies, he listens to a descriptive audio track that explains what’s happening on screen. When he’s playing video games, like Wii Baseball, he listens closely to the sound to know when to swing. Al doesn’t let him win.

“Baylee consistently hit homeruns,” Al says. “I would throw a pitch, Baylee would swing the remote paddle, the sound of bat hitting the ball, and Baylee would say, ‘That was a homerun, wasn’t it?’”

In the game, after the ball is pitched and as the ball approaches home plate, the sound changes. Baylee listens for that and times his swing perfectly. Al says these interactions have taught him a lot, and he admits that Baylee always beats him.

“I have learned so much from Baylee,” Al says. “Probably more than Baylee will ever learn from me.”

Baylee might debate Al on that, but there’s no denying that Al, Baylee’s mom, and Baylee have worked together to help Baylee reach his potential.

Big Sister Marilyn and Little Sister Starr

Big Sister Marilyn and Little Sister Starr

When Big Sister Marilyn met her Little Sister Starr, she asked her a list of questions to get better acquainted.

“When’s your birthday?” Marilyn asked.

“In September,” Starr said shyly. Marilyn asked what day. Five-year-old Starr held up one little finger for September 1.

“Chills started running down my spine, and I started getting very excited and had her grandmother confirm that Starr’s birthday was actually September 1,” Marilyn says. “Of course, Starr’s grandmother is looking at me with some confusion until I shared that September 1 is my birthday too.”

They shared the same birthday and were set to share many memories together. In their 12 years of being matched, they have spent time feeding ducks at a lake, visiting museums, and celebrating every birthday, usually over Thai food.

Their dedication to Thai food came after Marilyn made a goal to expand Starr’s taste in food. She was tired of only seeing Starr eat pizza, hot dogs and chicken nuggets and began taking her to a variety of new restaurants to try new food. It was then Starr discovered her new favorite.

“I was a picky eater, and Marilyn has helped me overcome that,” she says. “Now my favorite food is Thai with Pad Thai being my favorite dish.”

“I cannot imagine life without her or what my life would have been without her.”

– Little Sister Starr

When Little Sister Starr was first matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois, she was just 5 years old. Her grandmother and mother were raising her, and her mom struggled with health and addiction issues. It would have been easy for Starr to grow up with a limited view of what was possible for her. But spending time with Marilyn, helped her see that the world before her is big and there are so many experiences available to her.

“I have looked at Marilyn’s house and thought, ‘I can have a house like this,’” Starr says. “I can have a bedroom like this. I don’t have to live in public housing anymore.”

Starr sees so many possibilities for herself. As she prepares for college, she knows Marilyn will continue to be there and help her reach her full potential.

“Marilyn is the reason that Starr is motivated to find a better life,” Starr’s mm says. “Her grandma and I had Starr’s past, but Marilyn showed Starr what her future could look like.”

Big Brother Andrew and Little Brother Javier

Big Brother Andrew and Little Brother Javier

When Hurricane Harvey was barreling toward Houston, Big Brother Andrew called his Little Brother Javier’s mom to make sure they had the supplies they needed. A single mom working constantly to make ends meet, she hadn’t yet had a chance to go to the store to stock up on food, bottles of water, or packs of batteries.

“I still remember when I got home from work and looked at the food and the necessary things that Andrew had brought us,” Javier’s mom says. “I wanted to cry because only a good-hearted person does that for other people and that person is Andrew.”

The action was just another on the long list of times Andrew has been there for Javier and his family, and it came as no surprise to Javier.

“Ever since day one, I knew that he would always be there when I needed him,” Javier says.

“I hope I can follow in Andrew’s footsteps and become a Big Brother in the future.”

– Little Brother Javier

The wheels of their match began turning four years ago, when Javier came home from school with some information about Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“He told me a bit about the program, and I hesitated and told him I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but Javier insisted that he was interested,” Javier’s mom says. “He said that it was a good opportunity for him because he was going to have a Big Brother with whom he could spend time and go places.”

