Kevin Manieri, Big Brother of the Year
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!
Big Sister of the Year, Nancy Culotta
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.