Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Millions in Hours!

One year ago over 400 San Antonio nonprofit organizations came together to raise over $2 million dollars in 24 hours! It was epic. In less than a week, we are going to do it again, only much bigger! 

A Big Check!
Who doesn't want to be a part of raising millions of dollars in hours?  That's what is going to happen on May 5th, 2015 for The Big Give SA. At a press conference earlier this week, Scott McAninch, Executive Director of The San Antonio Nonprofit Council, one of the lead organizers of the event, made these huge announcements:

  • 883 nonprofits are registered this year!
  • $713,250 has been raised in prize money!
  • The new 2015 goal is to raise $4 million!  

Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas is thrilled to participate for the 2nd year and we have set a $20,000 goal for our agency. Last year we raised almost $7,000 from 128 donors, over half of which were new donors! Over the past year we took all of our donors on a "Match-Making Journey" describing the process involved in recruiting, screening, training, and supporting 6 volunteers with the kids were matched them to. 

Big Give "Bigs and Littles" at a Spurs game!
We are hosting a Big Give Party at the Big Brothers Big Sisters office downtown on May 5th, but there are lots of ways to participate in The Big Give without even leaving your home or office.  We especially hope that all the friends and family of Big Brothers Big Sisters come out BIG for this event.  No matter how you participate, any amount you donate can make a huge impact on the life of a child.  Here's how you can help:

  • Donate online 12 am to 12 pm on May 5th. The minimum donation is only $10. Help us win prize money for The Most Donors. 
  • If you're a Big Brother or Big Sister we hope you'll donate and show your Little Brother or Little Sister "How to Give."
  • If you're a Parent, we invite you to donate $10 in Honor of your child's Big Brother or Big Sister. 
  • If you're a 2014 Big Brothers Big Sisters Big Give Donor we hope you've been inspired by your Match-Making Journey over the past year to give again.  We want to give 20 more kids on our Waiting List a mentor. 
  • Come to our Big Give Office Party at 202 Baltimore, downtown. We will have music, games, face painting and a food truck. The Magik Theatre will be joining our party.  There is free parking too. 
  • Look for us on Social Media and Like and Share this opportunity from our posts on Facebook (BigBrothers BigSisters), Twitter (@bbbsst), Instagram (@bbbsst), YouTube (TEXASBIGMENTOR) and other platforms. 
Remember, you don't have to make a big donation, but please go online and give. Last year we proved that a lot of people giving a little donation made a huge impact! 

As a board member of the San Antonio Nonprofit Council I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the awesome support of the following donors for providing underwriting and prize money for The Big Give:  
  • The Mays Family Foundation
  • The Tesoro Foundation
  • The John and Florence Newman Foundation
  • The Genevieve and Ward Orsinger Foundation, and 
  • The San Antonio Area Foundation 
See you on May 5th! 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Not a Walk in the Park

Meet Manuel:  A sweet, respectful and enthusiastic young boy.  At first glance he looks a lot like other boys his age, but when you talk to his teachers you hear a different story.  “When it’s time to focus on school work, he just shuts down. There has been a progressive decline throughout the year. It’s getting worse as we prepare for the STARR test, and Manuel is dangerously close to repeating his 6th grade year.”

Alexandra, also in the 6th grade, has a crush on a fellow classmate and lives with her dad.  She recently experienced a disastrous reunion with her birth mother.  Her single father says, “I worry about her lack of strong female role models.”

Over the past year, MJ went from a child to adolescent with major voice changes, shocking growth spurts, and a relentless interest in the opposite sex. He complains that his grandmother can’t afford to get him school supplies or shoes that fit and that his father has disappeared again. His teachers say that he talks too much and has an overwhelming need for attention.  His classmates complain that he gossips too much. His counselor says, “I’ve noticed a pattern of blaming others, never holding himself accountable.”  In fact, MJhas managed to push everyone away this past year, and now, at the end of his first year of middle school, MJ is friendless. 

Thankfully, these three kids all have one thing in common besides the fact that they are experiencing life challenges:  They have Big Sisters.   

Volunteers Jenica, Sylvia and Sonia all work at QVC, one of 40 companies that host the Big Brothers Big Sisters Workplace MentoringProgram each month.   They are part of a group of 17 mentors at QVC who have stepped up to help kids connect the dots between their education now and their career later.   But they are first and foremost, friends. 

Jenica is super sweet with a really big heart. I’ve seen her get weepy-eyed over Manuel’s’ struggles. You can tell she thinks the world of him,” says Megan McLeod, Big Brothers Big Sisters Match Support Specialist.   Sylvia, Alexandra's’s Big Sister, is a momma-bear. She has a lot of patience and is always smiling. Alexandra’s very active and a bit on the loud side, but Sylvia handles it well.”  

It's easy to see how much Megan likes and appreciates these caring adults.  “Sonia is outgoing and easy to talk with. I like talking with her because she doesn’t sugar coat or hesitate to share her opinion. She’s assertive and knows how to lay down the law with MJ when she needs to.”

At one time or another, all 3 of these Big Sisters have expressed doubts about their ability to respond to the struggles their kids are facing, and whether or not they are making a difference.  At Big Brothers Big Sisters we know, for a variety of reasons, that they absolutely are making a difference, whether they know it or not.  I wrote about a 56 year old Little Sister in January who assured her Big Sister that she was always listening.  It’s great for this long-time mentor to hear this now, but of course she didn’t know it at the time. 

