Jaiden is a kind and intelligent 9-year-old boy, who lives with his mom, grandma, and three sisters. In between his occasional visits with his father, he lacked a strong male role model that he could relate to, and Carl stepped in to provide that male perspective he needed. Carl had just moved to Washtenaw County to attend dentistry school, and he was eager to give back to the community. He signed up to become a Big Brother after seeing an ad for our local agency and talking to his sister, who had also recently signed up to be a Big.
Jaiden and Carl have been matched for over a year, and it is amazing to see how far their relationship has come. Because they are both very active, they have been on countless adventures together such as canoeing, paddle boating, going to the Hands On Museum, and going to Detroit Pistons games -- all of which were new experiences for Jaiden! We love seeing Jaiden and Carl interact at group events because they are clearly so comfortable together! At our kickball day, they had so much energy from playing kickball that they took a long walk afterwards around the park, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. The two have lot in common: they both love chicken, laser tag, and dancing. However, Carl says that his favorite thing to do with Jaiden is just to hang out with him and chat about his life. He loves listening to Jaiden share his interests and ambitions.
Spending time with Carl has given Jaiden the opportunity to hone his strengths and develop his own sense of self -- something that Carl says he really wishes for Jaiden to have. Jaiden is talented at math, and he loves showing this off to his proud Big Brother. He says that he aspires to become a teacher one day. Carl also takes time to have important conversations with Jaiden while they’re on outings. He talks to Jaiden about the importance of online safety, manners while going out to eat, and, recently, the important contributions that MLK, Jr. had on our world.
At BBBS, we use the acronym REACH (Recreation, Education and career, Arts and culture, Community service, and Health and wellness) to guide our matches to be well-rounded in how they spend their outings. Jaiden and Carl are the epitome of the REACH mindset. They are looking forward to another fun year of learning, growing, and giving back together.
Jaliah is an active, talented 16-year-old, who we have had the pleasure of knowing since she first enrolled in our program with a different mentor at 8 years old. As the youngest of 7 kids, Jaliah loves having a mentor all to herself. Being able to go on an outing without her siblings is a rare opportunity and one that BBBS can provide. We matched Jaliah and Julia about a year ago just after Julia moved to Ann Arbor to complete a postdoc at the University of Michigan. As Julia was applying to become a Big, she told us that it was something she always wanted to do but that she needed to wait until the right time. Because our program requires a one year commitment, she could not sign up until she knew she would be living in one place for over a year. Therefore, when Jaliah and Julia were matched, there was clear excitement on both ends. As it turned out, each was just the right match that the other had been waiting for!
Watching Jaliah and Julia interact now, it is clear that they really trust each other, but it took some time for this level of comfort to build. Julia, like many of our volunteers, is an introvert, and Julia explained that their first few outings felt “awkward” at times. However, as we tell all our volunteers, this awkwardness is completely normal and to be expected. Like all relationships, it takes time and consistency to make the match work. Almost a year later, Jaliah and Julia’s relationship is thriving. Jaliah has been able to open up to Julia about her thoughts and concerns about racial tensions in our community. Because these topics are also sensitive and personal, Jaliah’s willingness to raise them demonstrates her trust in Julia, who is always ready to listen and learn about what her Little is going through.
When they are together, Jaliah and Julia enjoy eating sushi, being active outside, or watching movies. Furthermore, Julia is a rock climber and introduced Jaliah to the sport. Rock climbing has been an amazing way for the match to bond. When they are climbing, Jaliah and Julia take turns belaying and encouraging one another to accomplish their individual goals. While climbing can be scary and certainly physically demanding, Jaliah responds to the challenge with a sense of confidence and adventure. And because they are used to talking about their goals while climbing, Jaliah is also able to talk to Julia about her other goals for her education and career.
Jaliah has also shared her interests with Julia: namely, her love of writing poetry. Jaliah is a talented emerging writer. Recently, she won a poetry contest and was accepted to present her work in Washington, DC! Congratulations to Jaliah from all of us at Big Brothers Big Sisters, and congratulations to both Julia and Jaliah on being named this month’s match of the month!
Big Sister Anna and Little Sister Anaya have been matched since last summer, and the match has developed wonderfully since then. Anaya is a kind, intelligent 15-year-old with a natural curiosity and great sense of adventure. She says she wants to be a cosmetologist, which seems like a great fit given her compassionate, bubbly personality! She and her siblings also share their home with two of her cousins, making it a tight fit and leaving few opportunities for one-on-one time for the kids. Therefore, her mom signed her up with our program with the hope that time outside the house with a mentor would help Anaya develop her own passions and goals.
