Some of our supporters know Alex Toner as our Development Officer, working to bring in monetary donations to further our agency’s mission. But to eleven-year old Zahir, Alex is his Big Brother.
Alex and Zahir were matched in July 2012. “I’m the youngest in my family, so I wanted to spend time with a young person to have fun and offer guidance and support,” Alex told us. “What I like most about spending time with Zahir is he is honest and has a ton of energy.”
Sometimes the match will have a catch and a slice of pizza or attend Big Brothers Big Sisters’ events, like Bigs & Littles Trainings (or BLTs for short). “The BLT’s are planned and facilitated by Match Support Specialists. The staff talks to kids about their expectations, what it means to be a Little, showing appreciation and setting match goals. Bigs participate in a round table discussion, are given extra training for their roles and can trouble shoot any challenges with staff and other Bigs. It was really beneficial for both Zahir and me.”
The Big Brother says there have been two stand-out moments in his match so far. “Through a very generous ticket donation to the agency, Zahir and I were able to sit courtside at a 76ers game in January. Seeing his face when he realized where we were sitting was amazing, and he even told me, ‘This is the best day I’ve ever had!'”
The second came stand-out moment occurred later, at an unexpected moment. Outside of volunteering as a mentor, Alex also devotes time and energy to another cause, the Penn State Dance MaraTHON, which helps children with cancer and their families at Hershey Medical Center. Over the past year, Alex raised money and awareness for the cause through the Hope Express, an alumni effort, and was selected to be a runner in a special 135-mile relay race from Hershey Medical Center to State College one February to kick off the Dance MaraTHON. To help keep his spirits up during the challenging race, Zahir mailed Alex a note which was given to him at his halfway point. “Seeing the letter during the race was a huge surprise and gave me the extra boost I needed to finish.”
Alex says being a Big keeps him grounded and helps him see the world through the eyes of a child again. “It’s an awesome experience, and I hope others consider getting involved. Spending time with a child just twice a month can really impact their life.”
Growing up, Big Sister Roxiann had an amazing stepmother who helped her realize how important it was to have a role model in her life. Knowing how much that relationship meant to her, Roxiann decided she wanted to give back. She got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA and was matched with her Little Brother, Travis, more than 10 years ago.
Over the years, the two of them did everything from sporting and cultural events to even doing their homework together when Roxiann went back to school to further her education. Travis said his favorite memories are “Roxiann coming to my games and cheering me on.” There’s no question that Roxiann broadened Travis’ horizons. “She took me places I had never been, we just enjoyed spending time together,” Travis stated.
When asked what Roxiann would tell others about being a Big, she told us, “I don’t think you can begin to tell someone the satisfaction and excitement they will feel as they watch their Little grow. I don’t think someone could have told me how much I would gain from the experience or how much I would enjoy it.”
Travis is now in his twenties, and although their match technically ended when he graduated high school, their friendship has never faded. Travis and Roxiann keep in touch through phone calls and Facebook, with Travis recently asking Roxiann to be listed as a family member on the site. Travis even joined Roxiann’s kickball team where together they play games weekly and have an undefeated team. “I want every Big to know that whatever they can give is so worthwhile. Your time is all a Little really needs.”
Big Sister Jean and Little Sister Xzavia have been matched in Chester County since 2010. “Xzavia has so much energy and is fun to be around,” said Big Sister Jean. The pair does a lot together, and their favorite activity is taking trips to the beach. A few summers ago, the match planned a car wash in their neighborhood to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA.
“I got the idea from my son’s tennis team who held a similar fundraiser,” Big Sister Jean told us. “I thought, ‘Wow, we can do this for Big Brothers Big Sisters so they can help more people like they’ve helped us.'” Together, Jean and Xzavia recruited family and friends to volunteer and organized a car wash in the parking lot of their local McDonald’s. During one weekend afternoon, they washed 25 cars and raised $350 in donations for our agency.
Big Sister Jean and Little Sister Xzavia agree that the best part of the experience was having fun and feeling good knowing they gave back to the community.
In the summer of 2011, an eight-year-old boy from Philadelphia named Christopher gained the attention of the local news as he continued to wait to be matched with a Big Brother. Christopher’s mother, Tira, wanted a mentor for her oldest son because he did not have a positive male influence in his life on a consistent basis and needed a reliable role model. Christopher’s story was highlighted on Fox 29 in order to raise awareness of our organization’s huge, ongoing need for mentors. We are happy to report, though, that we did find a wonderful Big Brother for Christopher and they have been successfully matched for four years.
Sheil and Christopher met in the fall of 2011 and immediately hit it off. Both Big Brother and Little Brother are laid back, have a great sense of humor and love to laugh. They’ve attended quite a few BBBS SEPA sponsored match activities including going to Dave & Buster’s, ice skating and the Annual Picnic, and also like to stay active by playing basketball or having a catch.
