Big Impact – Proven Results
The focus at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin is on creating long and sustaining relationships that will have the greatest impact on the children we serve. We know that having a Big Brother or Big Sister can help children reach their potential and get set on the right path in life.
There is proven research that what we achieve makes a big impact in the lives of children. Read some of our local stories.
Big Fun Leads to a Big Impact: Cole & Kia [Show Story]
A BIG Success!: Derek Brehm [Show Story]
Couple's Match [Show Story]
A Little ‘Guy Time': Joel & John [Show Story]
Letter from a Mother: Nancy & Sarah [Show Story]
A Big Surprise: Anna & Tiana [Show Story]
National Story: David & Chester [Show Story]
Big Fun Leads to Big Impact: Cole & Kia
Cole and Kia were matched in February 2011 in the Site-Based program, and they meet for an hour each week during the school year. Cole was 8 years old when they were matched and was enrolled in the program because of some unique challenges. According to Big Sister Kia, “it is often difficult for him to communicate with others, and social interactions are especially difficult for him.”
Cole and Kia bake cookies, play board games, play carpet ball, but according to Cole his favorite thing to do with Kia is “play ping pong”. The focus of the Big Brothers Big Sisters matches is on building the relationship while having fun together, and Cole’s mother, Jodi, has seen the impact this relationship is having on Cole. “Socialization was really hard [for him], and I feel that with this match, it’s gotten him more out of his comfort zone. Also he’s willing to try new things. Before the match he wasn’t really willing to try new things. With Kia they try to do different things such as carpet ball, making cookies, and things like that. She just exposes him to new things.” Jodi also says that “Cole’s gotten more confident and better with his communication skills since the match.”
Kia has seen this with her interactions with Cole as well. “My relationship with Cole has changed and grown since I met him. In the beginning Cole was careful to watch what time it was and let me know when it was time for me to leave. He was happy I was there, but at 5:30 he was ready for me to leave as well. Recently, I have been going a little early or staying a little late and now nearly every time I see him his first question is ‘can you stay for supper tonight?’. He still always wants to know what time I am leaving, but when the time comes it is now followed with something more like ‘can’t we just play one more time’.”
“Making friends and being with other people hasn’t been easy [for Cole], and I just feel that it’s made a big difference [in how he is] connecting with another person, especially with socialization being something difficult for Cole,” says Jodi.
A BIG Success! Former Little, Derek Brehm
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Big Brothers.” Derek Brehm is a 30-year-old alumni of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Wisconsin and is currently the Service Center Operations Manager at UW-Eau Claire.
Derek was enrolled in the program when he was in 3rd grade. Because his parents divorced when he was young, his mom thought it would be a good way for him to have a stable male role model in his life. “I was painfully shy at that age. I remember going to Burger King, bike riding, and watching movies [with my Big Brother].”
Having a Big Brother helped keep Derek out of trouble and focused on his future. “We spent a lot of time together, at least once a week.” One of Derek’s favorite memories is doing math homework. “I would get frustrated, but he would be calm and talk me through it. He kept me interested in school.” Derek also remembers that “he was always encouraging me. Anytime I struggled with something, he would help me, but he wouldn’t do it for me. Rather he would walk me through it.”
Derek truly attributes his success in life to the influence of his ‘Big Brother.’ “I definitely wouldn’t have gone to college without him encouraging me and making sure I knew it was possible. I was a first generation college student; neither of my parents went to college. There was no one in my life who had gone to college. He helped me realize I was smart and could get good grades. He had his Master’s degree.”
Derek went on to college and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from UW-Eau Claire and now serves on the Board of Directors for the Eau Claire Children’s Theater. Derek became interested in theater in 5th grade when he played an extra in an UW-Eau Claire show. “My Big Brother helped foster my interest in theater.” He supported Derek in his interests and desire to become more involved in theater. Derek has played parts in numerous productions and was most recently in An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstin and the Bare Bones Theater Ensemble Group.
Derek also participates in Bowl for Kids’ Sake and is one of the top fundraisers. Derek says, “his [Bigs’] generosity with his time, money, and self really helped me become who I am today and want to give back to the community.”
