As we celebrate Earth Day, it is important to reflect on our impact on the environment and the steps we can take to protect our planet for future generations. Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest is educating our local youth about the environment in partnership with the United States Forest Service and Urban Nature Partners PDX through our Outdoor Explorers Mentoring Program (OEMP). This program introduces Littles to the great outdoors by providing experiential trips throughout the year to explore the beauty and wonder of the Pacific Northwest with their Bigs by their side.
Studies have shown that youth are spending less time outdoors. This is especially true for underserved youth and youth of color who have less access to outdoor spaces and experiences. The health benefits of introducing kids to the outdoors are vast, showing positive impacts on their social behavior, mental health, and well-being. That is why programs like OEMP are so important. By engaging youth in activities like snowshoeing, gardening, invasive plant species removal, hiking, and canoeing at no cost, with safety, structure, and guidance built in, we are bridging this gap and promoting a love for the outdoors that will last a lifetime.
OEMP is about more than just exploring the outdoors, it is also about mentorship and the positive impact that nature can have on a young person’s life. During these outings, matches connect in a meaningful way by learning new skills together and by exploring the magnificent natural habitats of Oregon and Washington. Matches have the chance to build their confidence and self-esteem together while also learning about the world around them.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Beatrice Serrano, Co-lead for OEMP, whose instrumental role has been integral to its success. Beatrice shared her passion for the program’s impact on children, stating:
“I love witnessing the joy on children’s faces when they have the opportunity to explore the outdoors and try new experiences. As kids spend more time in front of screens, it’s important to support their curiosity for the natural world, especially when parents may not have the resources to take them outside.”
We also had the opportunity to speak with Liz Ficken, who serves as both a dedicated Big Sister and Ambassador Board Co-Chair. Liz shared her own positive experience with the program, saying:
“My Little Sis and I had a wonderful time exploring the Mt. St. Helen’s Institute. After snowshoeing, our guide led us into the Ape Cave lava tubes, where we experienced total darkness – something my Little had never encountered before. Since then, we’ve participated in more outdoor activities, which have been a blast! The experience also gave her added confidence when her class attended Outdoor School.”
We are incredibly grateful for the partnership of the U.S. Forest Service, Urban Nature Partners PDX, and our incredible Bigs for making this program and these outings possible. This Earth Day, we welcome you to take a moment to reflect on the impact we have on the environment and consider ways we can all make a positive difference together.
Looking for a way to get involved? Well, it just so happens that Earth Day falls within National Volunteer Month. Join the BBBS community by becoming a Big, you can learn more by clicking here. Your volunteerism can help to empower the potential of a local kid or teen and together we can promote outdoor exploration and education to inspire the next generation of outdoor stewards and help protect the natural world for years to come.
On Sunday, April 2, 2023, the BBBS community came together to celebrate the second annual Topgolf for Kids’ Sake event at Topgolf Hillsboro. We had 14 amazing teams, and 100 attendees, rally together to raise over $33,000 in support of mentorship. This community fundraising event brought together our Bigs, Littles, Board of Directors, Ambassador Board, and community partners for an afternoon of friendly competition, food, fun, and networking.
The afternoon started with inspiring speeches led by Beach Pace, BBBS CNW CEO, and guest speaker & Alumni Big Brother Iván Hernández, Director of Community Development at Hillsboro Hops. Iván shared his experiences as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest.
Iván spoke to attendees about the importance of mentorship. He discussed how connections built through mentorship can be subtle, but the impact is powerful and long-lasting, changing both mentor and mentee for the better. He reflected on how their mentor relationship has evolved over time, expressing the joys of seeing Joseph become more independent and confident as he grew older.
Last year, Iván’s Little Brother, Joseph, graduated from high school, continuing his education at Western University. Joseph is currently working toward earning his bachelor’s degree to teach English as a Second Language (ESL).
“Now that Joseph is in college, we don’t get to hang out as frequently, but it feels great when we do connect that it is so effortless… like no time has passed at all,” said Iván. We are so thrilled to see this amazing match continue their friendship after graduation.
A special thanks to the wonderful community partners and companies who sponsored bays including Andersen Construction, Barran Liebman LLP, Cambia Health Foundation, Flowbird America, M Financial, Moss Adams LLP, and Pacific West Bank. If you or your company are interested in hosting a team-building event at Topgolf or a bowling event to benefit BBBS CNW, please contact Austen Auger, Corporate Engagement Manager at [email protected].
When it comes to mentorship, there are few people who embody the spirit of this noble pursuit more than Smith Leveille. As a former employee of multiple Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates and current Big Brother, Smith has spent his entire professional career helping to empower young people and to provide them with the support and guidance they need to reach their full potential. His passion for mentoring is not just a job, it’s a way of life, and it is this dedication that has made him such an admired figure among his colleagues, especially among the young people he has mentored. His exceptional dedication to mentorship even led him to become the Big Brother of the year in 2013 for the entire state of Florida.
