CASSANDRA & SARAH
We at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida would like to recognize one match that has been with us since February of 2013. Cassandra (Little Sister) and Sarah (Big Sister) came to us having already built a relationship with one another prior to their involvement in BBBS. However, we would like to celebrate how much this relationship has blossomed, and how grateful we are to be a part of it!
Sarah and Cassandra (who Sarah calls “Cassie”) are an example to us, as well as an encouragement to other Bigs and Littles, of how effective quality time and consistency are in building a long-lasting match relationship. What is interesting is that Sarah was actually a Little Sister herself, from the time she was six years old until she aged out of the program at eighteen. Sarah still stays in contact with her current Big Sister and now she herself has taken on the role as a Big Sister wonderfully.
Sarah and Cassandra spend time with one another on a regular basis, and they also communicate with each other via phone in-between their scheduled outings. Even though Sarah and Cassandra have some distance between each other’s respective homes, Cassandra’s family have been very supportive and cooperative by agreeing to meet Sarah halfway on certain outings. We very much appreciate the dedication of all parties in this match!
Sarah and Cassandra truly see each other as genuine sisters, and they both enjoy spending time together by sharing activities such as watching movies, looking at the animals at the pet store, and more recently going out to look at Christmas lights. Sarah and Cassandra also work on academics together, and focus on subjects such as science. On this past month’s match support, Sarah also shared a fun story with us regarding one of their outings. Sarah went to Cassandra’s home and the two of them learned to make pork chops for the first time! Sarah said the entire kitchen was a mess by the time they were done, but I’m sure the finished product was worth it! Cassandra will have her 13th birthday in January, and we look forward to hearing about all of the future growth of this match! It is a privilege being able to have you in our program, ladies!
Sarah shared this heart-warming quote with us: “I absolutely adore, support and unconditionally love my little sister Cassie. This relationship will last a lifetime. I am grateful for the BBBS program and the chance to have an impact on an amazing girl like Cassie. I was a little sister from the age of six to eighteen years old and to this day have a very close relationship with her. I look forward to all the years to come with my Little.”
Thank you so much for your involvement, Sarah and Cassie!
ANTHONY & JOHN
We at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida would like to recognize a special match that has been with us since September 2011! Anthony (Little) and John (Big) have been such a joy to have as a part of our BBBS family, and we have loved being a part of their growing friendship for the past three years. In fact, we recognized John as “Big of the Year” for his program during our Volunteer Appreciation Banquet this past January.
Motivating their start at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida, Anthony and his mother Joyce thought that Anthony could strongly benefit from a male figure in his life, as well as someone to help Anthony in math. John joined our program because he received help when he was younger and wanted to in turn help someone else. John and Anthony were initially matched in our school-based program, where John visited Anthony once a week at his school and encouraged Anthony in his academics and overall spent quality time with him. The following year, Anthony and John switched over to a community-based program which allowed them to extend their friendship to more activities. Since then, Anthony and John have discovered a lot of their mutual interests, such as playing basketball, playing video games, watching documentaries, going to church together, and playing football.
John has remained a consistent and dependable role model to Anthony, and it is evident how much Anthony respects his Big Brother and how much John cares for his Little Brother’s well-being and potential. The two maintain a strong and enduring friendship that we are so honored to be a part of. In fact, John shared with us during Match Support that he considers Anthony a real little brother, and that he two share almost everything in common with one another. Also, Anthony’s mother shared that John and Anthony are so close that you would think they were friends from when Anthony was born! John has been such a positive influence in Anthony’s life, using his own life experiences to encourage his Little Brother to be a leader and not a follower as well as encourage the importance of maintaining school as a priority among athletics. Anthony has done just that, improving in his math grades and overall academics. We are looking forward to seeing all of Anthony’s future growth as he transitions into high school next year. Anthony has also expressed how much he’s appreciated his Big Brother’s continued support over the years, and we are so thankful for both Anthony and John for modeling the type of match that we aim for!
JACK & ROBERT
While our goal is to provide valuable and long lasting relationships and experiences for the youth in our community, we often find that we are able to make that same impact on our volunteers. We cherish and appreciate all of our matches and are eternally grateful for the volunteers in our program, but every now and again there is that one Match that deserves the spotlight.
