Jack lost his father, but found a role model in Matt. Eight years after Jack lost his father in the terrorist attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001, he ran in the Tunnel to Towers race with his Big Brother Matt, holding a flag high in honor of his father’s memory.
Their story begins a few years ago, when Jack’s mother, Denise, was worried that her two sons—Michael, who was 3 years old when his father died, and Jack, who was only 6 months old—would not have a strong male role model in their lives. Once the two boys were old enough, the New York City Fire Department, where their father was a 10-year veteran, approached Denise to see if she would be interested in working with Big Brothers Big Sisters to find Big Brothers for the two boys. Since they did not have close family members to fill the void, Denise began to investigate.
When Jack grew old enough in September 2007, Big Brothers Big Sisters match specialist Patty paired him with Matt, a New York City fire fighter. Jack remembers their first meeting: “I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know who I was going to get or what he would be like. But right away I knew Matt was a nice guy. He smiled and started to laugh. We took a bunch of pictures together—funny, regular, and happy—and Patty gave them to us both to take home.”
Nonetheless, Denise was reluctant to leave her son alone with a person she had only just met. Patty continually checked in with the family. When she would talk to Jack, she would ask questions to make sure the match remained positive and rewarding.
Matt also immediately recognized and respected Denise’s reservations and took steps to make her feel more comfortable as Jack and he got to know each other. “If Matt takes Jack to a New York Mets game, he sends me cell phone pictures of Jack with cotton candy all over his face, laughing and enjoying himself,” Denise explains. “And when they are done with their outing, Matt texts me saying they are on their way home.”
Although Jack is in third grade, he plays on a fourth grade soccer team. Matt arrives early at their house, helps Jack with his shin guards and cleats, gets him warmed up, and then they spend quality time together as they drive to the game. Additionally, Matt and Jack always talk on Tuesday nights. Jack rushes home from school on Tuesday afternoons and exclaims “I’m going to get my phone call tonight!” Denise says that Jack is able to talk with Matt about things that he needs to chat about with another male—a brother, a friend—“not stuff you want to share with your mommy,” laughs Denise.
Matt uses these opportunities to teach Jack manners, academics and life lessons. Firstly, Matt teaches “PATYs” or “Please and Thank You’s,” which has taught Jack to be more respectful to and appreciative of his mother. Denise also remembers that she was having trouble teaching Jack how to use quotation marks. Matt suggested she show Jack newspaper stories quoting his favorite athletes, and Jack quickly picked up the lesson.
“You can’t replace a dad,” Denise says, “but it’s really important to have a guy in your life that is there just for you. That is something that Big Brothers Big Sisters gave back to my family. Matt is not going to be his dad, and Jack knows that. But no matter what, Matt is Jack’s one outlet.”
In honor of the 343 NYC firefighters who lost their lives during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Tunnel to Towers run begins in Brooklyn, passes through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and finishes at Ground Zero in Manhattan. This past year, Jack—now 9 years old—ran by his Big Brother’s side, carrying a flag together. “It was pouring rain, but when Matt held the flag it was really nice because it had my dad’s picture on it,” recalls Jack.
Denise reflects on her family’s relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters: “Jack and Matt are a perfect fit. They like the same things and have as much energy as each other, from the soccer field to the basketball court to the playground. Matt loves it all as much as Jack. They hit if off at every aspect. Jack really looks up to him and helps him realize his potential.”
She continues, “I’d love for my kids to be able to give back one day from the experience they’ve had. If you do feel it in your heart, you should become a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, as a donor or volunteer. My children and I know how lucky we are to have Big Brothers Big Sisters as part of our lives.”
Anita & Viktoria develop a bond without borders.If you met Anita today, you would discover a 21-year-old, rising graphic design and illustration student with a solid job and her own apartment, raising her son Emaurie as a single mother. If you had met her two years ago, you would have a met a young girl, scared and living in a shelter. Having spent her life moving from foster home to foster home after moving to America from Africa at 7 years old, Anita had no family and nowhere to turn, until a friendly face connected her with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters match specialist Diane originally worked at the mothers’ shelter where Anita was living. When Diane began working for Big Brothers Big Sisters, she immediately reached out to Anita. “She thought that as a young, single mother I could use someone to help guide me,” Anita says, “and she asked if I would be interested.”
