Designing Dreams: Barbara and Mali

The Big Brother-Big Sister of South Middlesex, Inc.(now part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest) matched Mali McKinney and me, Barbara Callan-Bogia, on June 12, 1998. I was married, had my own a management consultant business and wanted to help make a difference in a young girl’s life, if possible.

Mali and Barb in 2000 visiting Jordan’s Furniture where we had a photo booth picture taken of us.

Mali and Barb in 2000 visiting Jordan’s Furniture where we had a photo booth picture taken of us.

Mali was just 8 years old. Our first year together was one of getting to know each other as we went to the movies, museums, baked cookies, went on picnics, etc.

Mali and I focused on reading chapter books and the next year Mali was the most improved reader in her class. After reading “Little Women” we then visited Louisa May Alcott’s’ house.

All of us have been told that matches of Big’s and Little’s usually last only a year, maybe two. It’s been an amazing adventure for Mali and me that continues to this day, 16 years later!

Through the years, Mali became a restaurant critic rating the restaurant on their friendliness of staff, quality of food, and bathroom cleanliness. Her ratings were tough from an A+ to an F!
In high school during Mali’s freshman year winter vacation in April 2005, I offered to take a day off and we would go anyplace she’d like to go for the day. To my amazement, Mali asked if we could go to college for the day, as she wanted to see what it was like. Even as a freshman in high school Mali wanted to go to college for fashion design even though her friends made fun of her as they could not understand why she would want to go to college.

I was lucky when I called the Consumer Science Chair, Dr. Luoto, at Framingham State College and explained who I was and what my “Little Sister” wanted to do. Well, Dr. Luoto and her assistant Alex were terrific! They set Mali and me up with a half-day of activities. They were very impressed that a 9th grader was already thinking ahead to college. We attended a class, were given a private tour of the fashion collection, talked with students, and then had a very good talk with Dr. Irene Foster who was the Assistant Professor of Clothing and Textiles at the time.
When Mali was 16, she asked me what would happen when she turned 18, as she would then transition out of the Big Brother – Big Sister program. My response was, “What do you want to have happen?” Her answer was that she didn’t want us to stop hanging out together and stop being friends. I said, “Great, because I don’t want to stop either, so we won’t.”
Mali did well in high school and started working when she was 16. She has worked at David’s Bridal for over six years now.

Barbies 60th_38My work changed and I moved to Boynton Beach, FL in 2006 which was very upsetting to Mali and me. We all know how distance can break the bonds that tie you. I was determined that Mali and I would stay close despite the move. So, guess what destination Mali had her first airplane ride to all by herself? You bet she flew down to visit with me and my husband. She’s been back to see our new home and learn more about Florida.

Mali was accepted to several colleges; however, since she did not receive enough financial aid she attended Middlesex Community College for two years and then transferred to Framingham State.

Paris Dress

Mali’s designer dress on display at Natick Mall.

While at Framingham State University (from which she will soon graduate), Mali applied to attend the Paris American Academy in Paris, France for a month-long intensive Couture Techniques Workshop. With help from her Big Sister and friends, Mali was off to Paris in July 2012! She thoroughly enjoyed her time there and learned to make a designer dress, hats and more. She also worked behind the scenes helping models for the Paris Women’s Fashion Week! How cool is that?

Fast-forward to May 18, 2014…..Mali McKinney will fulfill her long-awaited dream and graduate from college. She will be receiving a Bachelors Degree in Fashion Design. And, if can you believe this, Dr. Foster was Mali’s Professor for one of her classes this last semester.

When I tell people something about Mali, they often say what a great thing I have done. Actually, I believe it’s the other way around. Mali has given so much love, laughter and knowledge to me that I would never had experienced if it were not for her. Thank you so much, Miss Mali! I can’t wait to see what the next 16 years hold for you and me.

mali and barb-graduation

Match Highlight: Allen and Brian (+Tom and Peter)

Allen is a lucky Little Brother. He not only has his official Big Brother, Brian, but Brian’s sons Tom and Peter to serve as mentors as well. Peter was formerly Allen’s Big, but when a job opportunity sent him to Los Angeles, Brian, who had gotten to Allen quite well, decided to step up and serve as his mentor. Peter had taught Allen to ride a bike and they enjoyed much time together playing basketball and football. The two still speak on the phone weekly and when Peter came to visit his family for the Fourth of July he made sure to bring a t-shirt back from LA for Allen.