Jack and his Little Brother, Robert were matched on October 27th, 2011. They have met hundreds of hours since this Match Meeting and have developed a friendship in which we all strive to have in our own lives. “He always helps me to appreciate all the times that most of us are quick to undervalue and forget about because our busy lives get in the way. He has really taught me to take the time to enjoy all of life’s little things. Whether it’s spending time doing countless backflips, or in my case “back-flops”, off the dock or throwing the baseball until I think my arm is going to fall off. We always have a good time together”, states Big Brother, Jack.
They will soon celebrate their two year Match anniversary with many more years to come! We also want to give a BIG congratulation to Jack for recently getting into University of Florida’s Medical School. We are all proud of you here at BBBS and know you will go on to do great things!
SEAN & DEREK
We at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida wanted to recognize one match in particular for their consistent dedication in growing their relationship through creative and practical match activities and goals. Sean (Little Brother) and Derek (Big Brother) have been matched since March of 2013, and Sean is currently in his first year of middle school. Derek and Sean have a strong and open friendship, even after only being matched for a little over seven months. He and Derek have set academic goals that have helped Sean in his transition into middle school, and they both continue to work on subjects, such as math, together. Sean and Derek also share many mutual interests and have incorporated them into their match activities, such as watching movies, playing video games, or playing laser tag.
Derek and Sean have also focused on practical tips and learning experiences on their match outings, which we at BBBS thought was very impressive! For example, over the past few months, Derek has made it a point to help teach Sean the value of money. In fact, Derek came up with the idea to have Sean do small tasks for a friend of Derek’s, and in return, Sean will earn money for his work. Also, Derek has also been encouraging Sean to be handy, one of Derek’s strengths as an engineering student. Just this past month, Sean has helped Derek build a shelf for his room. Great work, guys!
Another exciting learning experience for Derek and Sean was their building of a model helicopter. Derek shared with us in his match support that Sean had managed to save enough money and bought his own model helicopter. However, Derek shared that Sean did not realize how detail-oriented the task would be before the helicopter would be fully assembled. A few meetings later, after many little helicopter pieces slowly came in place, Sean finally finished the helicopter and Derek assisted him in the process. Derek shared with us how proud Sean was of his accomplishment, and how proud Derek was of Sean, as a result! This activity points to even bigger life skills that were encouraged, such as commitment, perseverance, and patience. Congratulations Sean and Derek! We look forward to hearing about more wonderful stories and creative activities from you both!
NIRAV & MIGUEL
Nirav has been Miguel’s Big Brother since September 2009. Nirav’s inspiration to become a Big Brother came from having a great Big Brother within his fraternity. Up until being matched, Nirav had never had a little brother and he had always been considered the youngest in his family.
“When we got matched on September 29th, 2009, I was given one of the best gifts of my life. Miguel and I are now virtually brothers,” stated Nirav. Nirav and his Little, Miguel, both have a love for cars; this is one of the things that helped them initially bond. Miguel wants to become a mechanical engineer to work on vehicles and Nirav said “I am doing my best to support his dream by looking at potential colleges and preparing him for the college application process!” Nirav said that through Miguel’s development in middle school and high school, he often feels that he has learned more from Miguel than Miguel has learned from him. Nirav has become very proud of his Little over the years. Miguel is currently the Student Body President at his high school and has recently been inspired to start his own business. Nirav has gone above and beyond in his role as a Big Brother, he has even been helping Miguel obtain his learners permit and open a bank account. Nirav stated “I love my little brother and I will do whatever it takes to ensure that he is successful!
LEON AND TETOEE
When Tetoee Howard was 10 years old, he dreamed of learning to water-ski. A curious boy who was eager to try new things, Tetoee (pronounced tee-toe) was also challenged by being legally blind due to a genetic disorder. Leon was eager to help a child increase his self-confidence and provide him with new opportunities. He also just happens to have a background in teaching water-skiing. “My wife encouraged me to become involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but I was thinking I was too old,” recalls Leon. “Maybe a Big Grandfather instead of a Big Brother was more like it.”