Diane soon paired Anita with Viktoria. At first Anita was a bit skeptical of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She viewed the organization as a mentoring outlet for young children and thought as a teenager she was a too old for the program to help her. Anita was also very nervous to meet Viktoria for the first time. “I wondered if she would be understanding,” remembers Anita. “I was ashamed of my situation—being young and having a child of my own.” Anita was also concerned that because they came from very different backgrounds that they would not be able to relate, but “Diane told me to give it time and get to know her.”
Anita soon learned that they were, in fact, not so different after all. She says that Viktoria, her twin sister and parents came to America from Russia when she was young. Her family had very little money and struggled to survive. Viktoria worked very hard to make a living and find a better life. “She always tells me how to apply this to my situation,” Anita says.
Diane regularly checked in with Anita and Viktoria to be sure the relationship was mutually rewarding. Viktoria has opened Anita up to new experiences, and the pair has been able to share their respective cultures and explore new things. The first time we went out together was for Thai food. Anita says, “I didn’t know what to order, but Victoria recommended Pad Thai. I fell in love with Thai food and now sometimes secretly go out and buy myself a little Thai dinner!”
Anita and Viktoria not only like to go out to dinner together, but they have also seen Broadway shows and have gone ice skating. “When we went ice skating, I brought my son and Viktoria brought her daughter,” remembers Anita. “I didn’t know how to skate, but she coached me until I got it.”
Anita appreciated that Viktoria did not judge, pity or reprimand her for her past decisions. “Viktoria acted like herself and always showed respect for my situation. She never gave the impression that she was trying to make me feel better. She will just bluntly tell me how she feels—like a friend. Like she’ll say ‘you’re doing this wrong or you’re doing this right.’ She’s been very honest with her situation and mine.”
Viktoria has been an important sounding board for Anita as she matures. She regularly checks in on Anita and Emaurie and is always looking for activities they can all do together. “She’s a Big Sister to me and to my son. She is now helping me as he goes through his different developmental stages. She’s really become a support system and life coach.”
When Anita began looking for a job, Viktoria helped her research potential employers. She told Anita what to expect on the interviews, how to dress and even acted as a test interviewer to give Anita practice answering tough questions. Thanks to this preparation, Anita landed an internship at a fashion firm as a graphic designer. “Viktoria really gave me the resources to succeed,” Anita says, “and this motivates me to succeed even more.”
Anita currently attends Community College, and when she graduates, wants to find a job or internship at a magazine—as long as she’s focused on art. “For someone that is young and doesn’t have a positive influence in his or her life, Big Brothers Big Sisters is the best program,” Anita says. “Finding someone who can help you succeed within your life is the most rewarding thing.”
“Without Viktoria in my life, I would probably be in a shelter,” Anita speculates. “I needed a job to be able to get this apartment, and Viktoria helped me do that—now I live on my own.”
“I wanted to do better for myself, and to be a better person in society,” Anita adds. “Not so much for me, but for my son.”
Aiden & Jovani develop a model relationship.
Our Match of the Month for September is Aiden and Jovani who have been match for just over 4 years! Jovani is 13 years old and has just begun high school.
When we first put a match together we do extensive interviews and home visits with Littles and Bigs so that we can make a thoughtful match where both the Bigs and Littles interests are taken into account. During the interview with Jovani's grandmother, she expressed a desire to have a Big in Jovani's life due to his mother's passing. She was hoping that through the relationship with a Big, Jovani would develop more social and listening skills as well as have a young adult to spend time with.
During the past 4 years, all of these very things have happened! Jovani feels that he and Aiden "have been together forever" and he loves that he has someone he can share his feelings with.
Some of the fun things the two have done together include geo-caching, basketball, singing in the car and going to U of M Football games with tickets donated to BBBS. They were even able to attend a Nascar Race with donated tickets. Lastly, Aiden and Jovani participated in a bowling league together. Aiden feels that these experiences have really helped Jovani develop more confidence.
Although encouraging Jovani to read more has been a challenge for Aiden, he was able to find a book series titled "39 Clues" that Jovani is hooked on! Now the two are reading and discussing the book series together!
Jovani's grandmother shared, "I am very pleased with my grandson's match. Aiden has been a good influence on Jovani with school, reading and sports. We are so grateful for BBBS."
They recently shared a very special moment when Jovani and his grandparents, along with Aiden, attended Jovani's high school orientation where they got to talk about his feelings surrounding the start of school, see where his classes were and open his locker.