Big Brother Sheil really cares about his Little and says he and Christopher often talk about school together. The Little Brother has a goal to improve in reading and is already doing better in the subject. “It’s important he keeps up with school and improves where he needs to,” Sheil told us. “I hope he can be a good influence on his two younger brothers as well.”
Sheil says his experience as a mentor has been fun and rewarding. “I’m doing things I wouldn’t be doing otherwise. It’s a great experience and I can’t imagine there being better opportunities where you can focus on one person who you can help and form a relationship with. You get to see the person grow and help them in whatever way you can. That’s what makes it a really unique experience.”
Big Brother Rob and Little Brother Antonio were matched in Chester County in March 2009. From the beginning, the two have loved spending time together and have tried to make every moment a memorable one.
Over the holidays, the match gave back to the community in a fun and unique way. Little Brother Antonio and Big Brother Rob helped run a fundraiser at Antonio’s old elementary school. At the all-you-can-eat-breakfast fundraiser, Antonio dressed and acted as an elf, while Rob dressed up as Santa Claus. “The day was great overall. It was fun playing Santa and watching the children’s faces light up with excitement. I couldn’t have asked for a better elf,” said Rob.
“People say when Antonio smiles, he lights up the room,” his mother, Lisa, told us. “When he first met his Big Brother Rob, and even today when they are together, you can see that smile.”
Lisa believes Rob is a great role model for Antonio, and he has helped him gain much confidence in his life. Lisa said, “With his kindness and love, Rob has made such an impact on Antonio. We are blessed to have him as Antonio’s Big Brother.” Rob helps Antonio with his school work, attends many of Antonio’s sporting events and even taught Antonio how to ride a bike. Antonio hopes to one day become a Big Brother himself because of how much fun he and Rob have together, and he tells us he would like to share a relationship like that with a Little Brother.
Kenya signed up her daughter, Kaiya, for Big Brothers Big Sisters hoping to fill the void that was left from the absence of her father. For the past two years, Big Sister Maureen has done just that.
Kenya tells us the Big and Little have been a great match from the start. “They connected almost instantly. Kaiya and Maureen are very similar; it’s almost as if they are mirror images of one another! Both have similar interests in things such as painting, helping others, having fun, generating a plan and most importantly carrying the plan out.”
Another activity this mentoring match has explored together is baking. Little Sister Kaiya shared cookies baked from scratch with her Big Sister when they first met in 2011. Now, Kaiya has expanded on her love of baking and recently started her own cupcake business in which she sells decorated cupcakes for events to family and friends. Her business cards list her job as “Baketress & Diva.” Kaiya told us she feels this title is “age appropriate, yet sophisticated.”
Kaiya says her Big Sister Maureen is “amazing, easy to talk to, and supportive,” and shared that “Maureen is there for me when I need her, just like a real sister.” Kaiya values their relationship so much, she told us: “I would definitely become a Big. I hope that one day I can show the same support and respect that Maureen shows me to another kid.”
In 2011, Jeanette Turnier enrolled her grandchildren, Liam and Fallon, to be matched with a Big Brother and Big Sister. “I had heard good things about the organization,” Jeanette recalled. “Since both their mother and father were out of their lives and I’m disabled, I felt Liam and Fallon each needed a role model… someone to spend time with, do activities with and look up to.” A few months later, Little Brother Liam met Big Brother Dan, and Little Sister Fallon met Big Sister Leslie.
Dan and Liam have attended plenty of BBBS SEPA-sponsored Match Activities, and often work on homework together. Most notably, Big Brother Dan helped Little Brother Liam with his science project last year. “The question was, ‘How greasy are your favorite snacks?’ Liam won first prize! I framed the photos of them and Liam’s blue ribbon, and it’s hanging on my wall,” gushed Jeanette. After such a success, Dan planned to help Liam with his next project, which would determine what household objects form the best crystals.
Katherine Scholle, who manages both mentoring relationships, reported that both Littles are excelling in school. “Both Liam and Fallon have improved in their academics since meeting their Bigs. Fallon recently won the Student of the Month Award at her school.” Big Sister Leslie and nine-year-old Little Sister Fallon have a lot in common, as they both enjoy scrapbooking and being crafty. Once, they even made a dress together. Their standout outing, however, was the Justin Bieber concert Leslie surprised Fallon with for her birthday last year. “Fallon almost fainted!” her grandmother told us. Jeanette reported seeing positive changes in both of her grandchildren since they met their Bigs. “Liam is more mature and well-behaved, and Fallon is always looking forward to her visits with Leslie.”
