During National Mentoring Month we want to congratulate Big Brother of the Year Tom and Big Sister of the year Joanie! These exemplary Bigs earned this honor by meeting 3 essential criteria. First, they have Ignited the Potential of their Littles by having a significant impact on their lives and goals. Second, they have Empowered the Potential of their Littles which is evident in the progress their Littles have made towards their goals. Finally, they have Defended the Potential of not only their Littles but every Little on our waitlist, by advocating for Big Brothers Big Sisters in their Communities. Lean more about these extraordinary matches by reading their stories below.
Meet Joanie and RayQueesha, you may remember them as the winners of our, "Where in the World is Bowley," contest this summer. They have been matched since 2015. In their 5 years together they have built a genuine sisterhood. RayQueesha knows that Joanie is always there to encourage her, both during their visits and on the phone between visits. RayQueesha says that the way Joanie is always there to listen to her makes her feel important. Joanie’s efforts to build such a deep bond helps to ignite RayQueesha’s potential, by consistently reminding her of her value.
Joanie loves to spend time with RayQueesha. The match likes to explore on their own, and consistently participate in program events. These outings provide Rayqueesha with a lot of opportunities for new experiences. They have gone to museums, bike riding on Belle Isles, and explored new restaurants. Beyond having fun together they also hold each other accountable for developing good habits, by studying together and running around Ford Lake. Between new experiences, and building healthy habits Joanie is helping to expand RayQueesha’s horizons and empowering her to dream big.
Joanie is an excellent advocate in the community for BBBS. From winning a BBBS photo contest last summer to engaging her employer to participate in our holiday Adopt-a-Family program, she is always helping to raise awareness for our program. She also includes Rayqueesha in her passion for volunteering. The match represented BBBS when they participated in Ypsi PROUD, a community beautification project. When a match works together to raise awareness for BBBS, they are defending the potential of every Little both in our program and on our wait list.
Once again we extend our heartfelt gratitude and congratulations to both Joanie and RayQueesha. It is matches like yours that makes everything we do worth it. It is matches like yours that change the world one Little at a time. Because of you, the future is bright and together, we will ignite it!
Tom and Mohamed, they have been matched since 2017. From the first moments of their match, Mo’s big dream was to play for the NBA. Tom has spent a great deal of time supporting and encouraging that dream. From regular one on one games to helping Mo go to basketball camp, Tom has worked hard to Ignite Mohamed’s Potential, so he felt his dream was attainable.
This match has spent countless hours on the court playing basketball. Tom talks about Mo’s game with great pride. He reminisced that in the beginning, he won most of their games, but now Mo wins most of the games. Off the court, Mohamed says he often calls Tom when he needs advice. “He helps me with basketball, and he guides me in life.” The trust Mo and Tom have built, empowers Mo to own his potential and pursue his dreams.
Tom loves to talk about the impact being a Big has had on his life. Tom feels so strongly about the positive impact that his match has had on both him and Mohamed, that he actively advocates for our program in his church. He even made a commercial, to helps raise awareness about the need for more Bigs in his community. By raising awareness, and leading by example Tom is not only defending Mo’s potential but the potential of the over 100 kids on our wait list.
Once again we extend our heartfelt gratitude and congratulations to both Tom and Mohamed. It is matches like yours that makes everything we do worth it. It is matches like yours that change the world one Little at a time. Because of you, the future is bright and together, we will ignite it!
Meet Ave’Reonna and Hannah Eve, a match that was initially paired due to their many shared interests such as painting, drawing, hiking, and trying new things. These two have built a deep and honest connection through sharing joy in the simple things, like long walks, and decorating the neighborhood sidewalks with sidewalk chalk.
Ave’Reonna has expressed gratitude to Hannah Eve and Big Brothers Big Sisters for the new experiences she has enjoyed because of her match. Her favorite was going to the museum because, in her words, it was something she, “had never seen before.” Sharing new experiences is one way our matches build strong and trusting connections.
Hannah Eve has mentioned how grateful she is for the authenticity and honesty of the relationship the two have built. It is important to her that they both feel safe enough to share openly, even if they disagree. One of Hannah Eve’s favorite memories is when she asked Ave’Reonna what she thought of her new tiles. She replied, “They’re ugly.” They both burst out laughing.