Smith’s journey with BBBS began after he graduated from Florida State University, where he discovered his passion for mentoring through the encouragement of his first mentor, Luis Garcia, a CEO for Big Brothers Big Sisters who now works for the national office. Smith was inspired by Luis to speak out about his passion for mentoring, and he has been doing so ever since. From there, he met Carolina, Chief Program Officer for BBBS Columbia Northwest, in Broward, Florida, and together, they began building a partnership that would change the lives of countless young people.
In his role at the Broward office, Smith was a case manager for Bigs Inspiring Scholastic Success, a program that focuses on providing Littles with academic and career readiness skills. For seven years, he worked tirelessly to help young people in his community realize their potential and to provide them with the tools they needed to succeed. His passion for mentoring and his commitment to the BBBS mission were evident in everything he did.
Most recently, Smith was working at the BBBS Columbia Northwest office, where he was helping to lead the Black Youth Ambassador Group. This group is dedicated to empowering the Black Community and helping young people build connections. Smith was working to create a safe space for Black Littles and families to speak their minds, stay informed, educated, and exposed to other perspectives and resources. He loved working in this office because he felt that everyone is driven by the mission to empower youth, so they can achieve their full potential.
But it’s not just Smith’s work in the office that has made him such a respected figure in the BBBS community. It’s his dedication to his Little, Dwayne, that truly sets him apart. Smith has been mentoring Dwayne for 13 years now, and the two have become inseparable. They affectionately call each other “Lil Dee and Big B,” and they have been through many life experiences together.
When Dwayne first met Smith, he was just 13 years old, and he had no positive male role models in his life. But through Smith’s mentorship, he was able to overcome many obstacles and become the successful, generous adult he is today. Smith has seen Lil Dee grow from a 13-year-old to a mature, thriving adult who is now happy to be the father of one wonderful child. Smith would drive over 40 minutes each way to meet with Dwayne, and they would spend 3-4 hours together almost every Saturday. Over the years, their relationship has grown into a deep friendship, and Dwayne now considers Smith to be one of his best friends. Outside of his relationship with Lil Dee, Smith mentioned being an “unofficial Big” to about 9 other young people in his community. They range from middle schoolers to college students, and he works to be there for them in every way he can.
When asked what advice he would give to someone who wants to be a good mentor, Smith says that consistency is key. He stressed the importance of being in it for the Little and not just for the recognition. For Smith, mentorship is not just a job, it’s a way of life, and it’s a lifestyle that he brings with him to everything he does, whether it’s at work or in his personal life.
Smith Leveille is a shining example of what it means to be a mentor. His dedication, passion, and commitment to his Little and to the BBBS mission are truly inspiring. He is a role model for all of us, and we are lucky to have him as a member of our community.
To learn more about how to become a Big, click here to learn more and get your application started today!
On January 15th, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Columbia Northwest- Black Youth Ambassador Group partnered with Nike during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Both groups joined forces to create an “I AM Tree” to form one piece of art that expressed both the strength and significance of individuality and the necessity of community and unity. It was mentioned to the group the importance of positive affirmations and speaking them into existence with their voice and art, which they displayed on the final mural.
As everyone worked on their individual and group canvasses, the Littles and Nike volunteers genuinely engaged in healthy conversations where they got to know each other very well. The Littles spoke to the Nike volunteers about their current and future academic and social lifestyles, and the Nike volunteers shared their academic and social experiences when they were younger. It was very refreshing to hear the conversations and feedback from the participants. Additionally, Program staff members, Carolina and Smith, expressed their experiences as Bigs for the agency to the Nike volunteers.
Also, as a surprise to the Nike volunteers, a second mural was created and given to them as an appreciation for their time and service to BBBS.
All in all, unity, love, understanding, and reassurance surrounded our Family and Volunteer Center, where everyone left smiling and encouraged to be themselves in a changing world.
Nike sent photographer, Jason Hill, to capture the moments during this special day. You can check out the photos on our Flickr site here.
Happy National Mentoring Month! We recently had the chance to catch up with the 2018 Big Brother of the Year, Randy Rene, on what it’s been like to be a Big to his Little Brother Henry.
Recently I read a quote from Ayesha Siddiqi that said, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” That really sums it up for me, as I became a Big to my Little Brother Henry in 2016, so I could be there for someone who needed a bro, friend, listener, and coach. Looking back, I was fortunate to have a couple of key mentors when I was a child, and especially as a teen, that helped me through some tough and trying times.