One of the things we measure at Big Brothers Big Sisters is the “strength of the mentoring relationship.”  We do this because we know that it is this relationship that is the catalyst for positive youth development.  When Bigs and Littles become friends, the trust that is needed in order for a child to accept the support of a mentor falls into place.  As any parent knows, there is very little instant gratification in providing support to pre-adolescent and adolescents.  We often feel we are not reaching our kids, we worry about their future, we despair.*  So, it's really no surprise that the same thing happens with Bigs and Littles.  We see all the time in evaluations and surveys that there is a disparity between the difference the volunteers feel they are making and the reality of how the kids feel.  For example, surveys of the QVC Bigs and Littles finds that: 

  • Only 92% of volunteer “Bigs” report that they are confident in handling the challenges of being a mentor, while 100% of kids report that they feel like their volunteer “Big” has good ideas about how to solve problems.
  • Only 85% of Bigs feel that they have a close relationship with their Littles, while 100% of the kids report feeling close to their mentors. 

100% of kids also report that the relationship with their volunteer “Big” is important to them, and they all say that they feel safe with their Big. For us at BBBS, this is success, but we struggle to assure our volunteers that they are doing exactly what we and the kids need them to be doing.  The bottom line is that none of us had mentors who solved all of our problems for us.  Our mentors stood by us, supporting and guiding, and making us stronger and more resilient in meeting life's challenges."

QVC Bigs and Littles
We are so grateful that Manuel has Jenica in his life as he struggles with the transition to middle school and with his academics. We once asked Manuel if he was interested in having a Big Brother instead of a Big Sister and he wouldn't even hear if it.  He cant imagine losing his Big Sister.  Alexandra has said that she likes some of her teachers but can’t communicate with them like she can with Sylvia. Thank goodness she has Sylvia to confide in and talk about the tough stuff.  And we are very grateful for the rapport Sonia has developed with MJ and the fact that she is comfortable telling him it's "Time to get your act together!” And he listens! 

Mentoring at-risk kids is no walk in the park, but everyone knows that what kids need to grow up successfully is the support and guidance of caring adults. Jenica, Sylvia and Sonia, the other 14 mentors at QVC as well as 2,000 other volunteers in our program have stepped up to do just that.  We just wish they would believe us when we tell them how important and meaningful and effective their work is.    

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, so if you know of a volunteer, especially one who mentors at risk kids, give them a shout-out!  

With Appreciation to Megan McLeod for her contributions to this post.  

*Maybe that's just me with my kids, I don't know. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Remembering Oklahoma City

My girls and me in Oklahoma City in April 1995
20 years ago, in January 1995, I moved to Oklahoma City.  In March, I started working at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Oklahoma City, and on April 19th, the Murrah Federal Building was bombed.  My life was changed forever. 

I hadn't wanted to move to Oklahoma City. I was hoping we'd get stationed in San Antonio, after being overseas for 3 years and then going to school in Lubbock. I was homesick for family. 

This duty station came right smack in the middle of our 9 moves in 11 years military adventure, but it turned out to be the only place that became home to me. I honestly think it was the bombing, the city's response, the shared experience, the people I met and the heartbreak that bonded me to Oklahoma City. Remember, this was before 9-11, and we were still so naive about how vulnerable we were and devastated we could be. It was the most shocking thing that had ever happened in my short, sheltered life. 

I was standing in the living room of my babysitter's house when I first heard that there was a daycare center on the second floor of the building. I'd already seen the smoke on my drive past downtown, and the pictures of the aftermath of the front of the building on the television.  My babysitter was crying, tears just streaming down her face. My daughter Lacey, not yet 2 years old, was struggling for me to put her down so she could run away and play, but I just couldn't let her go. 

Eventually, I went to work, but all my appointments had been canceled by my boss, so I wandered home where I stared at the TV some more. I'm not exactly sure when we knew that 15 little ones from the day care had been killed, but I'll never forget the picture of the firefighter carrying one away from the building. As a young mother myself, I struggled to fathom the horror of it. 

As the days went by, we all coped in different ways. One of the Little Sisters on our waiting list at Big Brothers Big Sisters had lost her mother in the bombing so we matched her up with another Little Sister who was matched in the program and they shared a Big Sister for while, for support and healing. Everyone was volunteering for the Red Cross in some form. This was the time that I really started to understand the critical roles that non profits play in times of crisis. Not having experienced much crisis in my life, unlike most of my clients, this was a time of tremendous personal growth and maturity for me. 

While I had to be forced to move to Oklahoma City, 3 years later I had to be dragged away, figuratively kicking and screaming, to the next military posting in Virginia. So today, on the 20th anniversary of the bombing, I will remember the confusion, the disbelief, the horror, the grief, the fear, the sadness and the helplessness, but I will also remember the strength, the courage, the spirit, the resolve, the fortitude and the heroism of the people of Oklahoma City, my only other home away from home. 

This is a link to the Memorial.  

Here are a few of my memories from the OKC years and all the dear friends I made. 

The annual BBBS Gala with Jenny, Jennifer and Kendra
My awesome BBBS boss, Laurie

With Kendra and Jennifer at some BBBS event
Karaoke with Leslie (Ragan)
Me and the Trekkie Bowl For Kids Sake teams
Happy Hour probably at Bricktown
With Laurie and Mark Clayborne, National Big Brother of the Year and his Little
Jennifer, Mark and me
Party at Denise's!

That time we were in the newspaper in costume