Meanwhile, Anna had recently moved to Ann Arbor and wanted to connect to a young person while learning about the community. While she is working full time, she felt that it was important to her to find time to give back. Given Anna and Anaya’s shared interests, including their shared love of cats, they seemed like the perfect fit.
Anna and Anaya have had a ton of fun together, going out to eat, going to the mall, and getting their nails done, as well as just hanging out at Anna’s house and talking. When they went roller skating together, Anna said she was thrilled to see Anaya come out of her shell. “It was nice to see her open up and just have fun as a kid!” she said.
From the beginning, Anna was very intentional in trying to give Anaya the best opportunities. Anaya struggles sometimes with peer relationships. She says she has a lot of friends but lacks someone who feels truly close to her. Also, while she does an amazing job maintaining her good grades, she sometimes finds the social dynamics of school overwhelming. However, Anna is always there for Anaya to talk about what she is experiencing and keep her on the right track towards her goals. The pair gets together frequently and stays connected in between outings via texting.
Already, Anna has made a positive impact in Anaya’s life. Anaya really seems to have opened up to Anna, sharing her thoughts, feelings, and struggles. Anna mentioned during one of her regular check-ins with our staff that she does not always feel like she has all the answers for Anaya. She said she was concerned that she could be doing better to support her. This concern is very common amongst our volunteers, and as with others who have expressed similar things, we know that it comes from a place of love. We reminded Anna that, as a Big in our program, it is ok to not always know what to say. Being a mentor isn’t about having all the answers; it’s about being there, listening, and sharing in their journey to help them find the answers. Anna, like all mentors, may not be perfect, but she shows up for Anaya and takes an active interest in her success. It’s like people say, “Kids don’t care what you think until they think that you care,” and watching Anna and Anaya, it is clear that they really care about each other.
We’re excited to announce that this month’s match of the month is Madison and Lauren!
Madison is a compassionate, empathetic child, who is always open to learning new things and meeting new people. She initially learned about BBBS through a friend, who is also matched in our program. When Madison heard about how much fun her friend was having on outings, she asked her mother if she could sign up, too. Madison’s mother Christina thought it was a wonderful idea. Madison had lost her father about a year prior, and although she seemed to be handling her grief well, Christina knew that she could benefit from having another person to confide in.
Lauren seemed like the perfect match for Madison. They are both active and creative people with bubbly personalities. Furthermore, Lauren was also grieving a close family member, and we knew that her and Madison could connect and help each other through this shared experience. Lauren had just moved to town for a postdoc, and she was eager to give back by becoming a mentor. Having recently completed her PhD, she recognized the important role of her advisors and mentors played in helping her achieve her success, and she wanted to do the same for someone else.
Madison and Lauren were matched about a year and a half ago, and they have been having a blast together since day one. On their very first outing, the pair went to the park and made up a play about friendship, giving them the chance to express their creativity and also discuss what it means to be a good friend. Since then, Madison and Lauren have developed an incredible bond. They have had many adventures together, including trips to the Hands on Museum, the creature conservatory, and the DIA. They often make arts and crafts together, and Lauren helps Madison with her school projects. Watching them talk together at our annual picnic was such a pleasure! The two chatted cheerfully about their likes and dislikes, and it was clear from watching them that they really take joy in each other’s company.
Despite her busy schedule, Lauren makes time to see Madison about twice a month, and the time the match has spent together has been valuable to them both. While Madison took time to really open to Lauren about her father’s death, she now feels comfortable talking to her not only about her grief but also about other things going on with her in her life. Christina says that Lauren has become part of the family, and she loves that Lauren helps encourage Madison socially and educationally. Madison is such a kind-hearted girl. She always goes out of her way to cheer people up and make them feel included if they are in need of a friend. With Lauren there to nurture her wonderful qualities and keep her on this positive path, we know that she is going to grow up to do amazing things!
Kevin has been matched with his Little Brother Matthew since 2014. When Kevin and Matt were first getting to know each other, Matthew’s mom Natalie could tell very quickly that they had a lot in common. They both enjoyed being active outdoors, playing video games, and talking about cars. They also bonded over their shared religious values. However, none of us could have predicted just how much the match would come to impact the lives of all those involved.