From difficult homework to navigating through life’s occasional misadventures, Ave’Reonna knows that Hannah Eve always has her back. Having a Big Sister in her corner to advocate for her, helps Ave’Reonna have the confidence to own her own potential and dream BIG! Ave’Reonna’s mom has mentioned how happy she is that her daughter has a role model like Hannah Eve, to help guide her through life as a teenager.
Meet Ian and Isaiah. A Match whose love for trying new things has already taken them on many exciting adventures. They have both thanked BBBSWC for bringing them together, and can not wait to see what new doors the program will open for them next.
In their quest for adventure they have visited the Michigan Folk School, the DSO, and Sky Zone to name a few. Many of these were exciting firsts for Ian and helped to open him up to even more new ideas and experiences. New experiences can not only change how we see the world, but also open us up to new ideas and strategies for navigating it. For their next adventure, they have their sights set on the Yankee Air Museum, we can’t wait to see what BIG ideas Ian gets from that trip.
Ian’s mom has joked that Ian and Isaiah are just a big and little version of the same person. Their similarities make it easy for them to relate to each other. Ian greatly benefits from Isaiah’s experience and understanding when life throws him a curveball. In fact, they both listed, “just chatting” as one of their favorite things to do together. A safe space and trusted sounding board is essential to empowering a Little who’s trying to understand a big world.
Ian and Isaiah have built a deep trust and support structure. They have both expressed how sharing new experiences and heart to heart chats has made them individually stronger. Ian uses the confidence he has gained, and lessons Isiah has taught him even when he isn’t around. With Isaiah by his side, Ian is learning to defend his own potential.
Meet Prieana and Kailey. This is not the first match for either of them, so they were both ready to hit the ground running. While they have not been matched for long these two peas in a pod have already logged countless moments of adventure and fun.
Before being matched with Kailey, Prieana’s mother described her as bored. She wanted adventure and new experiences but did not have easy access to them. Kailey was self described as silly and open to anything. While the two did not have a long list of specific interests in common, they were united by their sense of adventure and desire to try new things. This built excitement for them to explore each others interest and build trust through those experiences.
Prieana and Kailey have had so much fun being together, and expanding each others horizons. From trying new foods, to Tiger’s games they have built a safe space where they can freely exchange their ideas on what to do next. They support each other and encourage each other to go beyond their comfort zone.
Both Prieana and Kailey have expressed how genuine their sisterly bond has become. Beyond seeking adventure they also love the simple moments they spend together like singing in the car, and chatting about life. Nothing sums up the essential nature of their support structure like Prieana’s own words. “Kailey is the best Big Sister… she walked into my life unexpectedly, but has been great to have around.”
RayQueesha’s mom enrolled her and her two sisters shortly after moving to Ann Arbor from Flint. The family was going through a lot of changes on top of moving – RayQueesha’s father had passed away and her oldest sister moved out of the house, both of whom she was very close with. Her mom really wanted her to have someone to connect with, look up to and gain insight from. And that turned out to be Joanie. Joanie was motivated to become a Big Sister to help support and empower a young girl in our community, and that’s what she’s done for the 3 ½ years!!
This match is one that really exemplifies Igniting Potential for a young person! Joanie and RayQueesha go everywhere and do everything. When we think of what Igniting Potential means, it’s the new opportunities and experiences that a volunteer Big can expose their Little to. So many, far too many kids, do not experience life outside of a several block radius – to school, to church, to the neighborhood store, if there is one. They have little first-hand experience with what all the world has to offer them. And that is what Joanie does with RayQueesha!
They participated this summer in our Where in the World is Bowley contest – and were our winners! They took Bowley everywhere! To the Detroit River walk, Belle Isle, riding bikes around town, to get lunch and ice cream….and most importantly to RayQueesha’s 8th grade graduation!!
Congratulations RayQueesha and Joanie!
DJ is a 13-year old boy who lives in Ann Arbor with his mom and sisters. He was previously matched with a Big Brother for 3 years – and when that match closed, we all felt that he would continue to benefit from another mentoring relationship as he was in middle school, and 9th grade this upcoming school year, and we know how important these transition periods are for young people.