I met Henry when he was in the third grade, and he is now a freshman in high school! I’ve seen him grow from a child into an incredible young man. When we first met, Henry was quite shy around others and nervous about trying new things. Over the years I’ve done my best to gently introduce new agreed-upon challenges along the way. In third grade, he was nervous to learn and play kickball and now he fearlessly wants to drive go-karts. It’s an amazing transformation to witness and be a part of.
I have a hard time pinpointing any one moment over another, as Henry and I have a great time every time we meet up. Yet, out of all the things we do, every time we meet up it starts with going out for breakfast someplace. We tell jokes, Henry tries new foods, we talk about his school and my work, and generally just hang out. I love starting our day by catching up.
Being a Big is about listening, coaching, and having fun with your Little. It is a wonderful and humbling learning experience, learning what it’s like being a young person in today’s world. It is an honor to share some wisdom along the way. Keep an open mind, ask questions, and LISTEN to understand, and meet your Little as an equal, and you’ll have a great time.
When Randy and Henry won Big and Little of the year in 2018, Henry shared this:
“My Big Brother and I do a lot of fun things together when we are at school and at his work. My favorite time together was when he invited me and my mom to go to his college graduation. This was a very special day for my Big Brother, and I am proud of him. Because of him, I want to graduate high school and I also want to go to college and graduate.”
Thank you for being an incredible Big Brother to Henry, Randy! To start your application to become a Big, click here!
Over the holidays we had so many special moments within our community in support of mentorship. One big highlight was a holiday surprise from a mother whose four boys were matched in our program back in 2005!
Raising four young boys, as a single mother, was no easy feat for Abieyuwa Odighizuwa. Knowing that her boys needed positive male role models in their lives, Abie reached out to BBBS CNW to sign them up for a mentor to help guide them through middle school and high school.
Now, as adults, Owamagbe, Ighodaro, Ihoghama, and Osawaru have become champions in their communities, with their families, and in their chosen professions. Two of her sons have even made it to the NFL! Owamagbe played for the New York Giants, and Osawaru currently plays for the Dallas Cowboys!
Abieyuwa has always had a passion for service and recently founded the Odighizuwa Foundation to give back to her community, and other single mothers like her. Having walked in their shoes, Abie was thrilled for the opportunity to gift seven single mothers from the BIPOC community with a special holiday surprise, a gift card to Kroger, and holiday gifts for their families. The highlight of the reception was the opportunity for Abie and the community of single mothers, to share stories, messages of hope, and advice with one another.
“It was amazing to connect with the other moms, they were so excited to meet someone who has walked in their shoes,” shared Abie.
Abie greeted each attendee personally, awarding them with a $100 Kroger gift card for them to enjoy a holiday meal with their children. Big Brothers Big Sisters sent each attendee home with a gingerbread hour kit to make with their kids, a visa gift card, and a poinsettia.
The biggest gift of all was the opportunity to be in community with one another. Abie shared her experiences of having four boys in the program. She also gave wonderful advice to the other moms about how to set healthy boundaries, practice honesty, and how to clearly communicate as a family.
Carolina Adrianzen, Chief Programs Officer, reflected on the event sharing, “Having a parent coming back to give back was really a full circle moment for our agency. Seeing how these match relationships can develop over time really hit home with the moms and they were so inspired by how long Abie’s boys were matched with their Bigs!”
One of the moms who attended said, “I was so inspired to hear from Abie, whose boys have had such success in life. It really showed us the potential and impact of match relationships over time.”
It was encouraging for the moms to see another single mom starting a foundation to help others in the community. For Abie, it was a beautiful moment for her to mentor other single mothers, paying it forward.
At the end of the event, Abie walked around, shook everyone’s hand, greeted each mom with a warm hug, and offered kind words of encouragement. “Never give up hope! You’ve all got this.”
We look forward to hosting more events for parents to build community within BBBS in 2023.
We are thrilled to recognize Monica and Jeni as Big and Little Sisters of the year, celebrating the beautiful friendship they’ve developed over the last four years!
The two have stayed close throughout the pandemic and Little Sister Jeni even kept Monica company over Zoom calls, talking and playing games, as she recovered from a kidney transplant. Monica affectionately refers to Jeni as her Hermana and says that Jeni is like a real little sister to her.
Monica helped guide Jeni through applying to colleges, scholarships, and even sat with Jeni’s parents to help them fill out the financial aid forms. Jeni recently updated us that she was just accepted into Washington State University! She is excited about her future and to be the first person in her family to go to college! Big Sister Monica is thrilled that her Little Sister continuing her education nearby and continuing their friendship beyond graduation.
Our friends at Cambia Health Solution are matching gifts, dollar for dollar, up to $15,000! Give the gift of mentorship today and empower the resilience of a local young person, like Jeni!