Big Brother Tony and Little Brother Jahmir were matched in our Community- Based mentoring program. With no father figure in his life, Jahmir’s mom, Marla, wanted her son to have a positive male role model.
At the start of their match, 12-year-old Jahmir was going to summer school for math, but really wanted to focus on his basketball skills with his Big Brother. Through communication with Marla, Tony learned about target areas for improvement with his Little and made an effort to remind Jahmir why making school a top priority is important. “Jahmir was always a good student, but as he got older, he wasn’t doing quite as well. Tony will ask him how he’s doing and keep up with his progress in school, which helps both his grades and attitude,” said Jahmir’s mother, Marla.
The match made a deal in which they would work on math a little bit before they played basketball during their visits. This way, they would get to have fun while still allowing time for schoolwork. One day, Tony went to pick up his Little for an outing and Jahmir proudly answered the door holding a Student of the Month certificate. Jahmir’s teacher had recognized his improvement in math and good behavior and rewarded him for such great progress.
The icing on the cake came that afternoon, when the two went to play basketball at their usual spot near Tony’s house, and some kids approached them and asked if they could play with them. It was then that Tony and Jahmir noticed that they were members of the championship Taney Dragons baseball team! Jahmir had a huge smile on his face all day. They even got a photo of Jahmir and the team together.
A big thank you to our dedicated volunteer mentors, like Tony, for setting children on the path to bright futures.
Whitney and Anayah have been matched since September 2012. The duo recently had the honor of being one of five matches to walk the runway in BBBS SEPA’s annual Fashion for a Cause event!
Anayah, a 5th grade at Imani Charter School in Philadelphia, loves math and is a member of her school’s National Honor Society. Together, this Big and Little like to bowl, go to the zoo and the movies, and explore Philadelphia. They also both love to eat, and can often found cooking together or going to the Olive Garden.
Whitney describes Little Sister Anayah as sweet, smart, and always smiling. They talk about everything: school, homework, friends, family, hobbies and passions, and their plans for the future. In the fall of 2014, the match celebrated their two year match anniversary and Whitney said that they met, her Little Sister transformed from a little girl to a young woman whom she now considers one of her best friends.
Anayah’s mom says Big Sister Whitney has had a huge impact on her daughter’s social life and self-esteem. Little Sister Anayah was once nervous to meet people, but has made great strides. The best part? The relationship is mutually beneficial: Whitney says that she loves getting Anayah’s advice and perspective on things because she sees the world in the most positive way and helps her remain optimistic.
TEAM Vanguard Powered by Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA is a unique mentoring program in which Vanguard employees serve as mentors to 48 eleventh and twelfth grade students at Mariana Bracetti Academy (MBA). April, a Vanguard employee for 24 years, met her Little Sister Brianna in February 2013, and they have both been greatly impacted by the program.
After seeing each other regularly for a while, April and Brianna then “enhanced” their mentoring match, meaning they can now meet outside of the program. Sharing new experiences is one of April’s favorite things, and she took Brianna to her first Phillies and Eagles games last summer. The mentor commented that seeing Brianna’s face light up was a reminder to not take things for granted and to cherish each experience she has with her mentee.
April started a scrapbook for Brianna on the day they met that she is using to recap everything they do together during Brianna’s four years of high school. It covers everything from Christmas Eve with Brianna’s family to her 16th birthday party, and will also include her first driving experiences, proms and graduation. “This is something that I believe will be priceless, and she will look back and remember all of the good times we had, and will continue to have, after her senior year. Brianna is really a special person in my life and truly completes me,” said April.
Before being matched, April described herself as introverted, not liking to draw attention to herself. Now, she instead reports a surge of confidence and says Brianna helped her “find her voice.” During the program’s second annual Poetry Slam last spring, April shared with a group of 100 people what Brianna means to her. An excerpt of her poem is below:
“It is a way to be there for someone who, without this program, I would have never met in my life. It is a two way communication between me and another person who share common interests/goals/aspirations in life. When I found out that I was selected for this program, I was so overjoyed and really felt that I could make a difference in someone’s life. I never realized that the person’s life that I was going to impact (Brianna) would have such a profound impact on my life as well. This program really makes me feel like my life is now complete. It is a very humbling experience to share your life with another person through this program.
Brianna is a great Little Sister and she and I were perfectly matched – you couldn’t ask for a better fit. It’s as if it was meant to be and believe me – that is exactly how I feel.
This program has changed my life for the better. I really feel that Brianna and I will be a part of each other’s lives for the rest of our lives. I don’t even know how to write poetry; however, I hope that I conveyed my feelings about Brianna because I NEVER want her to forget what a great person she is and how proud of her I am and to always do her best and keep being positive (the rest will happen).”