The age difference notwithstanding, the Gainesville, Florida, pair was matched in 1998, and since then, they have developed an incredible, long-term friendship. Leon was also named the 2004 Big Brother of the Year during the BBBS National Conference Centennial Celebration in New York City.
“We hit it off right from the beginning,” says Leon. “Tetoee’s being visually impaired posed an additional challenge in planning activities, but we handled it. If we went to the movies, we’d sit in the front row so he could see the screen. If we went to the performing arts center, I would bring binoculars so that he would be able to see the actors and dancers on the stage.”
Leon also shared his passion for African drumming with Tetoee, and sparked an amazing natural talent in his Little Brother. Tetoee is now part of an adult drumming group, and has even helped out with workshops to teach drumming to other children. “Tetoee has performed with me throughout the state of Florida,” says Leon proudly. “In 1999, he was part of a benefit where he performed with Chuck Davis, the leader of the internationally renowned African American Dance Ensemble. “And two years ago, Tetoee opened the Black History Month celebration at his high school with a solo performance in front of his peers. His dad and I were in the audience, and it brought us both to tears.”
From the start, Leon has looked past Tetoee’s physical limitations and instead focused on his tremendous potential. He encourages Tetoee to pursue whatever he dreams of doing. Even water skiing. “When Tetoee applied to BBBS, he mentioned that he wanted to learn how to water ski. It was a perfect match, because I had worked with handicapped skiers in the past,” says Leon. “Tetoee turned out to be a natural athlete. He was one of the very few people in my 35 years of coaching who got up the very first time he tried to water ski, and he skied around the lake without falling. I thought, ‘Wow, this kid has got some real potential!” Leon is equally impressed with the strength of character that 16-year-old Tetoee consistently displays. He recalls a recent episode when Tetoee had an opportunity to attend a drumming workshop with a very accomplished drummer. “Tetoee tried to get someone to substitute for him at work so he could go to the workshop, but he could not. So what did Tetoee do? He went to work. Many kids would’ve blown off work, but he accepted the responsibility.”
A young man of few words, Tetoee is nonetheless quick to share his gratitude for the opportunities and experiences he has shared with his Big Brother. “Even though I’m visually impaired, Leon has opened my eyes to many things – drumming, water skiing, meeting new people.
He’s made me think I can go out do anything – even jump out of an airplane!” he says. “It’s like I’m floating on a cloud when I’m with Leon.
“My dad told me if you have one best friend, your life is doing good,” Tetoee adds. “I have found my best friend.”
“Over the past six-and-a-half years, Tetoee and I have formed a tremendous friendship, and I’ve got to thank Tetoee’s dad, Reginald, for the privilege of getting to know his son,” says Leon. “Tetoee is growing up very fast and now thinking about the future and college and beyond. I’m very proud of this young man.”
And while he is honored by being named Big Brother of the Year, Leon says, “The experience of working with Tetoee has been ample reward. Tetoee and I will be friends forever.”
DEBI & JENNIE
When I was 14, I had big dreams. I wanted to be a doctor, an astronaut, a teacher, or anything that would take me out of my cramped trailer park home that I shared with my mother, sister, grandmother, aunt and cousins. Given my circumstances, none of my dreams seemed attainable. Little did I realize then, how meeting my Big Sister would impact my life she introduced me to the rest of the world.
My Big Sister, Debi, and I were matched in April 1989. At our first meeting we went out for frozen yogurt. Over chocolate yogurt with extra sprinkles (of course), I told her I wanted to be a fighter pilot, partly because I desperately wanted to impress her and partly because I had recently seen Top Gun. The next day she took me to an air show. Debi often says it was then she realized I was not an average kid. We bonded immediately and embarked on a lifelong sisterhood.My most precious memories with Debi are the simple, everyday activities that we did together. Sometimes she would simply invite me to run errands with her. While running between the dry cleaner and the car wash and taking her dog for walks, we talked about everything under the sun. She made me a part of her everyday life; she always made me feel safe and appreciated. Since I often felt lost in the shuffle at home, it was an amazing gift to have an adult’s undivided attention. I quickly felt that I could confide my deepest thoughts in her.