Here at Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest, when we see a young person, we see more than who they are. We see the world they can transform, and the potential they possess to make it happen.
There are approximately 16 MILLION kids in America growing up without a mentor. Your donation today will bring the power and joy of mentorship to a child right here in our community, igniting their potential, and shaping the future of Portland and SW Washington for the better. When we believe in the potential of youth, they believe in their future.
Moving to Portland from El Salvador with his mom, at the age of 12, Little Brother Jason had quite a few hurdles in front of him. Adjusting to a new country, city, climate, language, you name it, Jason faced a multitude of changes. Knowing that her child needed the guidance and friendship of a mentor who was familiar with Portland, Jason’s Mom, Gloria, reached out to the team at Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest for help.
With a warm welcome, the BBBS enrollment team talked Gloria through the process of enrolling her son in the program. With English not being Gloria’s first language, our agency was able to connect her with a bilingual and bicultural Enrollment Specialist who was able to provide services to their family in their native language. Being culturally responsive to Gloria’s needs immediately put her at ease. She began to share the dynamics of her family and the urgent need for a male role model for her son. It became clear that the family needed a Spanish-speaking Big Brother and Match Support Specialist who could communicate with Gloria and create the best possible match for her son.
When Jason was interviewed for the program, he specifically asked for a mentor with a similar background, someone who could help him adjust as a pre-teen moving to the U.S. and not knowing the language. The Big Brothers Big Sisters enrollment team knows our applicants well and called up Gus’s application to become a Big Brother. Gus stood out because his mother was also from El Salvador, he spoke Spanish and could identify with Jason through shared lived experiences. It was a perfect match!
Polite and shy from the start, Jason was very quiet during their first few outings. After spending more and more time together, Jason began to feel more comfortable and shared more about himself and his interests. During a hike in Forest Park, Jason really opened up, sharing more about his difficulties understanding his school assignments. Gus recognized that this was a great way he could lend support to Jason. They made a goal to work together to practice Jason’s English-speaking skills and agreed that they would speak English together while on their outings. Gus encouraged Jason that if there was anything that he didn’t understand, he could stop Gus to have him explain what he meant. Gus also urged Jason to ask for extra help at school and often worked together on his homework assignments. Knowing that his Big Brother was by his side to be supportive and provide him with guidance, Jason no longer felt alone. Without fail, Gus was always there for Jason. Over time, Jason’s grades and confidence began to climb!
This fall, Jason started high school strong and has made amazing strides in building his confidence and overcoming his shy tendencies. He is working towards his goal of being the first person in his family to graduate high school and looks forward to giving his diploma to his mom and grandmother, who didn’t have the same educational opportunities. Gus and Jason were recognized at our annual gala as the Big and Little Brother of the year, celebrating the incredible bond they have developed over their last two years matched. Little Brother Jason even spoke in front of 250 attendees thanking his Big Brother for his incredible friendship and guidance.
Our match relationships start with a “hello,” and continue with a shared connection that thrives through transformative growth experiences. Mentoring really is the gift that keeps on giving by helping to empower the next generation.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest was awarded the #4 Most Admired Non-profit at the Portland Business Journal’s Most Admired Companies luncheon yesterday!
Thank you to all of the amazing Bigs, Littles, Board Members, Ambassador Board Members, Employees, and Supporters who make our work possible. It takes a village to raise a child and we are so grateful that you all are a part of this vital work.
Congratulations to all of the other amazing non-profits and companies who were honored!
To see more photos from this event, click here.
On Saturday, October 8th, the BBBS community gathered in the community room at Umpqua Bank in the Pearl District to host one of our ongoing high school workshops. Led by Program Coordinator, Ninfa Rodriguez, 22 Littles, Bigs, Siblings, and Parents came together to learn more about the different career paths and academic journeys of the six amazing panelists.
The Six Panelists Included:
-Andre Walcott, Ph.D., the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Advantis Credit Union and an Ambassador Board Member for BBBS. He earned his Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University.
-Jimmy Hillman is the owner of, and hair stylist at, Concrete Treehouse Salon. He is the first in his family to start his own business.
-Karen Foster is the Founder of KF Curates and an Ambassador Board Member for BBBS. She is an entrepreneur who curates equitable events and experiences.
-Lilo Alfaro is a consultant for OPAD, working as a Producer, and AEA Stage Manager with a passion for theater and the arts.
-Mizael Buron is the Manager of Umpqua Bank’s Pearl District Store and the Co-chair of the BBBS Ambassador Board.
-Nick Brown is the Vehicle Field Sales Manager for Toyota North America. He shared his experiences growing up working in the car industry and his path from working at a dealership to working for Toyota’s corporate offices.
