Our 2019 Bigs of the Year

The beginning of a new year is always an eventful time at BBBS. We celebrate all the amazing volunteers who serve as Bigs in our program, and we recognize two special individuals who are selected as Central Texas Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year. For 2019, these honors go to Big Sister Liz Garcia and Big Brother Chris Muyshondt.

Liz and Emily

Liz remembers how quiet and shy her Little Sister Emily was at their first meeting. There was some shrugging of the shoulders, nervousness, and a few giggles as the two walked around the block together and got acquainted. But Liz knew everything would be okay once her Little Sister opened up about her favorite pastime – lying on the grass and staring up at the stars. Eight years later the two are still enjoying walks and just being together.

“Not long after we were matched, we went to a BBBS skate night and they were playing Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair song,” laughed Liz. “Emily stopped in her tracks and started whipping her hair the same way that Willow does in her music video (I didn’t know this at the time). Needless to say, Emily got past her shyness and we bonded quickly.”

Now that Emily is 15 years old, one of their favorite outings is to sit at a corner table at Mi Madre’s Restaurant with a couple of breakfast tacos, a never-ending basket of chips ‘n salsa, and swap stories about what’s been going on in their lives.  Topics range from education, friendships, family dynamics, pets, community issues, and mental health. “She likes to ask what it was like when I was her age,” said Liz, “and she laughs when I tell her stories about how uncool I was in school.”

Such conversations were helpful as Liz helped Emily navigate the drama of middle school and finding the “right” friends while dealing with issues of bullying and self-esteem. “Through all of this I’ve tried to give her a safe space to process what she’s thinking and feeling,” said Liz, “because that’s what I believe is most important for all of us to have.”

“Liz inspires me to be myself,” said Emily.  “When I’m with her, we have so much fun together and some of my best memories are with her. My Big Sister is someone I can trust, someone I can relate to and laugh with. She’s my role model, my friend, and in my eyes, the best Big Sister anyone could ever have.”

The pair have evolved together through this match. “She reminds me that it doesn’t matter how old you are, our mindset and our relationships with others are the most important aspects of our human experience,” said Liz. “Emily and I take the time to understand why we think or feel a certain way and unpack our beliefs together.”

For Emily, the feeling is mutual. “I can always talk to her and not be afraid,” she said. “She has taught me many things, but the one thing I will never forget is to love myself and others.”

Liz says Emily is no longer the shy Little Sister who began the match journey 8 years ago. “She’s growing into a wise young woman who is vocal about what she thinks, stands up for what she believes in, is considerate of what others are experiencing, always thinks about taking care of her family and friends, doesn’t let a setback deter her from trying something new, and manages to do all of this while having fun and making those around her laugh,” said Liz. “I am honored and grateful to be a part of her journey and to have her as part of mine. Thank you BBBS of Central Texas for changing my life and matching me with this amazing young woman!”

Chris and Keon

For Chris, the journey to become a Big Brother began when he graduated from high school. “There were several times in my childhood that I needed someone to turn to when I was facing a situation I had no idea how to deal with,” said Chris. “I knew that without some of the important mentors I had growing up, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today. I wanted to do that for someone else.”

Through some online research, Chris found BBBS and knew it was the perfect way to give back and to be there for a child who didn’t have a mentor figure in their life. “I was matched with my Little Brother Keontray (Keon),” said Chris. “I was nervous about meeting this 13-year-old because being a mentor was all new to me.”

The two spent the first few months playing basketball, grabbing food together, and simply using the time to get to know one another. It was during this get-acquainted stage that Chris discerned a trait of Keon’s personality which would ultimately bring them closer together than either ever expected. “When we had outings where we helped other people, like making survival kits for the homeless or cooking food for his family,” said Chris, “I would see his eyes light up. This desire to help others went to another level when we decided to build a coffee table for his mom.”

Growing up, the main role model Keon had was his grandfather, who was a true handyman. About a year after Chris and Keon were matched, Keon’s grandfather passed away. “Keon had a rough 2016. The loss of his grandfather was tough,” said Chris. “Also that year, his dad got out of prison, but he’s never been a big part of Keon’s life, so to lose a male role model like his grandfather was hard.”

Chris wanted to continue the lessons Keon’s grandfather had started to teach Keon, and he came up with the idea of building a coffee table. “I’d never gotten to build anything before. It was pretty fun. I thought I would just be attaching a few pieces (for the coffee table),” Keon recalled. “I didn’t know I was going to do everything.”

And he does mean, everything. When the project began, Keon soon discovered he would be sawing, planing wood, attaching the pieces, and assembling the whole table. The result was a hand-made coffee table that is so sturdy it can bear the weight of his Big Brother Chris.

“When we were done, I stood on the table to show him how solid it was,” Chris said. “Keon couldn’t stop smiling. He kept saying ‘I can’t believe I made that, I can’t believe I made that.’ The table is in his living room where he sees it every day and it reminds him of this one solid thing that he has done. He tells me he’ll be sitting with his mom and she’ll smile and point at the table and say, ‘You built that!’”

“To this day, that coffee table has moved with them from house to house, and Keon told me months later that it serves as a constant reminder of what he is capable of. Giving Keon that space and that platform to reach inside himself and push himself to create something he had no idea how to do before, was one of my most rewarding accomplishments in life,” said Chris. “I knew from that moment on, no matter what life throws at him, Keon knows that he has the power to do anything he puts his mind to… and that’s the whole reason I became a Big.”

To Chris, their relationship is all about providing Keontray with a blueprint and the tools for success. “It’s important for boys to have someone in their lives who can say, ‘It’s okay to not be fine. At one point things were not fine with me, but I got through it and here’s how I did it.’ Boys need men who can serve as examples, and who are willing to invest in, and listen to, them.”

Chris felt it was his responsibility to be there for Keon and to support him.  “I had no idea that, in turn, he would do the same for me,” said Chris. “He always asks how my week is or how work is going. He cares for me because I care for him. This young man has given me the opportunity to learn how to be not only a mentor, but how to build a true bond based on leadership, honesty, and care. Keon is an amazing young man and the bond he and I share is life-long. He will always be my Little, just as I will always be his Big.”

What began for both Liz and Chris as an act of giving back, has resulted in the formation of lasting relationships that have not only changed the lives of their Littles, but also their own lives as well. BBBS celebrates these amazing Bigs and Littles who exemplify the positive, enduring impact of one-to-one mentoring. They remind us that in giving, we receive the greatest gifts of all.

See our video about Chris and Keon’s match story here

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