Debi supported me through all of my high school angst, teaching me valuable lessons along the way. During high school, I tried out for junior varsity basketball. I did make the team, though I spent the majority of the season warming the bench. However, Debi encouraged me to finish out the season, teaching me that there is value and pride in finishing and meeting my commitments to others. She attended nearly all of my home games and was the team’s loudest cheerleader. Even when I doubted my own abilities, Debi’s display of loyalty and commitment taught me that I did not always have to be the best at something to be successful. She inspired me to always persevere and believe in myself. Her guidance and love helped me to see that getting pregnant and dropping out of high school did not have to be my destiny. I could discover my own path and do whatever I wanted.
We mostly spent our time going to out to dinner and shopping. It was in restaurants and dressing rooms that we gabbed and giggled about the challenges of puberty, including sex, drugs, violence, and first loves. In addition to this regular dose of quality time, Debi sought to expose me to a variety of new experiences and adventures. We took road trips to the beach and Disney World. In addition, she brought me to countless arts and music festivals, concerts, movies, plays, and University of Florida sporting events. I was often resistant to participating in the “less-than-cool” activities, but Debi gently encouraged me to continually try new things. In time, I began to open my mind to other cultures and ideas outside of my comfort zone. Only as an adult can I truly appreciate the value of these experiences.
One occasion stands out as a pivotal event in my life. Debi told me that she was taking me out to my favorite restaurant, but first we were attending a poetry reading. As a teenager, I must admit I was only interested in dinner. However, the poetry reading proved to be a turning point for me, one that even Debi did not anticipate. That evening, I heard Maya Angelou read from her own moving poetry and speak candidly about her life and personal struggles. It was then that I stopped feeling sorry for myself; I decided that if Maya Angelou could make her dreams come true, then so could I! I decided to look toward my future and began making positive changes in my life. I applied myself in school and vowed to graduate on time. When I graduated from high school, Debi’s gift to me was an autographed copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, personalized by Maya Angelou herself. This book remains one of my most cherished possessions. I often refer to it in times of doubt or change to regain the perspective I need to take the next step.
Like many recent high school graduates, I was lost after graduation, trying to “find myself.” Graduating high school was such an accomplishment to me that I never anticipated what would be next. I attended community college for a few years, dropping as many classes as I completed. While our match was long since ‘officially’ over, Debi and I continued to develop our friendship. Looking back, I believe this was a frustrating time for Debi, but she continued to patiently encourage me to move forward.
At age 20, my life drastically changed when my mother died suddenly of cancer. I was devastated; I thought my world had ended. As always, Debi was there for me, providing a safe place to cry and grieve. As I emerged from my grief, I realized that life was precious and I wanted to make the most of mine! Again, Debi gently prodded me to face the world. With her love and support, I mustered the courage to transfer to Flagler College and seriously pursue my studies.
Throughout my undergraduate career, Debi’s support never wavered, even as her own life began to change. During my first semester at Flagler, I was honored to stand in Debi’s wedding as she married a most incredible man, William. Though she embarked on her own married life, my place in Debi’s life was never compromised. Together, Debi and William invited me warmly into their new family. I continued to “return home” from school and celebrate vacations and holidays in their home throughout my college career.
Since then, Debi and I have shared in many of my own life-altering events. She attended my college graduation, again as the loudest cheerleader. She helped me prepare as I relocated to Washington, D.C. to pursue my career and graduate studies at American University. Two years later, she topped even her own cheering abilities as I walked across the stage and received a Masters Degree in Public Administration. The following week, Debi and William hosted the rehearsal dinner for one of the most memorable events of my life, my wedding. The next afternoon, they walked me down the aisle. During this emotional time, they did not try to replace my parents, yet it was natural for them to fill this role.
Throughout everything, Debi’s guidance and support remained one of the only constants in my life. I credit my open mind, love for life, and my desire to never stop learning to her. Simply put, she cannot understand the extent to which she has impacted my life, except to look at the accomplished woman I have become. Thank you to Big Brothers/Big Sisters. You allowed me to discover a life-long best friend…a sister.
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