During the first half of the event, panelists answered questions about their college experiences, and their path to their current jobs, and shared some tips they wish they had known as a senior in high school. At lunch, attendees enjoyed pizza from Ranch PDX and broke out into smaller group discussions, giving Littles the chance to connect with panelists, to ask them questions about their paths.
Karen shared her experience attending Oakwood University, Huntsville, AL. “Attending a Historically Black University helped me believe in myself, I experienced so much growth during my time there. To be surrounded by people who looked like me, including my teachers, was something I hadn’t experienced before. If I could give you all one piece of advice, it would be to fight imposter syndrome and anyone who tells you that you can’t do something. You CAN and you all belong in ALL the spaces you enter.”
Mizael told students the story of how he became interested in banking at an early age. “When I was in the 3rd grade, my class had a special career day visit from the Branch Manager of a local bank. The woman who came to speak to us made such an impression on me as a kid, it piqued my interest to want to learn more and pursue banking as a career. Throughout my life mentors have come in many forms, keeping yourself open to opportunities and open to learning will take you a long way.
Andre stressed the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves throughout your life. “Don’t change yourself due to the people around you! Surround yourself with forward-thinking individuals and if you fail at something, keep on trying.”
The event wrapped up with a special drawing for high school Littles, the chance for two lucky students to win a tablet! As an agency, we hold quarterly workshops for high school students to continue their learning, as well as one-on-one support for college applications, financial aid, and FAFSA assistance and help with college scholarships. To see more photos from this workshop, click here.
On Friday, September 23rd the BBBS Columbia Northwest community rallied together at the Redd on Salmon after a two-year hiatus. The sun shined bright as guests arrived to enjoy the cocktail hour, packed with entertainment featuring saxophonist Eldon T. Jones, Finn the Magician, a 360 photo booth, and delicious cocktails from Tito’s Handmade Cocktails.
We were joined by a special guest speaker, Artis Stevens, President & CEO of BBBSA, who gave a moving speech about the importance of mentorship in the lives of youth. Alumni Little, Lindsey Murphy, celebrated her 30th year in contact with her Big Sister, Melissa, a science teacher that inspired her to start her wildly popular YouTube show, the FabLab. The night concluded with a celebration of the 2022 Bigs and Littles of the year highlighting the matches of Big Brother Gus and Little Brother Jason and Big Sister Monica and Little Sister Jeni who took the stage to accept their awards.
As a community, we were able to raise a record-breaking $475,000 in support of our one-to-one mentoring programs here in Portland and SW Washington. One of the best parts of the night happened among all the staff and event volunteers after the event when, Beach Pace, BBBS CNW CEO, rallied everyone together to take a moment to take pride in all the work we had all put into this event. A sincere thank you to everyone who made this event a beautiful success. It takes a village, and we are so glad you are a member of our village.
Our sincerest appreciation goes out to our 2022 Gala Committee led by co-chairs Suzy Alexander, and Lee Lenker. A BIG thank you to our Presenting Sponsors Twenty Four 7 and Concentrix Catalyst, our Ignite Sponsors The Standard, OnPoint Community Credit Union, Nike, M Financial Group, Cambia Health Solutions, Andersen Construction, our Inspire Sponsors KPMG, Moss Adams, Comcast, Baird, General Sheet Metal, Hillsboro Hops, M Science, Sheldon Warmington & Janel Warmington, and Table Sponsors ACME, Advantis Credit Union, Brown & Brown Insurance. Barran Liebman LLP, Natasha Elhaj-Hedinger, Kaiser Permanente, Moda Health, North Highland, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Pacific West Bank, Parker, Smith & Feek, TM Rippey Consulting Engineers and Xenium HR!
To see photos from this amazing evening, click here.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest, our team has built a strong community of compassion and caring that has Alumni Bigs, and Littles, coming back years later. Many come to us with a strong desire to pay it forward after having such transformational experiences in our program. Alumni Little, Jane, is now at the height of her career and credits her Big Sister for showing her the path to college. She has built a beautiful career directing career services at universities like the University of Oregon, Michigan State University, and California State University, Bakersfield. As the author of the book “WHO Logic: What, How & Outcome: A Practical & Tactical Valuation Tool for Career Management,” Jane is a master at coaching students on how to recognize the value of their skills for success in job interviews.
Recently, Jane came back to her roots in the Pacific Northwest to lead a resume-building workshop for high school Littles and recently became one of Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest’s newest employees. Jane will be starting as the Workplace Mentoring Director on our Program team at the end of this month!