A Couple's Match: Jayden, Art, and Sandy
Having only one parent around can be tough on anyone, but it's especially hard to a young boy needing a male role model in his life. Jayden's mother, Kristi, enrolled Jayden in Big Brothers Big Sisters because she wants him to "grow up and understand a healthy relationship between two adults." This is a unique match Jayden has with Art and Sandy because it is one of the few couples' matches in our agency. Jayden has the benefit of having both a Big Brother and a Big Sister.
Art and Sandy decided to volunteer back in 2007 because they had already “raised their two children and felt a need to give back to the community.” As Art said, “we found several agencies but we chose Big Brothers Big Sisters because we wanted a one to one connection to make sure we had the opportunity to influence an individual.”
Seeing each other twice a month, the three enjoy doing simple activities like “going out to eat, to movies, to plays, and shopping for books,” according to Kristi. Art says Jayden is “intellectually gifted and extremely bright. One of his favorite places to be is a library or a bookstore. He is a sponge and easily absorbs a book.” Sandy added that, “Jayden is bright but also very creative and loves to write and make up stories” and points out that, “you have to think on your feet with him.”
According to Kristi, Jayden “always looks forward to spending time with them because he gets to be the center of attention, and they adore him. Without his father in his life, his time with Art and Sandy is just like that if he were to go spend time with someone like a father.” She also believes that “every kid should have a Big. It’s a really special relationship, especially for kids of single parents. It gives them an opportunity to get out and do things.”
Since the match, Art and Sandy say that Jayden now has “more respect for others, has better manners, and overall acts in a more mature manner.” Art gave an example, “recently we went to a play in town, and he went up to the concession stand, and just to watch him was very moving and impressive, just the way he interacted with them. If there’s one takeaway from what we’ve seen, it’s his mannerisms.”
Art and Sandy know they’ve made a difference. “I can look back at the past 4 years we’ve spent together, and I know in my heart that we’ve actually had a positive impact in his life,” says Art. Sandy says the greatest thing about being a Big is knowing that, “I did the best I could do to provide support and a little pat on the back once in a while that he might have needed or just someone to talk to.”
A Little 'Guy Time': Joel & John
Every teenage boy needs ‘guy time’, but having a single mom and four sisters can make that more difficult. Big Brother Joel says, “we do a lot of guy things and talk about guy things.” John’s mother, Carole, signed John up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program because “he really needed a positive male influence in his life.” Carole describes John and Joel as “two peas in a pod” because they enjoy a lot of the same activities, have the same sense of humor, and truly enjoy being together. The pair spend their time together in a variety of ways, including: going to the YMCA, going to the beach, biking, basketball, fishing, going to movies, and, on special occasions, going to ActionCity.
One day Joel and John went to the YMCA, and John wanted to go swimming. Joel didn’t have his swimming suit so he watched from the edge of the pool. John wasn’t a very strong swimmer and was apprehensive to swim in the deep water, but he really wanted to be able to. Joel said they went step by step and worked through the process together. John gradually moved from the shallow end of the pool to deeper water, then jumped in off the side. Eventually he went up on the diving board and looked at the pool. Finally he jumped off the diving board! “He was scared, but he did it. He must have jumped off at least 20 times,” says Joel. John also fondly remembers this day saying that “he (Joel) kept encouraging and helped me. I practiced with him, and at the end of the day I was jumping off the diving board!” This one day at the pool truly shows the how these little moments can create Big Magic. Both John and Joel cite this day as one of their favorite days spent together.
Letter from a Mother
Dear Big Brothers Big Sisters Program,
I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those involved in making our lives richer because of a match made in heaven. Your organization has been a part of our lives for ten years and we appreciate all that you do to provide family support and positive changes in the lives of kids and adults in our community. With that said, it is a pleasure to share our experience about a very special match that started on March 16, 1999.
During a trying time in my life, my sister Bobbie suggested that I call Big Brothers Big Sisters to see what it was all about. As a single parent, I thought "why not?" Little did I know at that time, I was about to meet an angel. Now, I had some reservations since my child's life was involved... and a stranger would actually choose my daughter as a Little Sister. Well, the choices were made and faith stepped in and took over.
