Central Texas Bigs & Littles of the Year 2021

January 2021 marks a milestone for BBBS – our 50th anniversary. But it also marks a recurring milestone as well. Every January is National Mentoring Month – a time when we honor the amazing volunteers who serve as Bigs in our program, celebrate their mentoring relationships, and announce two special matches that have been selected as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Big and Little Sister, and Big and Little Brother, of the Year. In this anniversary year, chosen from hundreds of matches, the honors go to Maureen “Mo” Slavin & Maribel, and Jared Wynne & Michael.

“The contribution of our volunteers, our Bigs, is critical to everything we do to achieve our mission.  Our Bigs are difference-makers,” said Brent Fields, BBBS CEO. “Consider the mentors you have had in your own life, that person who spent extra time to teach you a skill, or who really listened to you. Such relationships are life-changing. It’s only natural that we celebrate the outstanding individuals who donate their time and energy to provide opportunities and support for our Littles, as well as the significance and strength of their relationships.”

Mo & Maribel

When Big Sister Mo’s nomadic life brought her to Austin, she not only found a place to “settle down,” she also found an opportunity to incorporate more volunteer work into her life. That’s when she connected with BBBS and her Little Sister Maribel.

“When Maribel and I first met, she was super shy,” said Mo. “But we hit it off easily. We were both artistic, we both loved to play the guitar. So, it was easy to find things to do together.”

The pair initially went to a lot of public events such as movies in the park, and Palmer Event Center shows on the lawn. “We loved painting at Monet. We went to a lot of places that were on the BBBS discount partners list. We also discovered Guerro’s on South Congress because they had live music,” said Mo. “I always tried to get Maribel to pick the activity, but she’d always say ‘no, no, no’.”

Maribel was so shy, according to her Big Sister, that she was not comfortable talking to the waiter when they went to a restaurant. “She would have me order for her,” said Mo.

As the match grew, however, so did Maribel’s confidence. They both took part in a free guitar class that gave them the opportunity to practice more. At the end of the class, there was to be a showcase where all of the students would perform on stage and have the chance to win prizes.

“Maribel was so nervous about going on stage and playing in front of other people,” said Mo. “I was nervous about doing it as well, but we went out there and started playing our song. And she was just killing it. Then towards the end, I skipped a whole bar of the song, but she kept going.”

“She totally covered for me!” laughed Mo. “I was so impressed with her. She walked away from that showcase with one of the top prizes – a new guitar.”

That was just the beginning of Maribel’s growth. “I’ve seen the little ways she’s grown,” said Mo. “I see her pick the things that she wants to improve, and then she expands on them. Like being shy at first. Now she talks to her insurance person and to the phone company to take care of problems. I see these small adult things she’s doing, see her self-confidence. I’m just super proud of her.”

Maribel is the rock of her family. “In 2019, she lost her mom, who was a single parent,” said Mo. “That same year, I lost my dad. It was a tough time, and we needed to level with each other about the feelings we were experiencing. It was hard for me, so I know it was hard on her losing her main support system, her financial support.”

“But then, to watch her pick up and keep her family together, was inspiring,” said Mo. “You ask her older brother and her younger brother, and they’ll tell you Maribel is the head of the household. She works, she keeps it all going for the others. She is the glue holding it all together. She’s fantastic.”

Right now, finishing high school and then continuing her education are Maribel’s top priorities. She is very interested in pursuing something to do with cars, or possibly even shoe design. “She learned to refurbish shoes on her own,” said Mo. “She’s bought shoes, refurbished them, and then resold them.”

“Though her life is very different from mine, I’m very grateful to have her in my life,” said Mo. “I know she is younger and I’m the mentor, but our relationship is more symbiotic and mutually supportive. I think we basically adopted each other.”

“I have been supporting numerous matches over the years, and witnessing the impact our program has on them,” said Sergio Guzman, Senior Match Support Specialist for BBBS. “Each match is unique, but Maureen’s and Maribel’s match reminds me why I am so passionate about our mentoring program.  Not only have they visited numerous sites to expand Maribel’s horizons and knowledge, but they have also leaned on each other through the challenges that life has brought them. Since Maribel’s mother passed away a year ago, Mo has been there for Maribel, and she has helped Maribel navigate her last year of high school, the change in her home life, and her transition into adulthood.”

They are a powerful example of the power of mentoring.

Jared & Michael

As both Mo’s and Jared’s stories show, mentors are not task masters who work to make Littles into something they are not. Bigs are ‘cultivators’ who allow Littles to grow in their own ways, by offering support, encouragement, and guidance. Or as Jared says, “Helping them to be the best version of themselves that they can be.”

“I remember the old BBBS NFL ads with Troy Aikman. So, I’ve had the organization in mind ever since I was a youth,” said Jared, who has been matched with his Little Brother Michael for about 3 years. It wasn’t until he was able to “settle in one place” however, that Jared signed up to become a Big Brother.

“I knew I wanted to connect to a youth program, because I believe we under-invest in our youth in general,” said Jared. “It’s a long-term investment. It is not a quick fix. You don’t do it just to score points.”

It was the one-to-one aspect of the BBBS program that really appealed to Jared. From the beginning, he felt like he and Michael were a great match. “He is a very low-key teenage boy,” said Jared. “The way that he expresses some things, you kind of have to speak his language to understand what is important to him. He may not speak in the most direct way about how he feels about something. I was the same way when I was his age. I give him space and I understand how he processes what he’s going through.”

Jared knows that taking Michael out of his usual day to day routine can provide the space his Little needs. “We play golf, go bowling, do indoor climbing, or go to the arcade. We do things that are active, and that give us something to pursue,” said Jared. “Like going for the perfect bowling game or a good score in golf.  During activities like that, Michael knows that if he wants to talk about things, he can talk with me.”

Michael’s father has not been a consistent presence in his life and consequently, he did not have a regular male role model until he was matched with Jared. “He was having issues in expressing himself in a calm way,” said Jared. “I’ve been able to show him a different way to handle himself if issues come up or if things ‘set him off.’ I’ve been able to help him learn to present himself in a calmer way.”

One outing that provided an important life lesson was a day the pair went to the driving range. “The company asks that you not use the larger golf clubs on the range, and one guy who was there was doing it anyway,” said Jared. “They asked him to stop, and the guy got angry, caused a scene, and they asked him to leave.”

As a result, Jared and Michael were given the golf balls the man left behind and they enjoyed another hour or two of playing time. “I was able to show Michael that by being decent, by not acting like the man ahead of us, we could just hang out and enjoy our day,” said Jared. “It was so great, because Michael finished my thought before I could even express it.”

“People are looking to make a positive change in their community,” Jared added. “Working with youth is the most important thing we can do. You will directly see the impact reflected in the youth you’re working with by the role you’re playing in their life.”

“There are so many problems we try to fix in so many different ways, when really, if we just helped our youth to realize their own potential, a lot of those problems wouldn’t exist.”

In the last few years, Michael has grown from a 13-year-old who said he “had a hard time calming down when he was anxious, had issues with anger, and needed help staying on track with his academics,” to an almost 16-year-old athletic, employed, scholar, with a support system of positive friends, teammates, family and “the best Big Brother he could have met!”

It is not only Michael who has been impacted by their match relationship. Jared says there’s no way he could have known the type of impact being a Big would have on his own life. “I’m so proud of Michael. To see him doing well within himself, being confident, doing well with his peers – he’s so smart and capable,” said Jared. “It’s so gratifying to see him go on and be a great contributor to the world… and to have him as a friend.”

Mentors change lives, and the world, for the better. We are grateful for all they do.

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