Brian, Tom, AllenToday Allen spends most of his time with Brian and his son Tom. As stated by Brian the three, “do almost everything together”. They regularly go fishing, Allen’s favorite activity, and they are still involved in many sports. For Allen’s birthday Brian, Peter, and Tom split the cost of swimming lessons for Allen, and the group attended a sports camp so that Allen, a promising athlete, could be exposed to a variety of sports. They have also taken it one step further by joining a gym together. Allen is paying the $10 gym membership himself, the money for which he earns by mowing Brian’s lawn throughout the summer. The group not only has a talent for sports, however. They have also cooked some delicious meals for Allen’s mother, Laura, ranging from pies at Thanksgiving to chicken parm on Mother’s Day. There’s no doubt this is a wonderful match. On a recent drive Allen asked Brian, “If Peter comes home can he still hang out with you and Tom,” to which Brian responded, “of course (;) you have three Big Brothers”!

Pet Photo Frenzy!


Throughout the month of July we want your favorite photos of you and your pets! At the end of the month we will have a drawing for all who participate in which we will give away 2 gift baskets (1 to a dog owner, 1 to a cat owner) each worth nearly $100 to be shared with your furry friends! There are many ways to gain entries! Here’s how:

  • 3 entries: for a photo of your match (both Big and Little) with your pet (post it on our Facebook page (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest) and use the hashtag #bbbscmpetphotofrenzy, Tweet it at us (@bbbs_cmmw) with the hashtag #bbbscmpetphotofrenzy, and/or email it to
  • 2 entries: for a photo you and your pet (on Facebook, Twitter, and/or email as listed above
  • 1 entry: For each “Like” and/or “Share” you receive on a pet photo you’ve posted to our Facebook page as well as each time someone “favorites” or “retweets” your photo on Twitter

We can’t wait to see your funny, crazy, and adorable pet photos and look forward to giving away our awesome gift baskets to two lucky winners!

dog basket cat basket


Quality Award Recipients!


Quality Award Recipients!

We are honored to have been one of just a handful of agencies nationwide to receive the Quality Award at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America conference last week. Thank you to all of our volunteers, partners, and donors for making this award possible!

A Match with Two Role Models, an Essay by Bethanne Bartscherer


Bethanne, Holy Cross student and Big Sister

I decided to join Big Brothers Big Sisters for the simple reason that I grew up as an only child who always wanted a sibling. As I started volunteering once a week for Big Brothers Big Sisters at a site called Girl’s Inc.*, Brianna (my Little Sister) and I studied fractions and nail painting, computer games and chapter books. At first, volunteering as a Big was exactly what I had anticipated: Brianna and I got along right away, and I believed that I was making some difference in her life. We shared a love of science, a similar sense of humor, and Brianna reminded me of myself at her age. Over time, I began to understand that I might have gotten as much out of the experience as Brianna, and visiting my Little each Thursday afternoon soon became a highlight of my week. Over the summer, Brianna and I exchanged emails and letters, and while I missed seeing her in person each week, receiving mail from Brianna made every day a bit brighter. Nevertheless, it was not until my first Field Day, during which all Littles spend an afternoon at my college, Holy Cross, with their older siblings, that I fully understood the impact of the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. I will never forget Brianna’s wide-eyed look of awe as she asked where the science experiments happened and rushed into the main library. For the first time, I saw the beautiful architecture that I hurry past each morning and the seemingly limitless opportunities at Holy Cross through Brianna’s eyes. As her face lit up, and Brianna exclaimed, “This is where I want to go college” I understood my own potential in impacting Brianna’s life. While I had known that helping Brianna with homework was important, as her hearing-impaired single mother often was not able to help her, it was during Field Day that I realized how Brianna’s future success is intricately tied to her role models and education today.

holding hands 1After working with Brianna for a few years, I have come to appreciate why Big Brothers, Big Sisters is such a popular and successful program. Brianna just celebrated her tenth birthday, and it has been such a wonderful experience being her Big Sister for the past three years. From the beginning, it has been evident how vital Brianna’s education is for her success, and how my own role in encouraging her to work hard in school can have lasting impacts. However, Brianna has had a tremendous impact on my own education as well. As an aspiring physician, I came into college with the expectation that these four years would simply be a stepping-stone of science classes before medical school. Thankfully, my time with Brianna has allowed me to see college as four fleeting years of opportunity to have incredible experiences and meet wonderful people. Each hour that I spend helping Brianna with long division or exchanging friendship bracelets reminds me that I can no longer view social justice issues abstractly. Volunteering as a Big has made me not only want to come back each week, but also do more to address the causes of the inequality I see. I hope that in the future I am able to not only volunteer my time, but also become a part of feasible solutions to issues such as poverty. These lessons have fundamentally changed my education, and I feel so privileged to have learned them while swapping stories and jokes with my little sister Brianna. In this way, I have been a positive role model for Brianna, but she has also been an influential role model for me.