When Kevin and Matt were first matched, Matt was struggling to make friends his own age due to shyness and a lack of self-confidence. Because Matt is mildly autistic, he found social settings to be a challenge, and he was struggling with reading comprehension in school. Furthermore, Matt was living with his mother and three siblings (with a newborn soon to come), so he couldn’t always get the one-on-one time every introvert needs to come out of their shell. With high school and the emerging needs of college preparation and job searching on the horizon, it was clear that Matt could benefit from a committed, passionate mentor like Kevin. At first, Kevin said he found it difficult to engage Matt in conversion; Matt would respond to Kevin in short sentences without making eye contact. However, Kevin was patient and bonded with Matt over their shared interests.
It is a joy to see how much Kevin and Matt’s relationship has grown since those early days. Over the years, Kevin has worked with Matt to prepare for several important milestones: teaching him to drive, helping him to apply for jobs, and helping him think about his career goals. Because Matt hopes to be a mechanic one day, Kevin often plans activities for them involving cars. Kevin took Matt to the Henry Ford Museum, a car show at Washtenaw Community College, and a trip to talk to a mechanic about his work. To work on reading comprehension, Kevin takes Matt to the library to check out books about car mechanics. Kevin also takes an interest in Matt’s spiritual life, something that is very important to them both. The two often get together to read and study the Bible, often while cooking delicious food, and they regularly volunteer together through Kevin’s church. Kevin also makes sure that Matt has the opportunity to just have fun and be a kid. They often play video games, sports, and Pokemon Go together. Matt particularly enjoys having nerf gun battles with Kevin. He even used part of his birthday money to buy Kevin a nerf gun as a gift. “It just goes to show you how kind and generous he is,” Kevin said, but we believe the gift is also a testament to Kevin’s amazing work as a mentor.
However, the time Kevin and Matt have spent together has not always been easy. The birth of Matt’s new sister meant that Matt had to face some transition at home. Then, his older brother needed to be hospitalized. Through all of this, Kevin has remained a consistent, positive energy in Matt’s life, and Matt has continued to grow and thrive. Since working with Kevin, Matt’s reading comprehension has greatly improved. However, according the Kevin and Natalie, the most significant improvement has been Matt’s social confidence. Kevin was excited to watch Matt hold conversations with some of his friends when he introduced Matt to them at a gathering. Matt even made some lasting friends of his own at summer camp.
In addition to being a strong, positive role model for Matt, Kevin is an active advocate for Big Brothers Big Sisters in the community. Every time we hold a “Big for a Day” activity, Kevin regularly invites friends to come match up for the day with kids who are on our wait list. He also did an amazing job serving as a Team Captain at our first Man 2 Man Recruitment event, bringing eight of his friends to learn about becoming a Big Brother. We are also grateful to Kevin for recruiting one of his friends to serve as our volunteer event photographer. Thanks to Kevin and his friend, we have beautiful, high quality photos of our Bigs and Littles that we can use to continue to promote our mission to serve the kids and families of Washtenaw County.
We congratulate Kevin on being our 2018 Big Brother of the Year!
Nancy has been matched with her Little Brother, Kyieyan since June 2016. At the time, Kyieyan had recently lost his father and was struggling to adjust to changes at home and at school. While he was a naturally energetic, sociable kid, he needed the extra support and stability of a one-on-one mentor to help him through such a difficult time. Furthermore, with younger siblings at home and a single mother, Kyieyan had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders at a young age. He had to grow up quickly, and he was struggling to stay on track academically. A few months into the match, Kyieyan was the victim of a violent incident at his school, leading to him missing several days of school. Through all of this, Nancy was available to help keep Kyieyan on track. Kyieyan demonstrated astounding perseverance, working hard to catch up with his school work and maintain his position on the football team.
Despite all the adversity Kyieyan has experienced, it is always clear that he feels safe, comfortable with Nancy – a testament to her warm, positive energy. Nancy says that it is important to her to allow Kyieyan to just be a kid. The two often enjoy time outdoors, attending sporting events, and watching movies. Nancy also takes Kyieyan to the library to read and attend educational events. Witnesses to Nancy and Kyieyan’s interactions can easily see how much Kyieyan enjoys Nancy’s company and respects her as a person. For example, at our annual picnic, we were excited to see Kyieyan trying to show off to Nancy, calling for her attention before running around and doing a cool trick. Nancy and Kyieyan have open, flowing conversations, and Kyieyan takes an active role in asking Nancy questions.
