Celebrating National Volunteer Week!

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest celebrates its amazing volunteers year round, but this week it’s giving a little extra love to the hundreds of community, site-based, and corporate volunteers that change the lives of children all across Massachusetts for the better.

Without its volunteers, BBBS of CM/MW would not be able to provide mentoring programs that improve children’s odds for succeeding in school, behaving nonviolently, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and breaking negative cycles.

So thank you, we would not be here without you!

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“BBBSCM can offer a consistent and positive presence in these children’s lives,” Says Avidia Bank CFO Margaret Sullivan

Little Sisters from Maynard.

Little Sisters from Maynard.

When Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest (BBBS of CM/MW) was contacted in the Fall of 2013 by Avidia Bank, the agency was immediately excited about the opportunity to partner with them. Avidia Bank, a well-established, mutual community bank with offices all over Central  Massachusetts and Metrowest, wanted to get involved but wasn’t quite sure how. After meeting with BBBS of CM/MW Chief Executive Officer Jeff Chin to hear more about the agency’s mission and various mentoring programs, Avidia Bank and BBBS of CM/MW began the new year with a partnership of six volunteer staff members from the bank to be matched with local at-risk children who would be their mentees (“Littles”).

Now several months in to this new partnership, Program Supervisor Amber Haskett continues to be blown away by Avidia Bank’s devotion to the partnership. “These volunteers not only show up each week with a snack for the kids, but they also bring something for them to do with their Littles,” she remarks. “We do not ask our volunteers to do this, but they do it anyway. …These volunteers have gone above and beyond…!”

Perhaps Avidia Bank’s dedication originates from their belief in the power of mentoring and their own personal connections to the cause.

The work of BBBS of CM/MW struck a chord with Tammy Robidas, Marketing Coordinator for Avidia Bank. She describes her own turbulent childhood…one all too familiar for many of our Littles:

“I enjoy being a Big Sister because as a child I did not have sisters and also no mother. This left me with a bit of feeling insecure and extremely shy as a child. …It was difficult at times.” So Tammy thought, “What better way to deal with it than to be a role model for a Little Sister. …I believe a positive role model in a child’s young life is extremely important for a good base to become a successful adult.”

Avidia Bank Big Tammy and her Little, Jessie at the holiday party.

Avidia Bank Big Tammy and her Little, Jessie, at the holiday party.

Over the course of the partnership, Avidia Bank volunteers have consistently provided their Littles with fun, engaging activities. They’ve held a holiday party that included Santa Claus, desserts, and gifts, and they meet weekly with the Littles to play board games, do arts and crafts, share lunch, help with homework, and “chat about [their] lives.” Tina Ramsey, Commercial Relationship Officer, even mentions going to the movies and attending church with her Little. “I enjoy being a Big and look forward to spending time with my little. I feel mentoring is important because a mentor is a role model for a child and…I’ve learned that I can be a positive influence on my Little,” she says.

Big CFO Margaret and Little Paige.

Avidia Bank CFO Margaret and her Little.

Speaking of positive influence, BBBS of CM/MW prides itself on the mutual positive effect it has on both Bigs and Littles alike, and the volunteers at Avidia Bank have experienced this first hand. Chief Financial Officer Margaret Sullivan says, “I’ve discovered that I like being involved in the molding of a child, i.e. being a friend and helping them discover themselves. …My involvement with BBBS of CM/MW has made me more appreciative of what I had, what I have and what is yet to come.” Sullivan also notices changes in her Little, who she says is now more social with others and more extroverted.

The partnership between Avidia Bank and BBBS of CM/MW exemplifies our mission which is “to enhance the quality of life of children through professionally supported mentoring relationships with responsible and caring volunteers.” We cannot wait to watch these matches continue to grow and develop, and hope that other community corporations may choose to follow in the footsteps of Avidia Bank!

