Our 2020 Central Texas Bigs of the Year
If we think about it, most of us can list several people who have made a difference in our lives. Mentors who changed our life’s direction for the better. At the beginning of the new year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas honors our amazing mentors and selects two exceptional volunteers who go above and beyond in being difference-makers for their Littles. Our 2020 Central Texas Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year are Ian Noble and Ashley Cureton.
“When I was first told by my match support specialist that there was good news, I thought there might be a new program or maybe a scholarship for my Little,” said Ian. “So, I was shocked when I found out it was about becoming Big Brother of the Year. It’s exciting to be chosen!”
“I’ve been matched with Darain for five years, and we’ve got a great relationship,” said Ian. “He was 9 years-old when we met. It’s been neat to see him grow from a little kid to a young man.”
It all started with Ian’s interest in getting involved and helping youth. His research introduced him to BBBS, but it was his wife who encouraged him to become a Big Brother. “She knew about the organization from a friend and said I would be good as a Big Brother,” said Ian. “And I thought, ‘If I can help someone out, that’s what I want to do.’”
Since their first meeting the pair have enjoyed kayaking, UT football games, hiking and biking around Lady Bird Lake, and just about anything outdoor-related, as well as attending BBBS events such as Hobie Day or participating in an escape room adventure. Even a quest to try different types of foods has made their list of activities.
“I’ve wanted to expose Darain to new things,” said Ian. “I’ve even taught him about the small business owner’s life.”
Ian is the owner of a family dry cleaning business in Austin. “There was a time I had to get Darain on the delivery truck with me,” said Ian. “He rode in the passenger seat and went with me to the stores. I showed him how things worked in the business. It was a lot of fun.”
In becoming a Big Brother, Ian hoped he would make a positive impact on Darain’s life. That was the expected part of being matched. “What was surprising was how much I learned from him,” said Ian. “I also didn’t know how much I would enjoy the outings. There have been many memorable moments.”
Providing Darain with new opportunities and opening his eyes to all the possibilities and good things available is a goal of Ian’s. “I thank the program for all the support in hosting events and providing tickets that are contributed through BBBS. We were able to go to Formula One because of that,” said Ian. “This has a big impact on kids. They’d never get to experience some of these things without BBBS.”
The impact doesn’t stop with Ian and Darain’s match. “He has a large family of brothers and cousins,” said Ian. “And they’re usually around when I pick him up for an outing. They will often tell him how lucky he is. I don’t know the true impact on his family, but I think there may be talk about what he got to experience after he gets back home.”
“I think there’s a comfort level for him in knowing that I’m always there if he needs anything,” said Ian. “Now that he’s a teenager, I sometimes wonder if he’s still interested in being a part of a match. But his continued interest is expressed during our outings. At events we’ve participated in, there have been several different occasions when he has said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’ I know then that the match is making an impact. That makes it all worth it.”
For Ashley Cureton, her selection as Big Sister of the Year comes as a surprise and something that she is still processing. “I’m struggling with feeling undeserving,” she said, “because there is still so much I want to do for my Little.”
Ashley and her Little Sister Brianna were matched when Brianna was in 8th grade. Ashley had moved to Austin that year and knew she wanted to be involved and invest in youth. “That is where my heart is,” Ashley said.
An important aspect of the program for Ashley was the one-to-one mentoring that BBBS offers. “Something I’ve always done, even when I was little, is to be involved in and give back to my community,” said Ashley. “By being a Big Sister I felt like I could make an impact, especially for those who did not have many opportunities. And I wanted to mentor a young African-American girl and give back according to my ethnicity. I also wanted to give back to the city I was going to call home.”
The pair have made the most of their match as they’ve explored Austin, especially the creative outlets in town, since Brianna is a budding artist. One of their favorite outings was a Sister to Sister event sponsored by BBBS at UT where matches got to help make ice cream. “Most of the time we like just being able to talk and catch-up while we scrapbook,” said Ashley. “It’s our thing. It’s been nice to see Brianna in her artistic element, getting her creative juices flowing, and being free in that regard.”
One thing that stands out for Ashley is watching her Little Sister grow into being her own woman. It’s an evolution that has not been easy as Brianna has worked through bullying and depression in high school. “Seeing the growth in her has been one of the most rewarding things,” said Ashley.
The growth has been a doubled-edged blessing, though. “We are going through a season,” said Ashley. “Brianna is 18 now and working, so it’s a challenge to find time to get together. She is trying to figure out who she’s going to be when she graduates. It is challenging me to be more creative in making sure our relationship stays strong.”
Any relationship takes work, and Ashley and Brianna are benefiting from the effort they’ve put into their match. “She has told me after outings how the match has benefited her,” said Ashley. “I think, like me, having someone there who’s not blood has made her feel that sense of community and family. It has helped her feel more loved and appreciated.”
Ashley laughs as she says, “Oh, I’ve definitely challenged her with her grades, asking what she wants to do next, is she going to check out this school or that one. Because we are not going to be status quo with this job she has.” It’s a challenge Brianna has accepted as she assures her Big Sister that she wants to move ahead, determine her direction, set goals and work to achieve them.
As with most matches, however, Brianna is not the only one who is learning and growing. “The unexpected? I didn’t know that she would teach me so many things,” said Ashley. “I didn’t come into the match thinking I wouldn’t get anything out of the relationship, but I didn’t expect to get SO MUCH out of our match!”
“Interacting with someone who’s not my bloodline. Not my family. But becoming my family,” said Ashley. “Then all the different experiences we’ve had, learning to do stuff together. It’s just been really cool.”
A word to others about mentoring? “Just do it,” said Ashley. “These relationships add to the community. They are a key to keeping the community together. One of the biggest things I’ve wanted to share with Brianna is that there are places to go, that there are things we can do and accomplish. We just need to figure out how to get there together.”