While Nancy and Kyieyan have a lot in common, Nancy does a wonderful job of supporting and taking an active interest in the things that excite Kyieyan. Kyieyan is a gifted budding athlete, so Nancy often takes him to sporting events at the University of Michigan. When Kyieyan was joining the football team for the first time, he needed a sports physical and new gear. Nancy talked to Kyieyan to make sure that he was organized and had everything he needed to participate. When Nancy found out about the Youth Impact Program, a summer camp where students practice football with NCAA and NFL coaches and learn academically using football terminology, she helped to get Kyieyan enrolled and even helped transport him to and from the camp. During the program, Kyieyan was able to interact with so many positive male role models, including Jim Harbaugh! We have no doubt that the experience of being part of that camp will have a lasting positive impact on Kyieyan’s future.
As a former board member of our chapter of BBBS, Nancy has been generously supporting our mission for a long time. While she no longer serves on the board, she still gives us her all. Nancy is constantly advocating for BBBS, sharing our posts on social media and recruiting others to become mentors. Nancy participated in Bowl for Kids’ Sake, our annual fundraiser that raises money for matches, and she often helps us coordinate activities and events with UofM (where she used to work). In addition, Nancy was an amazing Table Captain at Rise and Shine, and she even recruited others to be Table Captains as well!
Congratulations to Nancy, as Big Sister of the Year.
Kaila is a 13-year-old girl who lives in Ypsilanti with her mom, and three younger siblings. Her mom wanted her to have a Big Sister to give her more one-on-one. And Kaila wanted a Big Sister because she is the Big Sister at home, and thought it would be great to have someone to look up to.
Gloria is a mom of three who wanted to give back to her community. She’s always volunteered and even did a year of service as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Philadelphia after graduating from Western.
We matched Kaila and Gloria together because we thought that Gloria was the right person to give Kaila some of the supports that she needed…she was a mom, but also understood kids. They have been matched since April of this year and have grown close in that time. They really like to try new foods and talk and hang out. They spend a good amount of time at the library and recently the Big Sister got the Little Sister a copy of her favorite book, ‘Forged by Fire’ and they’re talking about reading a book together about race relations with the police through the eyes of two boys, one black and one white. They really did not have a ton in common when we matched them, but are loving learning about their differences and really appreciate what they’re learning about each other.
The Big Sister recently had a baby. And on one of their recent outings they painted letter for the baby’s room. They hung out, listened to music and the Bigs’ husband cooking them dinner. It’s great that such a simple outing - spending time together and sharing your life - can be so meaningful for both our Bigs and Littles.
Gloria was also one of our volunteers at the Rise and Shine event earlier this month – which was a great success!!
Big Sister Brittany and Little Sister Zaylah have been matched for almost 6 years now, since Zaylah was just a shy little second grader! Zaylah’s mom enrolled Zaylah in our program to ensure that she “stayed a kid as long as possible” because, as a young mother, she felt the importance of not growing up too quickly. Zaylah’s mom was also eager to surround Zaylah with as many positive female role models as possible, as she herself had only brothers to look up to when she was a child.
Brittany seemed like a great match to help Zaylah and her mom achieve their goals. Brittany grew up in the foster care system looking out for her younger siblings, and because of this, she also felt like she had to become an adult at too young an age. A former Little Sister, Brittany believes BBBS helped her when she was a child, and she was ready to give back to the program by helping Zaylah become a strong, independent woman like herself.
Over the course of past 6 years, these “best sisters ever” (as they call themselves) have been able to experience so much together. In between having fun doing things like watching movies, visiting zoos, and going to the park, Brittany helps Zaylah with her homework and works with her on effective communication skills. They continue to be one of our most active matches in attendance at our BBBS events. They come to everything: picnics, arts and crafts nights, community service clean ups, Tiger’s games, Detroit Zoo trips, UofM softball games, and more! Watching their relationship grow into a true sisterhood has been wonderful to witness!
Brittany overcame a lot in her past and has a bright future ahead of her. She recently graduated from college, and her Little Sister Zaylah was there to witness her walk across the stage! Brittany has inspired not only BBBS staff but also Zaylah, as well. Zaylah says that the best thing about Brittany is that she is protective of her and always makes sure she is safe and having fun. But Zaylah’s mom thinks that the best part about the match is how much confidence Brittany instills in Zaylah. We know that confidence is a great indicator of making good choices and doing well in school, so Brittany’s impact on Zaylah will no doubt continue for a long time.
Zaylah was even confident enough to agree to be our featured speaker along with Brittany at our upcoming Rise and Shine for Kids’ Sake event. Rise and Shine is a one hour, mission driven event, where the community can hear from our matches, both on stage and in video, of the impact that matches are making in their community. This year we will also hear from Red Berenson – the legendary UM Hockey coach, who himself has helped to mentor and mold so many young men!