The idea of “going places” interested Javier, and his mom noticed. Because she was working all the time and couldn’t take Javier to all the places he wanted to go, she signed him up. He was matched with Andrew, and Javier’s mom saw the benefits right away.

Andrew and Javier did everything together from rock out at a Luke Bryan concert to eat “Big-Tex” burgers at the fair. Javier finally had a person to go places with, but he also had more than that in Andrew.

He had someone who would help him step outside of his comfort zone. Someone who would always be there for him.

One of his favorite memories was the time they spoke at a Big Brothers Big Sister Lone Star gala. “Before the event, Andrew helped me get fitted into my first tuxedo and surprised me with a rented convertible so that we could ‘show up in style,’” Javier says. “I was nervous to speak in front of over 400 people, but having Andrew by my side made me feel safe and comfortable.”

During the speech, Javier made the crowd laugh and cheer. He received a standing ovation.

Whether he’s prepping Javier for public speaking or prepping his family for a hurricane, Andrew has epitomized what it means to be a Big Brother. But when he talks about his match, he only wants to praise Javier.

“Javier is a special young man who had a bright future ahead of him,” he says. “Over the past four years, I have witnessed an amazing transformation from a shy fourth-grader to an outgoing eighth-grader.”

Javier’s school attendance is consistently perfect. He always has straight A’s.  And with a Big Brother like Andrew who is always there for him, his future looks bright.

Big Sister Lindsay and Little Sister Amari

Big Sister Lindsay and Little Sister Amari

When Amari was young, her mother passed away unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism. She and her older sister went to live with their grandmother, who knew that building new relationships with adults would be challenging but necessary for both girls. She signed them both up to be Littles with Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters. Amari was matched with Big Sister Lindsay.

At the time, Lindsay had just finished her undergraduate degree and moved out of her parent’s home. She had a lot of free time on her hands.

“I wanted to do something meaningful,” Lindsay says. “I came across the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization through a Google search, and I was immediately intrigued.”

“I love watching her grow up and mold into a young woman who continues to amaze me.”

– Big Sister Lindsay

That intrigue turned into action, and Lindsay made the commitment to mentor Amari for at least a year. Within a week of being matched, she was attending Amari’s school spirit night at a local restaurant. Like many Littles, Amari was shy at first, but they connected quickly and began building their relationship one activity at a time.

“They soon realized that they enjoyed the same things, such as shopping, eating out, traveling, and getting pedicures and manicures,” Amari’s grandmother says.

Just as their match was blossoming and approaching the one-year mark, Lindsay got some big news – she would be starting a new job. The one catch was that she’d have to move two hours away. The last thing she wanted to do was end her relationship with Amari, who had already experienced so much loss and change in her life.

Faced with the decision of closing her match with Amari or seeing her less often, Lindsay talked through the options their Match Support Specialist, who recommended she talk with Amari’s grandmother.

“We discussed the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see Amari as much as I had been seeing her,” Lindsay says. “She said they were more than okay with it. They wanted to continue the relationship even though I was moving away.”

Lindsay and Amari stayed matched, and they ended up seeing each other about two times a month, even with Lindsay living two hours away. After spending a year away, Lindsay moved back to the same town as Amari, and they were able to pick up right where they’d left off.

“Lindsay is like a mother figure to me since my mother passed away,” Amari says. “I’ve learned so much from Lindsay—you could only imagine.”

Lindsay helped Amari transition from elementary school to middle school and now to high school. She’s now an honor roll student who excels at Spanish, plays multiple instruments in the Salvation Army band, and volunteers with her church. After getting past the hurdle of a year of distance, their match shows no sign of slowing down.

“I will continue this relationship with her throughout the rest of my life,” Lindsay says. “We just celebrated our seventh year together, and I’m looking forward to a lifetime of more.”