WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama thanked Big Brothers Big Sisters of America's top mentors for their long time service to their mentees. Big Brother of the Year Art Rasher of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Big Sister of the Year Angela Rodriquez of Linden, New Jersey -- each matched with their mentees for nine years -- met with President Obama in the Oval Office.
The White House meeting also included Bigs of the Year for 2009, Ben De Leon of Austin, Texas -- matched with his Little four years -- and Debbie Groulik of Fort Wayne, Indiana -- matched 10 years with her mentee. In addition, the meet and greet included some of the honorees' "Littles" – 17-year-old Sabriyah of Newark, New Jersey, Little to Rodriquez; 12-year-old Anthonyof Austin, Texas, De Leon's mentee; and 19-year-old Jocelyn, Debbie's (alumni) Little.
"These outstanding volunteers are true role models for the entire nation and examples of why Big Brothers Big Sisters works," said Big Brothers Big Sisters of America President and CEO Karen J. Mathis. "Year after year, with guidance from match support staff, these volunteer mentors are there for their Littles, sharing time, giving encouragement and showing their mentees that they deserve success. Their service makes it possible for Big Brothers Big Sisters to support children of single, low-income and incarcerated parents who seek our support to help their kids achieve in school and in life."
2010 Bigs of the Year
Angela Rodriquez, an assistant clothing store manager, said she has watched her Little Sister, Sabriyah of Newark, New Jersey, "grow from a 9-year-old shy little girl into a remarkable 17-year-old young woman." Sabriyah said her many experiences with Angela – visits to monuments, book signings, beach trips, even creating an opportunity for her to work at a theater concession stand – have shaped who she is today.
The teenager will begin college next fall and plans to become a lawyer. Sabriyah's mother, Sharonda Jones, who enrolled her daughter in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties when she was a third grader, said Angela has been a constant and consistent inspiration to her daughter. A single mother, she wanted to provide her children with every opportunity to succeed. When Sabriyah heads off to college, Angela will continue supporting her Little Sister's family as Big Sister to Sabriyah's six-year-old sister, Zahiriah.
"I have never seen such a passion-driven individual who even in these trying economic times continues to mentor," saidChrissy Steed, the mentor manager who supports Angela, Sabriyah and her family in the mentoring match.
Art met his Little Brother, Victor, 8 years ago in a Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based program in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Victor's grandfather, the most important male figure in the child's life, had recently died. The third grader was struggling academically and had even been left back when his class moved on to fourth grade.
A college professor, Art said his mentoring visits felt awkward and stilted at first. He questioned whether he was making any inroads. Then Victor's teacher told Art something that changed everything. He said he saw a marked improvement in Victor's academic performance and that he talked about his Big Brother all the time. Art took steps to transition the match to community-based, where with support from a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma match specialist, he would be able to continue mentoring Victor when the school year ended.
"Growing up without a father and living in an area where gangs are in control was a great challenge," 17-year-old Victor said. "If it was not for Art Rasher, I do not know where my life would have been. He showed me the way of working hard at school so my dreams can come true."
Victor's mother recently allowed Art to take her son to visit colleges. She said now that he has seen several schools, he wants to study engineering at Michigan State University, his Big Brother's alma mater.
2009 Bigs of the Year
Ben De Leon
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America's 2009 Big Brother of the Year is Ben De Leon, an Austin, Texas attorney matched four years ago with now 12-year old Anthony. Ben's impact on his Little Brother illustrates the importance of the mentoring network's effort to become more engaged in African American and Hispanic communities to serve more boys who disproportionately represent the children who are waiting and ready to be matched with mentors.
When Ben, an Austin attorney, met a second grader for a short-term mentoring program through his church four years ago, he discovered that then 7-year-old Anthony had been waiting to be matched with a Big Brother. Impressed with how well they interacted, Anthony's grandmother put Ben in contact with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. She wanted to make the friendship official and ensure the mentoring relationship had the necessary support that would make it last.
Ben has been a reliable, trusted and exciting addition to Anthony's life. They get together several times a month and enjoy visiting book stores, attending sports events, spending time at the lake, and various other activities.
Anthony lives with his grandmother and grandfather, who suffers from arthritis and is unable to enjoy many physical activities with the youngster. He says with Ben as his Big Brother, he's able to share sports activities, have someone to help him with homework and have a trusted adult to talk to about anything. Working with his Big Brothers Big Sisters match support specialist, Ben makes sure Anthony's family has resources to give his Little Brother every opportunity to succeed.
"I am hopeful that I can continue to advance the organization's mission of getting more mentors, African-American and Hispanic males in particular to step up and make a difference to so many deserving, at-risk youth who can benefit in so many ways from Big Brothers Big Sisters," said Ben, who also supports Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas financially.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America's 2009 Big Sister of the Year is Debbie Groulik of Fort Wayne, Indiana, matched with her now 19-year-old Little Sister, Jocelyn, for 10 years.
Debbie's impact on her Little Sister's life mirrors findings of a new study* that shows adolescent girls benefit from having Big Sisters by developing skills and confidence through shared activities.
Ask Jocelyn to describe what it's like to have Big Sister Debbie in her life and she will tell you the mentoring relationship has made a world of difference – literally.
"When I was little, I would look at National Geographic magazines and see faraway places; meanwhile, Debbie was traveling all over the place," Jocelyn wrote in her essay nominating Groulik for Big Sister of the Year.
As Jocelyn became older she took advantage of every opportunity to travel that came her way through educational and other community programs. "I went to different countries: Australia, Japan, Scotland and England. Without Debbie, I never would have thought it possible to be able to go to the far edges of Earth to see things that I had only seen in pictures and to have some of the best experiences of my life."
Debbie finds it hard to believe how anxious she was, having to gain courage and reassurance from her Big Brothers Big Sisters match coordinator the morning before she met Jocelyn. Over the years, the two grew to learn that they had much in common and Debbie discovered how much she has influenced Jocelyn's decision to be a serious student, a patient listener and to explore every opportunity that comes her way.
Jocelyn enters her sophomore year of college next fall. Her goals are to complete her degree with a double major and to thank Debbie by becoming a Big Sister, herself, some day.
About Big Brothers Big Sisters
For more than 100 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters has operated under the belief that inherent in every child is the ability to succeed and thrive in life. Most children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters are in single-parent and low-income families or households where a parent is incarcerated. As the nation's largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers ("Bigs") and children ("Littles").
Big Brothers Big Sisters provides a system of ongoing evaluation and support that is proven by independent studies to help families by improving the odds that "Littles" will perform better in school and avoid violence and illegal activities, and have stronger relationships with their parents and others. Headquartered in Philadelphia with a network of nearly 400 agencies across the country, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves more than 255,000 children. Learn how you can positively impact a child's life, donate or volunteer at BigBrothersBigSisters.org.
*''She Gives Me a Break from the World'': Formal Youth Mentoring Relationships Between Adolescent Girls and Adult Women Rene'e Spencer AE Belle Liang Published online: 13 March 2009. _ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
SOURCE Big Brothers Big Sisters