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).”
Once a year, our Match Activities Committee mails packages of congratulatory letters and books to Littles graduating from elementary school, middle school and high school. Little Sister Keisha recently graduated from high school and departed from our program after five years of mentoring. She emailed the agency this note of thanks after receiving her package in the mail. We are thrilled to report that Keisha was accepted to Neumann University and began the fall following her graduation. An excerpt from her letter is below.
Dear Big Brothers Big Sisters,
Thank you so much for making this experience with the program and [my Big Sister] Kelly so much fun. My story with Kelly, from the 7th grade to graduating high school, was a miracle. I had so much fun with her and she made me realize there is more than just being in the house and being on the computer. I found my true self in the world and that I was able to know myself better each day of the week. I was able to talk to Kelly about things I wasn’t sure of, I was worried or scared about, etc., and she would give me great advice. She would take me to amazing places that had a lesson with it, and I was always ready to learn something new. Kelly was the best Big Sister and I wouldn’t change that.
Graduating high school was one of the greatest milestones in my life and my next one is completing college. Thank you so much for the book, Letters to a Young Sister, by Hill Harper. I will keep it and read it forever. I am glad you guys are proud of me for my accomplishments, and I am proud of them, too.
Big Brother Mike and Little Brother Christian were matched in our program back in 1998, just before Christian’s 13th birthday. Now, almost two decades later, the pair remains close and gets together as often as their schedules allow throughout the year.
Recently, the now grown-up former Little sent his Big Brother an email to express his gratitude and tell him about the difference he made in his life. Big Brother Mike was so moved, he contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters to share their story, in hopes of inspiring others to volunteer.
Here are some highlights from Christian’s recent email to his former Big Brother:
“Mike, I mentioned to you before how much I appreciate you, but that was really an understatement. I don’t think you fully understood the circumstances about my joining Big Brothers Big Sisters. At the time, my dad was suffering from alcoholism and had a pretty bad falling out with my grandmother. She decided to not have me see him for some time after that. That’s where you came in. My grandmother thought it would be a good idea to have a positive male figure in my life. She found out about the organization and signed me up.
I remember the day I met you, Mike. I remember when you walked in, and I remember one of the first outings we did together. You took me to a Phantoms game. It was the first time I had been to hockey game. I was so excited just to be there. Heck, I can even remember what you bought me. That little gesture has stuck with me all this time. That was the first time anyone had done anything like that with me, and I appreciate you so much for that.
I’m bringing this all up because I just wanted to formally say thank you, Mike. You broke me out of that shell I had been living in. You helped me experience things I probably never would have, had I not met you. The museums, galleries, sporting events, and more importantly, the time you spent with me. That was what I needed at that time in my life. Through the time my dad was in the process of fixing himself, and reintroducing him back into my life, you were always there. You helped me escape the troubles of my life that were plaguing me at the time.
I would like to, again, say thank you for always being the person you have been to me – a guide, a teacher and now a friend. I have now made it to a point in my life I never thought would have been possible.
Big Brother Jeff and Little Brother Joe are a Philadelphia match who met in October 2011. They have grown close over the years and are now very good friends.
Thanks to the support of his Big Brother and hard work, Little Brother Joe was ecstatic to one day receive the news that he had been accepted into Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia. Breakthrough is a tuition-free academic enrichment program focused on developing students’ skills in order for them to be successful in the best of high schools and prepare for entry into college. Held at Drexel University, the program starts in the summer after sixth grade and continues until the end of high school, with a full week in the summer and one day a week after school during the school year.
Big Brother Jeff explained, “Joe was selected by his teachers and guidance counselors at his school. He was the first student to be selected in a few years. Joe had to complete an application consisting of about 20 essay questions. Based on the application, he was chosen for an interview, and he was accepted! The class sizes are only five to 10 people, so it’s very competitive, and this is huge news for him. It will really allow Joe to find a path to his potential.”
Big Brother Jeff helped Joe prepare for every step of the process, and even went as far as to lend Joe his dress shoes to wear to the interview! We are grateful for all of our Bigs, like Jeff, who make it a priority to be a champion for their Littles and help set them on the road to success.
Big Brother Michael and Little Brother Tylik are an alumni match that met through our College Bigs program at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2013, the pair was interviewed about their match, and they explained just how much the program meant to them.
At the time, Tylik was a sixth grader at a school in West Philadelphia and, according to his Big, “[had] always been a good kid, trying to make it in an environment that is not always conducive to learning or to progress.” Michael was a Penn senior with a full course load but always was sure to make time for his Little Brother. The pair even stayed close despite a semester spent in different countries. Michael studied abroad for months but still made it a priority to stay in touch during his travels, mailing Tylik postcards regularly. Once Michael returned, the match continued meeting each other at least twice a month. Gabrielle Bailey, their Match Support Specialist, stated, “Michael has been very dedicated to his Little, despite a very busy schedule as a college student, and has helped his Little develop and make good decisions.”
Before Michael and Tylik met, it wasn’t uncommon for Tylik to get into arguments on the playground or with his siblings but now, Tylik walks away from fights and encourages others not to get involved. Tylik says he would be “very lonely if Michael weren’t his Big Brother” and that Michael has helped him with homework and soccer tricks.