Meet Our 2022 Ice Ball Chairs: Sarah & Albert Swantner
Glamorous, stylish, exciting, with shimmering ice sculptures and gowns, attended by a host of Central Texas influencers, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Ice Ball Gala might seem like just another social event, until you learn about the passion our 2022 Ice Ball Chairs Sarah and Albert Swantner have for the event’s overarching purpose: helping kids and the community.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Sarah and Albert met when they joined the same Austin Sports and Social Club volleyball team. “I really wanted to play, and I was put on a team that Albert and some friends had started,” said Sarah. “It was Albert’s laugh and smile that caught my attention, but it was how well we listen and care about each other and have fun together that transformed it all into partnership and marriage.”
Their connection with BBBS began about 10 years ago. “I wanted to volunteer and make an impact locally,” said Albert. “I found BBBS after an internet search. I applied to be a Big, was soon matched with my Little Brother Chris, and had an amazing experience.”
Two years after being matched, Albert’s Little Brother graduated, and Albert signed up to be a Big for a second time. “When I joined BBBS, my first thoughts were that a kid needed his life changed in a big way and I was going to be the one to do it,” laughed Albert. “However, my first meeting with Josh (my second Little Brother) was mainly silence. He was naturally very quiet, which I totally understand, as I am also very quiet.”
Albert did get Josh to open up, beginning a relationship that ultimately transformed both of them. Albert had given up on his “life-changing, save-the-day” attitude when Josh’s mom mentioned that she had seen a difference in her son because of their relationship. “She said Josh had become more confident and was even considering going to college,” said Albert. “I thought back over the time I’d spent with Josh, and it hit me; I’d been changing Josh’s life since our first meeting simply by spending time together and sharing my experiences with him. Once you realize that even the smallest actions have repercussions far beyond the actual experiences themselves, it changes your whole outlook.”
Albert wasn’t the only one in his family who was impacted by his two matches. “I get emotional thinking about it,” said Sarah, who was a 5th grade teacher in a Title I School on the east side of Austin until their second son was born. “When Albert first became a Big, I knew about BBBS in passing but wasn’t super familiar with the program. I had several Littles in my class however, and I saw how important the program was to the quality of life of those students. Their focus in school, their approach to education, and their attitude toward themselves was different. I feel like that is such a big deal.”
Sarah even had the biological younger brother of one of Albert’s Littles in her class. She and Albert sometimes took both brothers on outings because they knew the family so well. “You know, I still follow up with some of my former students,” said Sarah. “We need to remember that these kids are what our community will become. Every value we instill in these kids is what will show up later. For a kid to have a Big by their side when they don’t get the same attention or one-on-one time that other kids have, it makes a huge difference. It instills values in them that we want to have in our communities.”
When his second Little Brother graduated from high school, Albert celebrated the arrival of his first son and decided to step away from being a Big but to support BBBS in new ways by joining the Big Impact Group and then joining BBBS’ Executive Board.
“There are just so many impactful stories connected to BBBS,” said Albert. “I put a message out on LinkedIn about BBBS the other day and so many people reached out to me about how they used to be involved or how they were connected to the program. Every single person was impacted in a positive way. To be part of a program that does that, it’s a good feeling. And it’s incredible to be part of keeping the organization’s mission going because it does such incredible work in the community.”
It’s this passion for kids, for community, and for BBBS’ mission that led Sarah and Albert to their first Ice Ball gala and to becoming Ice Ball Chairs. “We’ve been attending the Ice Ball for more than seven years,” said Albert.
Beyond the style and elegance of the event, they both hope that people come to understand the impact the Ice Ball Gala can have on the community. “The world is such a precarious place right now. It’s critical that we take a pause and think about how what we’re doing is affecting everyone else,” said Albert. “Austin is getting harder and more difficult to live in. It’s important that we find ways to make it more equitable. BBBS is doing that. It is helping the city be more connected, which in turn helps lift everyone up. Coming to Ice Ball is a great way to help kids, and to make Austin a better place to live.”
“I’m excited to see people show up and have a good time,” said Sarah, “but also to really, really feel the impact of what they are doing. As a mom, after recent events, we all feel powerless. We ask, ’What can I do?’ I think supporting a program that offers mentorship to kids is a way to take positive action to create the kind of world we want to see.”
“A mentor is someone who guides kids, but they also listen to them and hear their voice,” said Sarah. “Kids on social media are saying, ‘Hear me, hear me.’ Let’s give these kids an in-person, direct contact they can share with and who will hear their voice. That’s what a mentor can do.”
To encourage people to participate in Ice Ball? Sarah laughs, “In my head I hear this ad, and I think, ‘Put your money where your mouth is!’ That may be too crass, but I think – just do it.”
Ice Ball is an event that not only helps youth in our community, it also helps to create the kind of community, and world, that we all want to be part of.