As the volunteer enrollment specialist, Andrea helps get new volunteers enrolled and trained before they meet their new littles. Our agency recognizes that volunteers enter our program from all different walks of life, and it’s Andrea’s job to listen and prepare each volunteer to work with littles and families who may come from very different backgrounds than they do. Andrea works with almost every volunteer who comes through our doors, and what a difference she makes!
Andrea says it was her high school mentor who first got her involved with nonprofits. Because she moved around a lot as a kid, it was difficult for Andrea to find and maintain mentors. However, when she started high school, she was paired up with Natasha her high school’s French teacher. Natasha and Andrea bonded over their mutual love of Harry Potter, and Andrea eventually started to turn to Natasha when she needed help or advice about what was going on with her outside of school. Recognizing Andrea’s potential, Natasha suggested that she join her high school’s Diversity Council, and from there, Andrea went on to serve as a social justice youth intern for the Michigan Roundtable of Diversity. She has been working with nonprofits ever since.
Working for the Michigan Roundtable first taught Andrea about how to understand individuals in a wide context, taking into account their diverse experiences in order to work alongside them to make their lives better. When Andrea was applying for college, she found Eastern Michigan’s School of Social Work to be a place where others were thinking like her and were driven by a similar desire to be a positive force for social change. She developed her passion for serving young people while working for another nonprofit, where she led discussions with youth on topics from school policies to career building to managing banks accounts. She then came to BBBS as an intern before joining us full time.
As our agency continues to expand, Andrea says she looks forward to growing along with it. She says she is always thinking about ways to recruit new volunteers -- especially men! Eighty percent of our waitlist is boys, so we are always in need of new Big Brothers. “I have a little brother who is turning 12, and I want him to have a positive male influence,” she explained. She talked about how excited she was for Man to Man, a recruitment event during which men get to pair up with the boys on our waitlist for a day. Last year, 25 Big Brothers enrolled after the event, and Andrea is excited to be a part of enrolling new male volunteers again this year.
Andrea says that her favorite part of her job is hearing about the little moments in matches when a Little meets a personal goal or tries something new. At the same time, she recognizes that those moments take a lot of time and effort to facilitate. She supports Bigs so that they are able to establish trust and develop a relationship with their Little. “I love getting to know volunteers and life stories. I love getting to put kids and volunteers together and see that magic happen,” she said. While she acknowledges the hard work that building relationships takes, she knows that it is all worth it in the end. “The commitment is big, but it’s really rewarding to see your little light up.”
Al is one of our Match Support Specialists at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County. Like the other Match Support Specialists, Al conducts regular check-ins with Bigs, Littles, and families to make sure the match is running smoothly. He provides matches with personalized advice and resources according to their needs, ensuring that everything is in place for the relationships to grow and blossom.
Originally from Southwest Detroit, Al finished high school right here in Ypsilanti, MI. After earning his degree at Central Michigan University in sports management, he was not sure at first what he wanted to do with his career. He moved to Pennsylvania where he completed a bridge program in community and economic development, knowing that he wanted to find a way to serve struggling communities. Eventually, Al took at job with an organization called Playworks, which supports physical education in youth. Al worked his way up, starting as a program coordinator and eventually becoming a program manager. It was during his 6-year stay at Playworks that Al discovered his passion for working with children and youth. “I realized I would never venture out into another field,” he said. Because he grew up in a struggling area of Detroit, he was able to strongly relate to the kids he was serving, and that connection further fueled his desire to give back.
Around year six at Playworks, Al and his wife had their first child, prompting them to move back to Michigan to be closer to their families. Al’s first position when he returned to Michigan was with the Boys and Girls Club, where he ran the library program. Then, about a year ago, he made his way to Big Brothers Big Sisters, which has proven to be a wonderful fit. Al believes his background in sports management helps him to really connect with his clients and their families. He approaches his job with the confidence of years of experience of working with children and youth, and this confidence inspires families and puts them at ease. Now a father himself, Al knows what it takes to raise a child, and he is able to bring that whole new layer of experience to his career.
Working at Big Brothers Big Sisters has given Al the opportunity to reflect on his own childhood. Al says he didn’t have many role models as a kid, and therefore, he knows the powerful impact a mentor can have on a child’s life. One of the positive adult influences he recalls is his track coach, Mr. Wright. “Mr. Wright was a grumpy old man who never smiled,” Al laughed, “But he always gave me a fair shot.” Al recognizes that kids these days are not always on the same playing field. Some kids are born into disadvantageous circumstances that put that at a different starting line. However, Al says Mr. Wright was always “firm but fair,” and he is grateful to him for the opportunities he provided.
Al mentioned that his job can be hard at times. He says is can be difficult to focus on the 98% positive phones calls with matches when 2% of them are struggling. However, Al loves the feeling of making matches, watching them meet for the first time, and seeing them build rapport. Soon, he says, “You no longer have to introduce yourself on the phone. You can talk to the parents about what is going on with them.” Al is looking forward to continuing to grow alongside his coworkers. “I’ve been here for a year, and I am starting to feel more confident,” he says. We at BBBS are lucky to have him, and we are looking forward to watching him continue to learn and grow, as well!