Andy enrolled in BBBS last year. He’d been retired for 4 years, and had time and knowledge to share. Andy said he’d been reflecting on all of the people that had provided him with mentorship in his career and wanted to help a young person better position themselves for success.
And these two seem to have been an easy fit. Both are active and outgoing. Everything they seem to do involves being out in the community, hiking, having fun and learning together. We’ve gotten to see them really develop their relationship as they’ve attended several of our group events….giving back during one of our community service days, Ypsi PROUD and taking a trip to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to take in the “May the 4th Be with You” performance. So, all you Star Wars fans out there….come join us, we have a young person to match you with to play light sabers with.
They’re both busy and traveling this summer for vacations and summer camp, but have been able to stay in contact through phone calls, texts and Andy always sends pictures of his travels to DJ when checking in.
We’re excited for school to be back in session and them to be able to see each other more regularly again, as we know what an important transition it is to go into High School and we want to have as many people in supportive roles for DJ so that he can achieve his full potential.
Makalia is a 14-year-old young lady who first was enrolled in our School Based program, but then transitioned to Community Based when we transitioned out of doing SB. She was a shy little girl. During the initial interview, when she was 10, she took quite a bit of coaxing to get her to answer questions and get comfortable with the idea of having a Big Sister.
Lori is a Video Producer, who worked at Cartoon Network in Atlanta before moving back to Michigan to be closer to family. She had some experience with kids, but not a lot, and is a self-described introvert.
The good news is that these ladies are two peas in a pod. Makalia loves sketching and is a part of the anime club at school, and Lori is such a creative person. We have been so excited to watch their relationship grow…and have had an amazing front row seat. They’ve been doing lots of simple low-key activities, as they have gotten to know one another over the last 8 months! They’ve gone bowling, walked around the mall, out to eat and love to bake and cook….even making their own miso soup. Yum!
Like I said, we’ve had a front row seat to this match, as they’ve come to several of our group events. At Rec Night, they had a blast swimming in the pool at the Meri Lou Rec Center....and recently enjoyed a tour of campus at our College Campus Day at Washtenaw Community College. But I think our favorite time spent with this match was at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit. We loaded a bus of Bigs and Littles, along with Makalia and Lori, and headed downtown to check out the amazing art that is the Heidelberg. Trey, the artist, gave the matches a tour and talked about his work and its’ meaning. Makalia said that going on the tour and talking to Trey encouraged her to be her ‘authentic self’.
Mom, Lori and her Mentoring Specialist, Ashley, have all noted that her confidence has blossomed through these activities and her connecting to other Littles in the program. And Lori loves spending time with Makalia – she says that she’s fun, upbeat and says that her time with Makalia is a nice change of pace from her day-to-day life. Two lives, both changed, because of their newfound friendship…Oh the Places They’ll Go!!
Kaleb and Dennis are currently the longest match at BBBS! They have been matched 11 years, and this is a bitter sweet honor for them because their match is officially closing. Kaleb is now 18 years old and recently completed High School, which means their match graduates the program. Kaleb has had a lasting friendship with Dennis for 11 years and although Kaleb is graduating from High School and their participation in the program is ending, his friendship with Dennis will continue.
Dennis and Kaleb have had an array of experiences together. Dennis has taken Kaleb bowling, to the movies, Tigers games, Red Wings games, bike riding, kayaking, library visits and helped with homework. Kaleb stated “I have had a lot of fun and good times in the past 11 years with Dennis. We’ve done a lot of amazing things together…. made a lot of memories throughout the years that will stick with me forever.”
Kaleb’s mother Jennifer said she signed Kaleb up for a Big in 2008 because this was a rough time in his life, and he was in need of a positive male role model. Upon being enrolled Kaleb was a little apprehensive so she knew it would take time for him to get comfortable in the match. She went on to say Dennis has been able to “show men in a more positive light and helped Kaleb to be more trusting”. She loves that Dennis was chosen for Kaleb and she couldn't be happier.
Dennis shared that being a Big Brother to Kaleb has been one of an enriching and rewarding experience. He shared that when he first met Kaleb he was “a shy, but engaging boy, but as time went on, they were able to build a strong friendship”.
