Our Central Texas Matches of the Year For 2022

There have been a number of changes at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas over the past year, but there’s one thing we are always ready to celebrate – the announcement of our agency’s Matches of the Year. This announcement follows National Mentoring Month in January, and it gives us a chance to honor and recognize two special matches selected out of a pool of several hundred. We are pleased to announce that Big Sister Karen Vilches and her Little Sister Syriana, and Big Sister Emily Zipp and her Little Brother David, are our 2022 Central Texas Matches of the Year.

“Our matches are the heart and soul of our mission,” said Leah Meunier, BBBS’ CEO. “They are what our work is all about. This past year, our volunteer Bigs donated almost 47,000 hours of service to 780 Littles. It’s only appropriate that we take the time to celebrate and honor the amazing people who are part of our program.”

Karen & Syriana

When Karen was matched with her Little Sister Syriana over two and a half years ago, she wanted to help someone else, achieve a sense of purpose, and contribute to her community. She had no idea the impact investing in the life of her Little Sister would have on her own life.

“When I reflect on the time Syriana and I have spent together, the impact our match has had on me is significant,” said Karen. “Rather unexpectedly, being matched with her has been a healing relationship for me.”

The two have many things in common – they are both the oldest of four siblings, they are each very close with their grandparents and extended families, and both share similar family dynamics. Their connection has enabled both Big and Little to process the relationships in their lives. “Over these years of spending time with Syriana and hearing (and sharing in) her stories, I’ve gotten to process parts of my own teenage years that I hadn’t noticed needing tending,” said Karen. “That alone has been a huge gift, and it’s all thanks to Syriana opening up over the years and being willing to be vulnerable.”

Being vulnerable hasn’t always been the case in their relationship. “Syriana was pretty quiet when we first met, which I think is normal. I think we were both nervous about getting to know each other! She started opening up with time (as did I) and our relationship has flourished,” said Karen. “On her end, it was challenging for her to be open for the first couple months, and on my end, I struggled with the urge to always have the perfect piece of advice in my back pocket. As we’ve gotten to know each other, we’ve gradually shaken off the need to show up as perfect people and instead have gotten comfortable being ourselves.”

Their match has also had an impact in other areas of Syriana’s life. “She has increasingly taken ownership of her school performance,” said Karen. “In the first six months of our match, Syriana’s grades were something that she was always so proud of – taking advanced classes, sharing her progress, and celebrating her outstanding grades. With the onset of the pandemic, the challenges of virtual school were real. Despite the challenging circumstances, uncertainty, and virtual schooling, Syriana has continued to work hard and do her best. I am proud of her. It’s one thing to stay in the game when things are great and you’re performing well, and it says so much about her character and conviction to stay in the [school] game and keep working when there are so many challenging factors to manage every day.”

It’s a level of trust that has been built week by week, outing by outing. “Syriana’s such a big part of my life. She’s contributed so much to how I see the world differently, how I interact with people differently,” said Karen. “I get blown away every time I talk to her. I’m amazed that I can have a relationship like this. It is the most intentional relationship I have with anyone in my life. One that I cultivate with care.”

Karen describes Syriana as full of life, creative, smart, fiercely loyal to the people she cares about, and a self-starter. “She is a great older sister to her siblings and carries that responsibility with great maturity,” said Karen. “It is so apparent that she’s a bright light in her family.”

Syriana and Karen are there for each other, whether for fun outings or for life’s unexpected challenges. “Syriana has struggled with her relationship with her dad, and I have been impressed with how she has leaned on her mom for support and used our time together to talk through her feelings and frustrations, instead of bottling them up,” said Karen. “I have just listened and let her share when she wants to share.”

Karen sees Syriana as a natural leader and path-maker. “Syriana is incredibly talented at doing makeup and hair, and her dream is to be a business owner and to do makeup professionally,” said Karen. “She has patiently and selectively built out her inventory of supplies, taking advantage of birthdays and holidays. She recently created a website to book makeup clients! I am so proud of her and celebrate her vision and drive.”