Originally from Detroit, Crystal first came to the Washtenaw County chapter of BBBS as an intern while she was studying at EMU. After graduating with her degree in social work in 2011, she was hired full time through Americorps, and she has been with us ever since, serving as a Match Support Specialist, a Customer Relations Specialist, and, since 2016, an Enrollment Specialist. In her current position, Crystal facilitates the initial process of enrolling Bigs and Littles into our program. After they sign up, we contact all the Bigs and Littles and interview everyone to determine who would be a good match for them. Each Big and Little comes to us with their own goals, talents, needs, and personality, and Crystal’s job is to do her best to gather all the information necessary to set each match up for success!
Crystal says she has always had a strong desire to help people, but she has always been especially eager to be a positive influence in the lives of young people. While she mentioned that she didn’t have a lot of positive role models growing up, she said her grandfather stood out as someone who was invested in her development as an individual. “He taught me about responsibility,” she said, explaining that he taught her important skills from driving to paying bills to home repair. “He was invested in me being a strong, independent adult.” Crystal pays these lessons forward every day not only through her job as an enrollment specialist, where she works to mentor and support new interns, but also through her role as a Big Sister herself!
Just as Crystal’s grandfather encouraged her to be independent, Crystal tries to instill the same trait in her Little Sister. For example, when Crystal and her Little transitioned from being a school-based match to a community-based match, Crystal worked to empower her Little to form healthy friendships without Crystal being there to immediately facilitate her peer interactions. After having Crystal there to guide her in person, Crystal’s Little has had to learn how to make good decisions about who to interact with on her own, and Crystal says she is happy to see the progress she has made.
Crystal has been matched with her Little Sister for 5 years, and she believes being a Big Sister for so long helps her to support other Bigs in our program. “Bigs can trust that I am speaking from experience,” she said. Between mentoring her Little and raising her own daughter, Crystal certainly understands the challenges little girls today are facing. “Everything happens for kids so much earlier,” she explained, so she believes it is important for kids to be able to be kids.
When asked about her upcoming goals for BBBS, Crystal was quick to mention that she wants to help recruit more Big Brothers to the program. “70% of our waitlist is little boys waiting for a Big Brother,” she said, so she is constantly advocating for more men to sign up for the program. She also mentioned her excitement for upcoming events that she is helping to plan, such as Rec Night and an event with Therapeutic Riding Incorporated (TRI) where Littles will have the opportunity to learn how to care for and ride horses. (“TRI is one of my Little’s personal favorite events,” she added.)
With so much happening at BBBS and given that Crystal is also a mother and a Big Sister, it is perhaps no surprise that Crystal says the biggest challenge of her job is scheduling! (“My life is a whirlwind of schedules,” she joked.) However, Crystal says she always looks forward to meeting new people, hearing their stories, and imagining the ways BBBS can impact them. “I love imagining the good we can do and knowing that I can make a difference…It doesn’t feel like work all the time.”
Amanda first came to BBBS as an intern in Fall 2011 while working on her BA in social work at Eastern Michigan University. However, Amanda’s road to deciding to become a social worker was not entirely straight forward. While she knew that she wanted to go into a helping position, she thought teaching, not social work, was her calling. It was not until her involvement with EMU’s Alternative Break program that she realized her passion for working with and empowering communities. During her first Alternative Break trip, Amanda went to southern Louisiana to work with a community that was struggling to recover just months after Hurricane Katrina. Amanda said it was the resilience and strength of that community that inspired her to change her career path forever.
Big Brothers Big Sisters was a great fit for Amanda, who had experience working with underserved kids at Shining Star Camp, attended by kids with emotional impairments. More important to Amanda, however, was the fact that working at BBBS gave her the opportunity to honor the legacy of her friend Shelby, who passed away the summer before the start of her BBBS internship. “Shelby loved kids,” Amanda said. “I felt like everything kind of came together.”
After her internship, Amanda returned to work for BBBS through AmeriCorps. Shortly thereafter she earned her Masters of Social Work at EMU and became a Match Support Specialist at BBBS in 2014. With her recent promotion to Program Adviser, Amanda says she is excited by the opportunity to continue to learn more about BBBS. However, Amanda also admitted that her job offers its own challenges. She understands being a social worker means having the flexibility to be a part of her clients’ “best” and “worst” days. “Being in a supervisor role opens me up to caring a lot more about more people,” she said. “So I have to learn how to balance, manage the rough days.” Despite this challenge, Amanda is eager to develop both emotionally and professionally. She said that she sees the mishaps along the way as opportunities to grow.
Amanda considers community involvement to be a crucial component of her job. “There are a lot of constant changes that occur in the lives of our clients, and I consider it our ethical obligation to stay up to date on what is going on.” For Amanda, this means constantly educating herself on local concerns such as new school reading policies and immigration laws as well as attending professional development workshops and BBBS regional conferences. Given her passion for community, Amanda is excited by BBBS’s growing involvement with partners in the Ypsilanti area. Being located directly in downtown Ypsilanti creates constant opportunities for individuals and businesses to get involved in our mission to serve our kids and families. Amanda says she is thrilled to be a part of helping this sense of community to blossom.