“Soaring Through my First Weeks”, a blog post by Katie Roy, Interview Match Specialist

Katie Roy, Interview Match Specialist

Katie Roy

I am in my second week of employment with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I was hired as an interview match specialist and am very happy to be here. Direct service is new to me, something I have been mutually apprehensive and excited about. My first week and a half have been great. The staff has been very welcoming and all too willing to answer any questions. Between finding my way to my meeting sites, learning where to find things on our network server, and not forgetting to hang my parking pass from my rear view mirror, I had considered my first week a success. Then something happened­­. I went to visit one of my meeting sites today on lunch break to meet up with a match. I had introduced myself to the Big and was waiting for the Little to come through the lunch line. When I turned around there was a boy about nine years old with arms wide open ready to give me a hug. I recognized him from my first day at this particular program (just last week). He remembered me and had come to say hi. He also told the Little I was planning to meet with that day that I was a lot of fun. Now that is success! I had made enough of an impression for this kid to remember me and want to come over and say hi. I suppose it was sort of a direct service milestone.

Big brother and Little brother

Big brother and Little brother share smiles.

As I soared out of the building on my milestone high I got to thinking. I understand that relationships with kids don’t formulate overnight. They need time to develop trust and with most kids you have to prove yourself. Admittedly, in my first encounter with this child I was a little shy and feeling slightly overwhelmed by all I was learning in my first week. What could I have possibly done that would have any sort of impression on this kid, never mind a positive one? And then it dawned on me; I came back. It’s jarring to think about the number of kids in our community dealing with loss, broken promises, and adults who said they would come back but didn’t. I am beginning to realize that one of the best things a mentoring program like ours has to offer is the mere presence of a reliable adult who cares enough to keep coming back. That paired with the idea that this person shares some of the same interests and they get to do fun things with them has to be pretty great for the Big and the Little alike.

Big sisters and Little Sisters

Big and Little sisters bond at frequent events.

Mentors can offer something in the life of a child the way that parents and teachers can’t exactly hit on. Kids either know their parents are there for them unconditionally (because they are) or that they aren’t (sadly because they aren’t). Although teachers can run the gamut as to the extent they are involved in a child’s life, ultimately kids—especially kids with low self-esteem—are more likely to believe their teacher’s involvement with them is obligatory; essentially it’s their job. A mentor is someone in a child’s life who doesn’t get anything for the time they spend with the child. The only true reward for the mentor is helping the child succeed.

For many of the kids we serve, spending time with a college student or professional exposes them to a different sort of norm. Perhaps it gives them a different perspective on the goals that are possible for them to attain and exposure to something different than life has shown them thus far. I was surprised by the number of people who shared with me after I was hired here that they too had a Big when they were younger. Some of them still keep in touch twenty years later. The bond that can be created when involved with this program is something that has the potential to last a lifetime. I think most people have a concept of what we do here at Big Brothers Big Sisters. We can provide statistical evidence proving that the work we do here is good, children do better socially and academically as a result of participating. For me, all the proof I need exists in the smiles of our kids when they see their Big for the first time in a week. I have much to learn as I make my way in this new position but I am honored and proud to be here. 

Holiday Message from Jeff at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest

Friends and Supporters of BBBS of CM/MW,

I want to offer my warmest holiday greetings to you all. I am fast approaching my one year anniversary here at BBBS of Central Mass/Metrowest, and I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your tremendous support and dedication to our mission. I am so grateful for this opportunity to be part of this organization, as well as a national network that helps thousands of children, volunteers, and communities across our country.

As we all reflect on a number of important memories from this past year, as well as engage in hopeful aspirations with the New Year approaching, the one thing I find myself consistently focusing on during this time of year is the core and essence of our organization’s wonderful mission: the support and empowerment of both our Bigs and Littles as they take a meaningful journey together through life’s many highs & lows.

I am convinced that there is no more noble and worthwhile cause than helping a young person in need through mentoring…or helping a volunteer find a meaningful way to give him/herself to make a positive impact on someone’s else life. The profound joys that come with mentoring are magnified and amplified during the holidays, as we all take a moment or two to appreciate one of life’s essentials for success: having a caring, supportive, and reliable person in your life. Our mentors know this in a BIG way, and our Littles are so much the better for it.

The spirit of the holidays often mirror the nature of what we do all year in mentoring — we try to bring out the best in people…both Little and Big alike. Young people, like the holidays, are often full of pleasant surprises, especially when given the opportunity to show who they really are (see the recent ad that Apple is running to experience an example of this).

Thank you ALL for helping us bring out the best in people, young and old alike, Big or Little. Cheers to a wonderful new year, hopefully filled with even more pleasant surprises!