Aiden told us, "I'm grateful for being part of BBBS because Jovani lights up my life. I beam with pride at his accomplishments, worry through his anxieties and hope always for his bright future."
This is just one example of the difference a Big can make in the life of a child. Right now we have over 200 kids on our waitlist and we need MORE BIGS to match with these children.
Jayson is Driving Towards Success.7 years ago, when Jayson was just 10 years old, he was matched with his Big Brother Derek. The two instantly bonded over their passion for sports and Derek even coached Jayson's baseball league. Thus began their journey of what would become a long and fruitful relationship.
Over the years Derek and Jayson have experienced so many things together. From tossing around a football, to attending games at the Big House, the two continued to grow their bond through their mutual interests.
During this time Derek has been able to watch Jayson grow into a young man. He's noticed a change in the way Jayson interacts with adults, problem solve with his peers and even recognize the importance of education as he works towards a better future.
Now 17, Jayson was recently the recipient of the All Star Driver Education scholarship. This award allows him the opportunity to take driver's education classes for free and get a driver's license before he turns 18.
This accomplishment allows Jayson the ability to drive to and from sports or work. This achievement is just another chapter in the road that lies ahead for him.
Nicky and Dan build a treehouse, while building friendship and confidence.This match is about to celebrate their “Match-A-Versary” which is our name for the one year celebration since they have been matched. Nicky is the Little (what we call the child at BBBS) and Dave is the Big (the adult mentor at BBBS). Nicky is 8 years old, is in 2nd grade and attends Ann Arbor Public Schools.
When we first put a match together we do extensive interviews and home visits with Littles and Bigs so that we can make a thoughtful match where both the Bigs and Littles interests are taken into account. During the interview with the Little, Nicky’s mother, she expressed a concern with Nicky being bullied at school and his lack of friends. She was hoping that through the relationship with a Big it would help with these social issues.
Some of the fun things that Dave and Nicky do together are practice baseball in the park, do dinners at each other’s homes, and participate in events with the Special Olympics.
Recently Dave helped Nicky get one of his very important badges for the cub scouts. The Derby Car badge. Dave and Nicky went through the steps of building a derby car together and they ended up getting 6th place in the race. I’m going to share a quote of what Nick said after the race: “Even though we got 6th place, it wasn’t about winning it was about doing something fun with Dave”.
The most touching story about this match is that Nicky told Dave he has always wanted a tree fort. Dave said “I can do that”, he got lumber deeply discounted through a local company and has begun the process of making Nicky’s dream come true by building him a tree fort in his backyard.
According to Nicky’s mom Nicky has increased his self-confidence and has been able to be more social and make friends at school and the bullying has decreased a lot.
This is just one example of the difference a Big can make in the life of a child. To steal from Michael Jackson “the children are our future” and there are over 15,000 kids at risk in Washtenaw County. Right now we have over 200 kids on our waitlist and WE need MORE Bigs to match with these children and have an impact on their lives.
It all began when Tanaka, at age 5, moved to the United States from Zimbabwe. He had the challenge of learning a new language and culture, and soon after the emotional challenge of tragically losing his dad. When Tanaka was 7 his mother reached out to BBBS to try to match Tanaka with a Big Brother. She was concerned that these challenges would lead to poor performance in school and thought providing Tanaka with a mentor could make a big difference.
Soon after, Tanaka was matched with Bruce. They have now been matched for 10 years! In those 10 years they have done everything from camping trips to learning to ride the unicycle. Tanaka is now 17 years old and is graduating from high school with 60 college credit hours. Tanaka now has aspirations of getting his PhD in child psychology so he can help kids in the same way that he has been helped.
When we first put a match together we do extensive interviews and home visits with Littles and Bigs so that we can make a thoughtful match where both the Bigs and Littles interests are taken into account.
Big Sister Melinda had experience riding horses and doing many types of outdoor activities. Ja’vion (an 8 year old third grader) was very excited about getting a Big and was hoping to have someone that would do fun things with him, help him learn new things and help him with his schoolwork.
Some of their favorite things to do together are miniature golfing, going to the the Toledo Imagination Station, the circus, zap zone, Hallloween at Greenfield Village and attending the U of M football game with donated tickets. Ja’vion said his favorite part of the football game was watching the marching band!
Very recently Big Brothers Big Sisters collaborated with Therapeutic Riding where many of our matches were able to groom horses and then ride them for the first time. It was perfect with Melinda’s horse riding background and Ja’vions eagerness to try new things. He was one of the youngest ones there but regardless he bravely rode a horse for the first time.
