National Mentoring Month And Our 2016 ‘Bigs of the Year’

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Who made a difference in your life? Who believed in you and cared for you? Who taught you that you could be more, and do more, than you ever imagined? At BBBS, our mission is to help children succeed in life. We achieve this by pairing children with caring, adult volunteers who serve as role models, mentors and guides. These mentoring relationships prove to be transformative and life-changing for children, for adults and for the community as a whole.

January is National Mentoring Month; a time when we celebrate those who give of themselves to provide opportunities for others.

“National Mentoring Month gives us a chance to share the incredible impact that mentoring has on our community’s young people,” said Joe Strychalski, BBBS’ Vice President of Programs. “We use this time to recognize and thank our current Big Brothers and Sisters and also to raise awareness of the need for even more individuals, community groups and businesses to step in and engage in this life-changing work.”

As part of National Mentoring Month, we are proud to announce our 2016 “Central Texas Bigs of the Year.” A Big Brother and Sister are chosen to receive this honor annually. The Central Texas awardees go on to be considered for statewide, and then possibly, national, ‘Big of the Year’ honors. BBBS’ 2016 “Central Texas Bigs of the Year” are Shannon Mouser and Albert Swantner. Shannon has been named “Texas Big of the Year” as well.

Albert Swantner chose to get involved with BBBS in order to give back to the community. “When I first joined BBBS, I remember thinking that I would be matched with a kid who needed his life changed in a big way and that I was going to be the one to do it,” Albert laughed. “However, my first meeting with Josh, my Little Brother, was mainly silence. Josh is naturally very quiet, which I totally understand, as I am very quiet too.”

Slowly but surely, Josh began to open up, forging a three-year relationship with Albert that has transformed them both. Albert learned all about Josh’s family, friends and hobbies, and the two spent time talking, playing laser tag and just hanging out. Albert even took Josh on a tour of the engineering building at UT.

Albert had given up on his “life-changing, save-the-day” attitude and was just enjoying his time with Josh when he learned that Josh’s mom had seen a difference in her son as a result of their match. “She said that Josh had become more confident and that he was considering going to college,” Albert said.

“I thought back over the time I’ve spent with Josh and I suddenly realized that I’ve been changing his life since our first meeting simply by spending time together and sharing experiences with him. Once you realize that even the smallest actions have repercussions far beyond the actual experiences themselves, it changes your whole outlook,” he explained.

Shannon Mouser was matched with her Little Sister, Mykayla, in 2009. Mykayla was 10 years old and an only child. “The choice to become a Big was an important decision, but the choice to stay a Big was an easy one,” Shannon said.

In committing to be a Big Sister, Shannon remembered the people who had helped her. “My brother was diagnosed with cancer when he was 7 years old,” Shannon recalled. “It was a pivotal time in my life. My mom was a single parent and needed to rely on the charity of a few organizations for us to get by.”

These memories prepared Shannon to be a source of support for a young girl destined to go through similar experiences. Early in their match Mykayla’s mother became very ill and it was Shannon who provided one-to-one time and a “stress-free zone” to help Mykayla cope. Shannon’s support allowed Mykayla to stay focused on school and choir, and to thrive despite the enormous personal stresses in her life.

“My desire to help was not only about being there for a child, but about giving back the kindness that was given to me, being an example for others and paying it forward,” Shannon said. “It is remarkable that this simple match led me to one of the most meaningful relationships and one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.”

With such exceptional examples of all that mentoring can do, let National Mentoring month remind us of those who’ve impacted our lives, and use those memories as motivation to provide gifts of support and opportunity to the next generation. Mentoring is, truly, a gift that keeps on giving.

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