As a mom, it is so reassuring to know there are wonderful, caring people in this world who are willing and capable of sharing their time and energy to make a child's life a little better. My daughter, Sara, is a better person because of it. I can't say nearly enough about what Nancy has done in all of our lives. Not only was Sara blessed by the special union, my whole family has a true friend forever.
When Sara first met Nancy she was 8 years old. As they were getting acquainted, Nancy asked her if she liked bakin' cookies. Sara, being a little nervous, answered "I've never had them." Wow! Nancy must have thought we were from another planet or something - what kid doesn't like home baked cookies? Well, Sara was thinking bacon cookies?? Maybe Nancy is from outerspace! That's how it all began.
After many years, and lots of baked cookies, Sara still has Nancy as her Big Sister. Kids grow up so fast and Sara is 18 now and will graduate from the same high school as Nancy did. As it turned out, Nancy's parents live in the same town we are from and we all bonded so easily. It was so nice to have them at school activities and sporting events to support my daughter and be there for me as well. Because of our need for a new friendship, we met Nancy and her family through Big Brothers Big Sisters. It truly was, and is, a very special match.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has probably seen many matches over the years and not all of them work out well, but I am happy to say that my daughter really "struck the original match" with Nancy. I'd like to give Nancy and her family a special thank you for all the joy they have brought to us over the years. It is people like these that make your organization a success and their dedication and commitment to Sara is beyond words. We will get together soon to take pictures and to celebrate our friendship and I will send you a photo of Nancy and Sara to keep as a reminder of all the positive things you do at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Please accept my gratitude on behalf of my daughter Sara. It is my hope, as her mom, that someday she will be in a position to be a Big Sister to another girl in need of a friend. As her match with Nancy nears an end with the program, I can be certain that this special friendship will last a lifetime.
A Big Surprise: Anna & Tiana
Tiana was first matched with Anna in the School-Based Lunch Buddy program in March of 2008. In November 2009 they moved to a community-based match in order to spend more time together. Neither Anna nor Tiana knew what surprises were in store for them.
Dana (Tiana’s mom) said that “it was the school’s idea to enroll her. She was struggling with friends at school and I thought it would be good for her to have an extra friend at school. She has two older siblings, but her big brother is in Idaho and her big sister is grown and has her own life.”
Anna was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and got involved because “a girl on my floor freshman year was a Big Sister and my cousins were ‘Littles, and I knew the impact that it had on them.” At first Tiana was a little shy but “now she’s more talkative and open. She is excited to tell me things when I see her.” Anna has been impacted by Tiana in that “I am aware of everything I have and am able to do. The things I take for granted excite her.”
One of the things many kids take for granted is having birthday parties. “I found out that Tiana had never had a birthday party. I thought of all of the memories I had from my childhood birthday parties and decided to throw her a surprise party. It was super simple. My roommates were there, and we had Little Caesar’s pizza and a couple of little presents.”
Tiana said that, “when I walked in the door they all yelled surprise. They gave me presents and we ate cupcakes. My favorite part was the presents and the cupcakes.” Tiana’s mom said that “Tiana was ecstatic. She thought it was the greatest thing in the world.”
Tiana also believes that her Big Sister has really helped her in other ways. “Anna has helped me to make more friends. She’s really friendly and when I’m with someone who’s really friendly then I’m more friendly. Anna has helped me make more friends at school. I used to be not very nice to my friends, and she has helped me to be nicer to my friends.”
Anna was surprised to hear that she had helped Tiana in this way. “We had some conversations about friends and about kids making fun of her. But I didn’t know that I affected her this way.” This shows just how much a Big Brother or Big Sister can impact the life of a child simply by being themself.
David & Chester – National Story
On Friday, May 1, 2009 Big Brothers Big Sisters showed America just how powerful its impact is. Chester Ross, 95, and David Loughran, 37, of White Plains, NY show us just how successful their 30 year relationship has been thanks to their match with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Good Morning America Reporter, Anchor Kate Snow, delivers a compelling story and expresses the need for volunteers and donors to continue to make matches like Chester and David happen.
// View the video.