Dennis went on to shared one of the most memorable moments with Kaleb - teaching him how to throw, catch and hit a baseball when he was very young. He also talked about visits to the library, riding bicycles, going fishing, attending BBBS activities, going to movies, Tiger baseball games, EMU football games, Detroit Red Wing hockey and bowling. At each event they would go out for a hamburger at McDonalds after and talk about the various happenings in Kaleb’s life.
Kaleb shared a time when he experienced a family death in 2016 and how Dennis helped by taking his mind off of the tough times. He said it was “great to know I had someone that I’ve grown so close to…and basically think of as family” to be there. Continuing to say, “we’ve grown so close over the past 11 years and I would like for our relationship to keep growing”.
Congratulations Kaleb and Dennis for being our Match of the Month!
Journee and Danielle have a very special bond. Despite being matched a little under a year, they have become thick as thieves. Journee asked her mom for a Big Sister, as some of her older friends had one, and mom felt like it would be good for her, as Journee struggled with her self-confidence and being bullied at school. And we could not have found a Big better suited to help her learn and grow than Dani.
They’re first several outings were getting to know each other, exploring their likes and dislikes. Dani took Journee to her boxing gym, where she is a trainer, and to her church, where she was very involved. In fact, it was while looking for volunteer experiences for other members, when Dani herself decided to become a Big Sister. They came to BBBS group events, went out to eat and have had girls’ nights with pizza, movies and nails!!
Journee celebrated a pretty important milestone recently. After attending church, pretty much weekly, with Dani, Journee asked her if she could be baptized. Dani and Journee’s family did share a Christian background, although Journee had yet to be baptized. So last month, after blessing from her mom and surrounded by her new church family and her biological family, Journee was baptized. A very special day for everyone. And to top it off, Dani’s church also selected BBBS to be a recipient for one of their collection days. On Easter Sunday, they raised over $500 to support our work in the community.
Mom, Journee and Dani all have so much love and respect for one another and their roles in each other’s lives. Mom days that Journee’s self-esteem has improved so much since being matched. She says, “Journee is happy, so I am happy”. And Journee says, “I think God brought Dani into my life at the right moment”. Dani talks about her passion for children and volunteering in her community, saying that she “believes that BBBS was a gateway to experience both on a totally different level”.
Aidan and Sunny have been matched for a little over 3 years. In fact, they celebrated their 3-year Match-A-Versary this past February. Aidan’s mother, Linda enrolled Aidan when he was 8 years old because she wanted him to have a positive male role model. Her husband, and Aidan's father, passed away that year (2012) after a long battle with leukemia and it was very hard on the family. She thought that having a male role model would be very imperative for Aidan. Linda stated that in Sunny, Aidan has found a friend, resource, and someone he can share his life experiences with. She said that Sunny is a great role model especially now that Aidan is a teenager. She went on to say that he has been able to instill positivity in Aidan’s life and they are so blessed to have him in their lives.
Sunny, Aidan, and Linda all stated that the match started out a bit challenging as they were trying to figure what activities would be interesting and that they could connect on. Linda admitted that she and Sunny were big on trying to get Aidan interested in activities such as sports but they were not the most appealing to Aidan, so that was very short lived. However, she said that Sunny was very flexible and always put Aidan’s needs/wants first. So they started to brainstorm other things they could do. Aidan said that he and Sunny talk about the things they enjoy individually and just give them to try to see if it’s something they could enjoy together.
Aidan shared with Sunny his love for making string necklaces and was able to teach Sunny how to make them, as well. They also enjoy activities like going to the movies and Zap Zone. In fact, his mother recounted times when Aidan has come home bragging about beating Sunny in the games they played. Sunny also noted that Aidan is well known there because of his skill level (and how much he frequents there) so the staff all know him by name.
Linda really appreciates that Sunny and Aidan found a commonality of attending cultural related events, especially those related to Asian culture, given they share a similar racial identity.
And they love attending the BBBS annual Rec Night. They use the event as a way to celebrate another year being matched. Sunny said that it was the first event that the match attended and Aidan loves to play ping pong there.
Mom said, when talking about the match that “A big concern and reason for enrolling Aidan was that he is an only child and his father passed away when he was very young. Sunny has been someone he can talk to as a friend and brother. The greatest benefit is their friendship.”
Congratulations Aiden and Sunny, on 3 years matched and being our Match of the Month this month.
Changing Lives-- One Story at a Time.