Our Big Futures Mentees – Where Are They Now?

In times such as these, aren’t you ready for some good news?! How about the bright, smiling faces of some of BBBS’ Big Futures students who are overcoming the challenges posed by COVID, and life in general? They are maintaining hope-filled, positive attitudes while making great strides toward achieving their goals.

Established in 2016, BBBS’ Big Futures program was created to help mentees navigate the transition to young adulthood. The goal of the program is to ensure that all young people mentored by BBBS of Central Texas are prepared to obtain a living-wage job, and ultimately self-sustenance, by age 25. The agency works to accomplish this by providing on-going support to matches toward Enrollment (post-secondary education), Employment (career readiness), and Enlistment (military service).

We are now seeing our first Big Futures ‘graduates.’ We wanted to catch up with a few of them to see where they are now, and to provide some information about what they are up to.

“Big Futures is so proud of all of our graduates this year. This past year and a half presented a lot of challenges and our mentees have stayed focused, motivated, and they’ve navigated through these challenges with grace and persistence,” said Christina Eisenlord, Big Futures Coordinator. “I know they will continue to grow and achieve anything they set their minds to. We are excited to see their next steps after graduation.”

Zach Akinnola graduated from Abilene Christian University in May and worked at a summer camp again this year, for the fourth time. He is currently working part-time and getting information together for his graduate school Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) application, plus studying for the GRE. “My goal is to get accepted into a DPT program somewhere in Texas within the next year,” said Zach. “That will be a journey full of plans and goals within itself. So, if I get accepted, then I’ll have more to say about that. If not, I’ll probably look to work as a Physical Therapy tech in the meantime and do things to improve my application and skill set.”

“COVID stinks, ha, ha. I’m sure everyone agrees,” said Zach. “It has been quite disruptive. I had to push back an internship that ultimately led to my having to wait until this summer to apply to graduate schools.”

The pandemic also impacted his connection with his Big. Though Zach and his Big Brother Ron haven’t met as much since he’s been in college, they are planning to have dinner together soon to celebrate his graduation and missed birthdays.

Zach credits the Big Futures program with helping to alleviate some of the stress associated with college life and moving into the professional world. “It helps especially in terms of getting assistance with school, jobs, etc.,” said Zach. “Christina is always so helpful in sending me things like scholarship lists, and job fair announcements. That makes a big difference and is a great source of information and opportunities!”

Another Big Futures graduate is Kirida McDaniels. Kirida is a graduate of Austin Community College, and she is currently living in Portland, Oregon working as a test engineer for Novus Labs.

So, what are Kirida’s plans? “In the near future I plan on getting a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Certificate and completing my bachelor’s degree in Electronic Engineering,” she said.

The move to another state brought its own set of challenges. “The Big Futures Program provided me with resources during this hard, abrupt transition, especially during the pandemic,” said Kirida.

Like so many students, COVID put a damper on Kirida’s summer plans of kayaking, painting, and camping with her Big Sister Maggie. “Going from seeing Maggie on weekends to being scared to go outside was a drastic change,” said Kirida. “Maggie and I still talk when my job permits. Once things get better with COVD, I plan to have Maggie visit. She’s always wanted to visit Oregon and now she has someone to come see here. So, Maggie Waggie and K – Rida Sightseeing in Oregon coming soon!”

Jaylon Vaughn is also living out of state, having graduated from Tuskegee University this past May. Jaylon is currently in a post-graduate program at the University of Missouri at Columbia working towards his PhD. “I’m currently doing research in wildlife diseases,” said Jaylon. “And I think that is the field I want to continue in as I go towards graduate school.”

Jaylon’s research involves catching animals, then removing and testing any ticks for possible diseases. “I’ve always envisioned my life studying animals and diseases,” said Jaylon. “Being in the field monitoring the ecology, evolution, and possible emergence of new diseases, plus tracking existing diseases.”

Though he’s been busy, Jaylon has stayed in touch with his Big Brother John, who recently became a new dad. “He has definitely remained a confidant, someone I can talk to and go to for advice,” said Jaylon. “Although, now that I’m more in my field of study and his expertise is in law, he’s not advising me professionally as much. But, when it comes to life and carrying myself as an adult or simply having someone to talk to, John has been there.”

The Big Futures program has been there for Jaylon as well. “Christina reaches out like clockwork,” said Jaylon, “to make sure I’m okay and see if I need anything. I definitely appreciate her support and help through this process.”

In the future, Jaylon sees himself moving on to other places. “I’ve always wanted to travel the world,” he said. “I don’t know where my PhD studies will be, but at some point, I want to live outside this country. Especially, I’d like to be in a place known to be a disease “hot spot,” where new things are known to emerge.”

“I don’t see myself living in Missouri for the rest of my life,” he laughed. “But right now, I’m just trying to stay focused and stay on the right path to achieve my goals. I certainly need to work on my time management skills, but overall, I think I have a handle on things.”

These are just a few of the myriad success stories surrounding the Big Futures program, one that continues to expand its impact. Big Futures participation has increased from 50% of eligible matches in 2016 to 80% currently. The total number of matches in the program now exceeds 100.

“Big Futures will continue to support our mentees as they work to define success on their own terms and build their independence and foundation for adulthood,” said Christina. “Big Futures continues to grow as a program and as a resource for our mentees. We hope to build more partnerships in the future that will benefit our young adults as they work to achieve their goals.”

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