Rise and Shine will be on Giving Tuesday, November 28th from 8-9am at Barton Hills Country Club. There is no cost to attend, but donations will be collected at the event. We hope that folks are inspired to become donors, Bigs, and advocates for BBBS in the community.
Christiana’s mother was excited to sign her up for BBBS after Christiana’s older siblings had positive experiences in matches of their own. When signing her up, she made it clear that wasn’t particular about her kids’ interests or hobbies, but she wanted her daughter to have a positive relationship that could help her discover new things about herself and her passions. Because Christiana is one of 6 kids living in her home, one-on-one time with an older role model can be hard to come by! Christiana is a spunky 9-year-old with a positive energy. She is intelligent, creative, and eager to learn new things, and with Ann, she has the opportunity to do just that!
Ann became interested in mentoring after reading a book called Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam. In the book, Putnam describes the widening “opportunity gap” that lower-income kids face in American society. When one of our Board Members told Ann about our program, she signed up right away. As a mother and grandmother of 6, Ann has tons of experience with kids, and she was eager to get involved to help address the systematic inequalities here in Washtenaw County.
Ann and Christiana have been matched for about a year now, and the impact these two have made on each other is inspiring! Ann always tries to take advantage of what the community of Washtenaw County has to offer, encouraging Christiana to connect to the resources around her. Together, they have taken cooking and crafting classes at the Ypsilanti Library, visited the Yankee Air Museum to learn about aviation, and attended many BBBS group activities such as pumpkin carving, kickball, and a trip to a Tigers game in Detroit. Ann always tries to expose Christiana to positive female role models, so the pair have also attended women’s basketball and volleyball games at EMU.
Ann also shared her knowledge from working in clothing and textiles with Christiana by teaching her how to sew! Now, sewing has become not only a great creative outlet for Christiana but also an opportunity for the pair to bond as friends. Last spring, Ann and Christiana redesigned their t-shirts from Ypsi PROUD - a clean-up day in the community. Because the t-shirts were a rather minimalistic design, these two creative ladies couldn’t help but jazz them up! They added a pink fabric to the collar and bottom and turned Christiana’s into a dress and Ann’s into a baby doll top. Now, they wear them to other BBBS events to show them off, building their connection with each other in the process. We always look forward to seeing Ann and Christiana in their matching designs at our events!
Betsy and Adrianna have been matched in our program since December 2015. While Adrianna is a naturally energetic and open girl, she struggled with her self esteem and had difficulty forming healthy, mutually supportive peer relationships. Trust was an issue for Adrianna; she felt as though she did not have a close friend who she knew would be there for her unconditionally. She occasionally became frustrated in her interactions with peers, leading her to act out. Adrianna’s mother and teacher agreed that she could benefit from a stable and consistent friendship. That’s where Betsy and BBBS came in.
Betsy had been a ‘fan of the program’ for a long time, and decided to become a Big Sister after her children were out of the house. Betsy and Adrianna were matched through our school based program, and Betsy began to visit Adrianna at school once a week. While Adrianna was enthusiastic and open to Betsy right away, she was hesitant to fully trust her in the beginning. She became worried when Betsy would leave after spending time with her and needed to be reminded of Betsy’s dedication to their relationship. However, over time, Betsy was able to show to Adrianna the meaning of unconditional friendship.
During their time together, the pair have gotten to know each other through doing activities like arts and crafts, games, and sports. Betsy has been able to spend time with Adrianna as well as her peers, providing Adrianna with a sense of security within her school environment. Betsy also encourages Adrianna to take advantage of her school’s resources; the pair often spend time reading in the school’s media center or playing sports in the school gym. To encourage Adrianna’s natural intelligence and creativity, Betsy worked with her to create a new game that the pair could play together.
In the time that they’ve been matched the pair has grown close and developed a strong friendship. They have been able to talk about important life lessons together such as doing well in school and getting along with others.
We at BBBS are excited to say that Betsy and Adrianna recently transitioned from a school based match to a community based match, so now they will be continuing to grow through friendship outside of school. We are all looking forward to the new adventures Betsy and Adrianna will share!
We want to particularly thank Betsy for serving as our featured speaker for our Fall Evening with Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraiser last weekend. At the event, Betsy shared about her experience being a Big Sister, revealing a clear passion and devotion for her relationship with Adrianna.
Changing Lives-- One Story at a Time.