*Each week Holy Cross students such as Bethanne volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters at many different site-based programs including Girls Inc. This is set up through Holy Cross’ SPUD (Student Programs for Urban Development) Program which works to create a positive change in the community that the College calls home.

Pinterest Here We Come!

ImageLooking for some new activities to do with your Little? We’re here to help! Just yesterday we launched a page on Pinterest. Every day we’ll be posting new ideas for crafts, games, recipes, and more that you can do with your Little! Get in on the fun at


BIG Lessons to Learn, a blog post by Amanda Williams, Intern and Former Big


Amanda, BBBS Intern and Former Big Sister

As a college student my obvious priority is to learn – and of course have a bit of fun while doing it. However, as I sit here about to enter into my senior year I have to come to realize that what I have learned in the classroom is important but never enough on its own to truly say I have been fully educated. Late nights spent in the library, questions asked in class, and books read and highlighted from cover to cover are not what constitutes an education, despite how important they are. Rather it is what can be learned from people alongside this information that transforms the knowledge written on the pages of a book into a true learning experience. Learning is a lifelong process and nowhere is this truer than in embracing what each of us can learn from others. Becoming a Big Sister has allowed me to elevate my education in this way.

When I met my Little Sister I did not know what to expect. Would she be shy at first and timid? Would she immediately warm up to me? I was not sure. Turns out, it was most definitely the latter. As soon as the doors opened there were excited arms wrapped around me.

Amanda and Tanisha Marie

2011 Selfie with my Little

Despite my incredibly enthusiastic Little’s seemingly outgoing demeanor, however, I soon came to realize that inside she was not quite as confident as I initially assumed. She loved to sing and dance. She even told me that she wanted to become a dancer as an adult. The one problem, though, was that despite her talents she would only sing or dance in front of me. Week after week she would entertain me with whatever her favorite song of the day was and I would encourage her to sing for others as well. As soon as anyone else came too close, though, she would immediately stop her show. One day her friends climbed up on stage to begin a performance they had been working on after school for the past few days. I expected that my Little would watch her friends and maybe even sing along, but what I saw instead was amazing. She stepped up on stage and sang and danced with her friends without a care in the world who saw. It was a huge victory for her and a small one for me knowing that all of my encouragement in the past weeks had finally given her the confidence to perform. This is perhaps my favorite memory of my Little. Her face was shining and she finally appreciated her talent that I was so lucky to see all along.

That day my Little was thrilled and so was I. I think both of us became more confident when she stepped on stage, my Little because she realized to be proud of her talents and me because I had for the first time realized that I was actually able to help her reach this goal. What my Little will probably never grasp, though, is just how much being her Big has helped me. When I was with my Little, above all else we had fun. Even serious discussions took place over drawing with chalk or between hopscotch games. My time with her made me realize the importance of letting go. Her bright and cheerful demeanor no matter what struggles she was going through at the time, almost always challenges much more significant than my daily stresses, served as a reminder to be thankful for my talents and the opportunities I have been given. Hearing about what she had been through at such a young age never ceased to sadden and shock me. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a safe neighborhood and without having to deal with any major accidents or losses. Therefore, hearing these tragic stories from a child who I cared about so much was both heartbreaking and eye opening.

Marie, my Little Sister back in 2010, smiles during a visit

Marie, my Little Sister back in 2010, smiles during a visit

However, ironic as it may be, despite the sad moments and stories being a Big has allowed me to be a kid again. It brought me away from the stresses of studying for exams and meeting deadlines and instead took me into a world where the most important task of the moment was jump-roping and piggyback rides. Of course time was spent together with my Little perfecting homework assignments and talking about the sad stories I mentioned above, but more than anything else we just enjoyed each other’s company and the fun that we had together.

Being a Big Brother or Big Sister is a small time commitment. It only involves seeing your Little once a week. The impact this small interaction has, though, is enormous. I would like to think that the time that my Little and I spent together helped her and I know that it will impact me forever. Whether time is spent at a specific site or out in the community, being a Big is something I would highly recommend. More than anyone else my Little has widened my view of the human experience and shown me the similarities that can be shared between two people who come from very different backgrounds and have nearly ten years in age separating them. Above all, though, my Little made me realize the importance of just singing when you want to, not being afraid to say the wrong thing, and just being there for someone like we always were for each other. These are lessons that all of the degrees or diplomas in the world could never teach me and one that I will never be too old to keep learning.

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!

0405141457b~2  Volunteer Appreciate Day 2012 010