With appreciation,

Jeff

Chief Executive Officer

BBBS of Central Mass/Metrowest

“WHEN ONE PERSON MENTORS, TWO LIVES ARE CHANGED”, an essay by Gail T., Big Sister

Fifty-seven years old, unhappily married, three grown daughters with families of their own, just laid off from my full-time job–that was my life in 2007.  Something was missing in my empty-nest.  My girlfriend suggested I become a mentor, so on January 12, 2008, I went to an informational night at the YWCA to learn more about the mentoring program[1] and meet some of the 13 and 14-year-old girls who were looking to be matched with mentors.

Across the table from me sat a beautiful strawberry-blonde haired girl with freckles who was very quiet.  After introductions and making collages about our future dreams, I immediately knew Shyanna Rose would be a perfect match for me because of her interest in art, fashion design, and birds.  After completing the application process and background check, I met with Shyanna and her grandmother and a mutual decision was made for us to be a “match.”  Little did I know then how Shyanna would be such an inspiration to me.

Gail and Shyanna for blog DEC52013Shyanna has undergone more obstacles in her young life than any other teenager I have known.  She was born on New Years Day in 1995 and is currently eighteen years of age.  Guardianship over Shyanna was legally granted to her grandmother when Shyanna was eight years old.  Shyanna lived with her grandmother, but still saw her mother, as well as her three half-brothers and half-sister.  Shyanna’s father is a Level III sex-offender who is not involved in Shyanna’s life.  When Shyanna was ten years old, her cousin whom she was very close with was killed in a hunting accident.  A year after that, her mother was found dead beside a railroad track.  She had been raped by multiple men and brutally beaten with a rock until she succumbed to her death.  A man was arrested and convicted of her murder shortly thereafter, however, it was later determined by DNA evidence after he spent two years in jail that he was the wrong person.  After he was released from jail, a televised broadcast was held in which members of the family, including Shyanna, were interviewed with a nationwide plea to find her mother’s murderer.  New information developed which led the police to arrest a new man.  This past spring, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated rape.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  Throughout this time period, I stayed in the background, watched Shyanna, and marveled at the courage and strength she portrayed throughout this traumatic period in her life.

If that was not enough for a young girl to endure, in July of 2010, Shyanna went into her grandmother’s bedroom to find her lying dead on the floor having suffered a heart attack.  Shortly thereafter, Shyanna’s aunt volunteered to have Shyanna live with her and her husband, and she was awarded legal guardianship over her.  So, Shyanna was again uprooted from her home in the city where she was free to walk to school, the library, the Y.W.C.A., and her girlfriend’s house, to live in a rural town thirty-five minutes away.  Her aunt and uncle have no children, so Shyanna had one month to adjust to life in the country, as well as going to a new high school for the first time where she did not know any other students.   Having attention deficit disorder, Shyanna has to work extra hard in school to maintain good grades.  She always tries her best.

Despite all the hardships Shyanna has been through, we have enjoyed so many good times together.  We have had overnight trips to my trailer at the beach where we have enjoyed campfires, walks on the beach, swimming, shell picking, playing Scrabble, feeding the birds and squirrels and doing crafts together.  Throughout the years and thanks to the mentoring program, we have seen Cirque de Soleil, A Christmas Carol, the Nutcracker, Ice Capades, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  She has done face-painting with me at my Church bazaar.  We have talked about her first boyfriend, her fears of learning to drive a car, and the advantages and disadvantages of her new life in the country.  Shyanna loves to read and encouraged me against my wishes to read about vampires in the “Twilight” series, as well as the post-apocalyptic world of Katniss in the “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.”  Naturally, we had to see the movies once we finished the books, as well as trying our hand at archery.  Our bond has grown from polite acquaintances to hugs and kisses as we depart from our visits with each other.  I am proud to say that Shyanna does not drink, smoke, or use drugs.  She is polite and so appreciative of the things we have done together, always saying thank you at the end of a visit.