“Syriana and I were excited to hear that we were awarded this wonderful honor. In these challenging times where our traditional means of gathering and connection have been put to the test, it feels like such a bright spot to be seen and celebrated! We are so grateful that BBBS brought us together and look forward to another great year of fun, conversation, and being involved with the BBBS community.”

Emily & David

It is the “road less traveled,” that sometimes offers the richest of experiences – just ask Big Sister Emily Zipp. She says she had all the ingredients for a wonderful life – a successful career, healthy and happy family, financial stability – but felt that there was something missing. Finding that something ultimately meant going a less traditional route and becoming a Big Sister… to a Little Brother.

“I will always remember the feeling of excitement I had when Saul, the Enrollment Specialist for BBBS, said he’d found a potential match for me,” said Emily. “He prefaced this by saying this wasn’t a typical match, and that he wanted to match me with a 16-year-old boy who had specifically requested a Big Sister. To say I was intrigued would be an understatement, and after learning more I was thrilled to meet my future Little – David.”

From the beginning Emily knew she was connected to a special individual. “He was curious, kind, and after taking some time to warm up to me, absolutely full of life,” said Emily. “David’s passion for bettering not just himself but everyone around him is what makes him so exceptional. It is rare to meet people who are truly as caring and compassionate as David.”

Emily particularly noticed these characteristics in her Little Brother when they participated in activities that involved giving back to the community. “After Hurricane Harvey I asked David if he wanted to help me organize some relief kits to donate,” said Emily. “What happened next took me by surprise; not only did David agree to help, he did so enthusiastically. Seeing a young person get so excited about volunteering was incredibly heartwarming, and I knew then that David was destined for great things.”

As with so many Littles, however, David wasn’t aware of all the opportunities available to him. “It wasn’t until we were matched that David realized that going to college might be a possibility. In the 5-plus years we’ve known each other, the moment David decided to pursue higher education felt like a major turning point,” said Emily. “From that moment on it felt like the gates of possibility had really opened up for him and that there was no stopping him.”

Until COVID hit. The pandemic impacted David’s family in a significant way, resulting in his mom losing her job. It was a time of fiscal and emotional challenges. His mom questioned her self-worth, and then decided that it might be best for everyone if she left the family. David quickly found that he had to take on a whole new set of responsibilities that he’d never handled before.

“I’ll never forget the day David called me to say that his mom had left,” said Emily. “Before I could even begin to ask what had happened and try to comfort him, he wanted to meet up to talk about building a personal budget. He was determined to get his finances in order. I think he was hoping that if he could create enough stability his mom would return. Florentina did come home, and their relationship is stronger than ever, but the crash course David had to take in becoming an adult taught him life lessons most 20-year-olds never have to go through.”

David is now successfully working as a fellow for the non-profit Communities in Schools while balancing a full-time college course load. He dreams of enrolling at the University of Texas and building a life for himself that wouldn’t have seemed possible a few years ago.

“His resilience and determination to succeed, coupled with his desire to take care of those he loves, led him to discover some of his biggest individual strengths,” said Emily. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have helped David through that unimaginably challenging experience at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m incredibly proud of the person he has become, and I feel privileged to have been able to advocate for him and help him find his strengths. I truly believe that without BBBS he might not have tapped into those superpowers. For that, I am eternally thankful.”

“I’m shocked, flattered, and honored to have been named a BBBS Match of the Year! Working with David and Big Brothers Big Sisters has been an absolute privilege. I wouldn’t take back a single second that I’ve spent with David, and I am so proud of the young adult he’s growing into. He deserves all the praise.”

And we are thankful for the amazing matches we are privileged to serve and work with every day. It is an honor to recognize Karen and Syriana, and Emily and David as this year’s Central Texas Matches of the Year.

Thank you to all of our matches for the incredible ways you continue to show up for one another. You inspire us.

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