“My Big Sister and I were connected for five years. She was so pivotal to my growth and development from age 10-15. As a college student in her early twenties, she instilled in me the importance of an education to change my life circumstances.” said Jane. Match relationships can change the trajectory of a young person’s life helping them focus on higher aspirations, greater confidence, and better relationships in their lives. Each match sets individual goals for the year to focus on things like academic performance, interpersonal relationships, and even serving the community together. The impact of a connection can last a lifetime and Jane is one of many Alumni Littles who has returned to help the next generation.
Jane was excited to lead this workshop to share her experiences with Littles and to provide them guidance in building their big futures. The workshop was held at the BBBS offices and hosted students ages 13-18 and their Bigs. Jane began by explaining the importance of creating value propositions to sell your skills to an employer and they jumped right in for an exercise to try it out. Each student was assigned a generic product, with no branding, and they each went around the room to explain the selling points and value of their assigned object. This icebreaker gave the Littles a solid understanding of how to differentiate themselves on paper when drafting their first resume.
Jane then instructed the group to switch gears to personalize the exercise, having them write down value points about an experience they have had, like a volunteer experience, club, or activity they have been a part of using her WHO Logic Framework. “This session was soul-feeding for me” shared Jane. They then looked at two sample resumes, one that had limited detail, stuck in the “What” when describing their past experiences. The other, which had robust detail, dove into the “How” listing skills and outcomes. The students were asked, if they were the hiring manager, which person would they hire? “The students REALLY got it and as they started to share out around the room, you could see the lightbulbs going off for them as they saw the importance of value propositions,” said Jane.
There was one student, who was 13 years old, who shared with Jane that this workshop helped him realize that his resume was stuck in the “What” and he realized now that he had to be more descriptive. “I thought to myself, oh my gosh, this kid is going to rule the world one day. To care so much at 13, about his resume and future, it was powerful to see” Jane shared.
Throughout the year, we host over a dozen high school workshops to help students learn about things like resume building, financial literacy, completing the FASFA, and learning about different career paths through a career panel. Last year 92% of the high school Littles we served graduated from high school, compared to the state average of 80%. We are on a mission to make sure that high school Littles have all the tools and support they need to create their own BIG, beautiful futures. We are so thrilled to have Jane as a part of our growing team.
On Saturday, August 13th, Bigs and Littles embarked on a day of adventure at Tree-to-Tree Aerial Adventure Park. It was a perfect summer day to spend outside in nature before heading back to the classroom. When each match arrived, they were greeted by the friendly familiar faces of their BBBS Match Support Specialists. The Tree-to-Tree team set us up with a private area where matches could connect, enjoy snacks, and rest when they needed a break from the adventure.
One of the best aspects of the event was the ability for Littles to meet and connect as a community. With heights being a BIG fear for many, both mentors and their Littles encouraged one another through each course. Chief Program Officer, Carolina, and her Little Sister Yeni were in attendance and Carolina shared, “I’ve never seen my Little so courageous in all the time I’ve known her! She really pushed herself and I could see her confidence soar! Thank You to all the donors who made this activity possible. We conquered the aerial obstacle course, raced each other on the zip lines, and my Little Sister, Yeni mustered up the courage to (safely) plunge off the 65ft treetop! Thank you for this end-of-summer adventure for BBBS Bigs and Littles.”
Big Sister Chiki reflected on her experience with her Little Sister Vanessa and shared, “At this match activity, Vanessa and I encourage each other to step out of our comfort zones! She was terrified at first on the Ziplines. By the end of the day, she had the biggest smile on her face while releasing one hand off the safety rope, yelling woo-hoo as she zipped away!! Her laughter was so contagious. We both took a huge leap of faith as we braved the 65ft Tree Plunge! That was terrifying but we were so proud of ourselves for literally stepping out of our comfort zone! The staff and other matches were so kind and fun to be around. The entire event was amazing!! We will forever be bonded over this experience, we faced our fears head-on, and we are still alive!! On the way home, we talked for 45 minutes non-stop that this was an amazing experience and how we both overcame what we were once scared of!
Big Brother Zackary told us more about overcoming his fear of heights with his Little Brother Taye by his side, “Tree-to-Tree was a great bonding experience for Taye and I. Being 9 years old, he is just old and big enough to do more of the “adult” things, so he was excited to do the most challenging parts of the course. He likes climbing around on things, so it was the perfect activity for him. Both of us had different levels of fear when it comes to heights, mine being quite a bit higher. But I think it was good for my little to see me feeling vulnerable and out of my element. A lot of the stuff we do comes easy to me just based on experience so it’s good for him to see me take on something I’m not very confident about and how we can help each other through those times, it was cool to help each other through those spots. Being at an activity with other matches and getting to see other Bigs interacting with their Littles was really cool. It gave me a bigger perspective on the impact of the program on the kids. I even helped another Big overcome his fears on the high-level courses. It was a really connecting experience for all of us.”