The Beauty of Giving Back
In just ten short months, Little Sister Jeovana has grown from being very quiet and reserved to being able to speak openly and confidently, says her Big Sister, Laquita.
What kinds of things have they done together that would lead to such positive growth? Laquita believes that giving back is one of the most character building things one can do; and she has made this the centerpiece of her match with Jeovana.
When asked about why she makes it a point to have Jeovana’s help in giving back she said, “I want her to grow socially, culturally, and compassionately. The beautiful, yet simple gift of giving back is what I am most proud of to share with Jeovana. I explained to Jeovana the beauty of helping others by way of volunteering. There are many things that Jeovana has yet to experience and I try to make it possible for her to do so. We talk about social issues, world issues, but we also find time to just act silly and laugh.”
Laquita said that after she told Jeovana about volunteering with Meals on Wheels, Jeovana was eager to help. She has now gone with her twice to deliver meals to the elderly and those in need in the Ann Arbor area. Jeovana’s role is to organize the meals while Laquita drives. When asked about how Jeovana interacted with the clients, Laquita says, “She was friendly to the people we delivered to and seemed genuinely happy to help. Throughout the delivery process, she constantly told me how cool and good it felt to help those in need".
Jeovana and Laquita's match is a great example of social competencies in action. Their story highlights Jeovana's development of interpersonal competencies; her empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills. Interpersonal Competencies are just one of the 40 building blocks of development that researchers have identified to help young people grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults. In keeping with our goal to help children reach their full potential through their social, emotional and academic growth, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County incorporates these building blocks into the training and supports that we provide Bigs, Littles and their families.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County is proud to be a part of friendships like Jeovana and Laquita's. We love being able toStart Something that makes such a positive difference in the lives of the children in our community.
From the start of their match, Anthony and Michelle have had a plan to focus on making learning fun; even making a list of possible activities they wanted to do together. Michelle wanted to make sure that they balanced learning-related activities with those that he would find to be fun. She says,” I wanted Anthony to enjoy spending time with me, not see it as just work.” Michelle goes on “I’m a psychologist, but did not want to be a psychologist within this context. However, because of all of my schooling – and because I really do enjoy learning and am curious about the world – the academic achievement seemed like a good fit.”
Although they have only been matched for four months they have been able to check many things off of their list, and have even completed a science fair project together. Anthony was interested in the planets and Saturn was his favorite one, and although they never quite came up with their hypothesis, the project had a clear focus – the Rings of Saturn. The project included building a model, writing a report and creating aposter. While working on the project they meet weekly. They went to the library to find books, went shopping at the craft store to buy supplies, and spend time together actually building the model. "The result was something that Anthony was proud of. It was great to see his and his parents’ faces, at the science fair”, said Michelle. And Anthony thought "it was the best one there!"
When talking with Anthony you learn that they not only work on school projects, but have been out and about in the community, and he has a favorite thing about each activity! They went to a library that had a station where you can play video games; which was his favorite part. They went to the zoo and took pictures of the animals; his favorite was the wolverine. They went to museums too, his favorite being the Hands on Museum. They went to a Martin Luther King event at U of M, and Anthony said "I learned a lot and had fun". And they went to a “Meet the Athletes” Day at U of M, which Anthony thought, "was the best event so far!" He says that "Michelle is an awesome Big Sister".
Tracy, Anthony's mother, feels that "Anthony is now learning from the fun of the experience. Michelle works with him. She takes him to the library and reads with him. She makes learning fun for him. I noticed that he is more confident and a little more outspoken—he feels more comfortable talking about learning and even feels smarter. Michelle is a great big sister and role model! She incorporates learning and makes it fun!”
Anthony and Michelle's match is a great example of Commitment to Learning. Their story highlights motivation and engagement in learning that can come from having a supportive one-to-one relationship with a Big Brother or Sister. Commitment to Learning is just one of the 40 building blocks of development that researchers have identified to help young people grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults. In keeping with our goal to help children reach their full potential through their social, emotional and academic growth, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County incorporates these building blocks into the training and supports that we provide Bigs, Littles and their families.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County is proud to be a part of friendships like Anthony and Michelle's. We love being able to Start Something that makes such a positive difference in the lives of the children in our community.
Changing Lives-- One Story at a Time.