Shyanna is absolutely the most resilient person I know…in order to help others recognize this, I applied for a $5,000 educational scholarship on behalf of Shyanna which is awarded every year from the Mass Mentoring Partnership Program and was so excited when she was chosen as one of the recipients.  Five minutes before Shyanna and I were ready to give our appreciation speeches to the crowd in the Red Sox VIP lounge in Boston, we learned that the Kelly family (who help sponsor this scholarship) decided to increase their award to $20,000. We both hugged each other and cried.  This award has made such a difference Gail and Shyanna at MMP eventin Shyanna’s life.  She was able to buy a laptop and printer, as well as travel with her classmates to England, Ireland and France, an opportunity I could never have afforded for her.

Fast forward to the present–Shyanna and I traveled to Providence, RI this past summer to visit the campuses at Johnson & WalesUniversity.  The excitement filled her veins when we visited the harbor campus on the coast of Narragansett Bay.  Presently, we await and hope Shyanna’s wish for early admission into the Culinary Arts Program will be granted.

Shyanna and I have derived so much from our relationship with each other, namely, companionship, comfort, similar interests, and a hug when we really need one from each other.  I am forty-three years older than Shyanna and am like a mother and grandmother to her.  Shyanna has come to gatherings with my family and always has a smile on and reminds me to appreciate the wonderful family I have.  She has urged me to look forward to a better future after going through a divorce, loss of my home, and the death of my mother who is buried in the same cemetery fifteen feet away from her mother.  When I think about how much I miss my mom who died at 88-years-old and my dad who died at 69-years-old, I can’t help but think of Shyanna and rejoice at how fortunate I was to have had the love and support of my parents for so many years.

When Shyanna Rose was born, her mother chose a beautiful Native American name for her which means “desert sun.”  She must have known that Shyanna would experience bleak and barren times in her life, but like the sun, her inner radiance, warmth and light would allow her to persevere. Her middle name, Rose, symbolizes happiness and love; both feelings I have been blessed with since the day this young girl entered my life.


[1]  Girls C.H.O.I.C.E (Choosing Hope, Opportunities, and Independence through Careers and Education) is an innovative program between Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Massachusetts and the Y.W.C.A. — its goal is to help at-risk girls get into college, work toward their aspirations, and become self-assured, healthy and financially independent young women.

Hanover Littles “Had Their Team’s Back” at the 2013 Rodman Ride for Kids!

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With the first names of all of Hanover Insurance’s Little Brothers and Sisters sported on the back of their bike shirts, Team Hanover riders took off from the starting line of the 2013 Rodman Ride for Kids – in support of BBBS of Central Mass/Metrowest.  Most rode the 25 or 50 mile course.  One - who had rarely cycled before – tackled the 100 mile route.  This is just one example of how the team, led by Hanover VP Dan Mastrototaro, worked creatively and collaboratively to foster team spirit and raise funds for our agency!
Their efforts started long before September 28 – the day of the 23rd Rodman Ride for Kids.  Prior to the event, members of  Team Hanover raised funds by selling concert and sports tickets that had been donated to the cause.  They organized informational sessions to recruit riders, held pre-event team-building gatherings, and garnered promotional and sponsorship support from The Hanover Insurance Group.  Hanover employees who wanted to help – but were not cyclists – raised funds as “virtual riders” or volunteered on the day of the event.
Their efforts paid off!  Team Hanover was able to more than triple the funds they raised versus last year.  We applaud you and thank you for your support!

We need your help as we put together our 50th Anniversary Celebration Video!

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For The Golden Gala, Big Brothers Big Sisters will be putting together a video in celebration of our accomplishments over the last five decades. We would love if you would consider being a part of our video! Below are a few sample questions that we would enjoy hearing your answers to … you can video record your answers (15-20 seconds per answer is suggested), upload your video to youtube, and then send the link to Justina Lachapelle at justina.lachapelle@bbbscm.org. If you are unable to upload videos onto youtube, you can send your clip directly to Justina via e-mail.

Some questions to consider (you can choose to answer one question or all of them):

• What made you decide to become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest?

• How has your life changed as a result of your connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest?

• Why would you recommend that someone (Big, Little, Donor, etc.) become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest?

Be sure to identity yourself and let us know when you were involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters and in what capacity. We thank you for your assistance with this project in advance!

And don’t forget, Tickets Are ON SALE NOW!

To purchase tickets please visit:
http://bbbsgoldengala.kintera.org