We host match activities year-round for Bigs and Littles! You can click here to support, to donate today, to invest in enriching the lives of Littles right here in our community! To see more photos from this day of adventure, click here to visit our community Flickr.
Little Brother and recent high school graduate Oswaldo won a shopping experience at his local Express through their #DreamBig Project. Express, a national partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, is focused on post-secondary success, empowering young people to reach their full potential.
Over the last year, Oswaldo has worked tirelessly on his FAFSA, college, and scholarship applications with BBBS Program Coordinator Ninfa. His hard work, determination, and positive spirit got him nominated to win this $500 shopping spree!
As the first in his family to graduate high school and continue to college, Oswaldo was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to pick out some professional outfits for his next chapter. In the fall, he’ll attend Portland State University to major in Business and Nursing. He wants to give back to the Latinx community by providing bilingual services.
Thank you to Express and the #DreamBig Project for recognizing this incredible young man! #BigFuture #BeTheFirst #Express #DreamBigProject #ItsBigTime
On Thursday, May 19th, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest community came together at OMSI to celebrate the graduation of matches from the class of 2022. The hosts of the evening, Jaasyel Monroy, Match Support Specialist, and Ninfa Rodriguez, Program Coordinator for Futuros Grandes, led the bilingual ceremony for families and supporters to enjoy.
As an agency, we were so thrilled to bring our community back together for the very first in-person graduation celebration since before the pandemic. Being together that night lifted our spirits and filled us with hope for the 35 graduates who are embarking on their path into adulthood.
We had the pleasure of hearing from Alumni Little Brother, Gerardo Morales, who shared more about his 15-year-long match with his Big Brother Adam. Their match started when Gerardo was just 7 years old after his father had been incarcerated for the first time. Knowing that Gerardo would benefit from having a positive male role model in his life, Gerardo’s Mom signed him up for our program. Skeptical of his new mentor, Gerardo admittedly took a while to open up to Adam, but Adam’s patience, consistency, and friendship helped to build trust with Gerardo. As their friendship has grown, Adam is often the first-person Gerardo turns to for advice on how to navigate life as a first-generation college graduate, now out in the working world.
One of the best moments of the night came when the graduates took the stage. Proudly sporting bright green graduation stoles, each graduate walked the stage with their Big, parent, or guardian. Of the 35 graduates, 13 students applied and won scholarships of $500 to begin their new journeys. With a 92% graduation rate this year, compared to the state rate of 80%, everyone in the room beamed with pride in celebration of all the Littles commemorating this special day. Thank you to everyone who made this special event possible, including our event sponsors OnPoint Community Credit Union, and Flowbird.
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Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest announced today an unprecedented gift of $1.5M to transform mentorship in the Portland and Vancouver Metro Area. The gift, from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, supports the organization in furthering its mission to ensure young people have access to transformative mentoring experiences that empower them with a plan for their future and a mentor whose impact lasts a lifetime.
Today, nearly 11 million kids live in poverty and more than 13 million young people experience emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions like depression. And during the height of the pandemic, 20 percent of youth served by Big Brothers Big Sisters nationally lost contact with an important adult in their lives. In Portland, OR alone, there are more than 226 young people, known as “Littles,” waiting to be matched with mentors, known as “Bigs.”
“We are incredibly grateful for Ms. Scott’s investment in our work. Her belief in our mission that all children can achieve their greatest potential through a 1:1 professionally supported mentor relationship feels fantastic. The BBBS CNW team works diligently to support youth and their families. Through the pandemic, our staff was on the front lines with our families who were hit the hardest. To be one of only 38 out of 237 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the country to receive a gift from Ms. Scott is an absolute honor.” said Beach Pace, CEO of BBBS Columbia Northwest.
This unprecedented investment is the largest donation from a single individual in Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia NW’s 20-year history and serves as a powerful message in recognizing the importance of investing in mentorship to build and strengthen communities and society as a whole.
“Ms. Scott’s recognition of our unrelenting commitment to our youth and families means so much. Her insightful funding of this unrestricted gift allows us to focus on service itself vs the reporting of the service. We are focused on the mentorship of youth in a child-centered, equity & diversity-informed way. MacKenzie Scott’s donation allows us to expand programs and increase recruiting efforts to do just that.” shared Korede Alabi, Chair of the BBBS Columbia Northwest Board of Directors.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest believes no one person, organization, or gift alone can drive the significant impact mentorship can have on a young person’s life. It takes a village of mentors, volunteers, and donors to positively impact young people’s lives. This investment in Big Brothers Bigs Sisters Columbia Northwest and its community is an invitation for more people and partners to join in transforming mentorship for young people today and for generations to come. We invite the Portland community to invest in our local youth by supporting our mentorship programs and to consider signing up to become a Big today.
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest and get involved as a mentor, volunteer, donor, or community partner explore our website: www.itsbigtime.org.
We have been celebrating some of the amazing women in the BBBS community. Meet Ambassador Board Member, Karen Foster. The average age of a Little Sister in our program is 13 years old, so we asked Karen what advice she would give to her 13-year-old self:
“There are many things I would tell my younger self. First and foremost, I would tell her that she belongs everywhere! All places. All spaces. Nothing is off-limits. Be your own cheerleader. Don’t seek validation from other people. Hold on to fruitful and elevating friendships. Your circle should make you better. You can be kind AND still set boundaries. Put 10-15% of your money in a savings account. Celebrate EVERYTHING. Life just isn’t long enough. Saving nothing for later.
Lastly, I would say, never stop learning, growing, and evolving. There will be situations and circumstances beyond your control… Some will be incredibly heartbreaking, and some will be filled with joy. Ride through the waves knowing that YOU decide your response to the unpredictability of life. Build the life you want with the freedom to edit along the journey.”
Karen is one of 18 Ambassador Board members helping BBBS forward our mission to match youth with caring adult mentors. To learn more about the Ambassador Board, please email Darcie at [email protected].
Mizael Buron, Co-Chair of BBBS’s Ambassador Board and current Big Brother, recently led a Financial Literacy class for high school Littles in our program! Mizael is the Branch Manager for Umpqua Bank’s Pearl District location and has a passion for helping people with their finances.
During this workshop, Mizael gave high school students a tour of some vital life skills ranging from how to start a checking and savings account, through the importance of credit scores. He had a wonderful way of breaking the down each concept and using real life examples that Littles could relate to.
During this hour long session, students asked great questions like:
“How do taxes work?”
“How do students go about getting their first credit card?”
“How do people boost their credit score?”
“What do you think of crypto currency and NFTS?”
Mizael covered other topics like budgeting, the importance of saving, he explained tax brackets, and the responsible use of credit cards. He stressed the importance of staying current with your bills and paying more than the minimum balance on credit card statements to avoid high interest rates.
Near the end of the workshop, Little Brother Juan asked, “If you had the opportunity to give advice to yourself. What would it be?”
Mizael replied, “Save, save, save!” explaining that saving a portion of your earnings each pay check will really help in the long run.
Little Brother Josue was very thankful for the workshop sharing, “Thank you I definitely learned a lot today!”
Big Brothers Big Sisters Program staff member Ninfa Rodriguez, works with high school Littles all year round, organizing monthly workshops like this one! She works with students on their college applications & essays, the financial aid process, and even helps them with job interviews! Just a few of the many ways we empower the potential of the youth we serve.
In November of 2021, we relaunched our Ambassador Board here at BBBS Columbia Northwest. These local professionals are helping our agency create and support one-to-one relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth by collaborating with the Board of Directors and staff, to strengthen and grow the impact of our mission in our community.
Over the last six months, we have grown the Ambassador Board to 16 members, with current Bigs, former Bigs, and community members all serving alongside one another. We are thrilled to announce Mizael Buron, the Branch Manager at Umpqua Bank’s Pearl District location, and Keenan Ordon-Bakalian, an attorney with Jordan Ramis PC, as this year’s co-chairs.
Mizael has been a Big Brother for almost three years to Little Brother Misael, a high school student who has dreams of becoming a dentist. Mizael shared that he has really enjoyed being a Big Brother, “Being able to help someone grow through their formative years and to provide guidance has been very rewarding.”
Keenan has been a Big Brother to Little Brother Titian for two years. Titian is nine years old, and they have had a great time getting to know one another by taking trips to Blazers games, OMSI, and other adventures around Portland. Keenan shared that he has always been aware of the impact that mentorship can have on a young person’s life, and he is honored to be part of Titian’s support system.
We are excited to announce the launch of the BBBS Black Youth Ambassador Group, created and led by Amaya Gustave, Program Intern, and former Little Sister.
“To me, establishing a community where you are seen, uplifted, and championed is everything. BBBS Columbia NW gave that to me as a little, and I wanted to aid in continuing to further what we can do for our Black youth within the agency,” shared Amaya.
The Black Youth Ambassador Group is a group of high school aged Littles who are actively creating and celebrating a space for Black youth empowerment and advocacy within BBBS Columbia NW. Together they participate in community engagement and active discussions and workshops surrounding the Black experience. Students are given the space and encouragement to discuss ways they can contribute to strengthening the community not only amongst themselves but within the Portland metro area and any space they may find themselves in.
For their first meeting, they explored topics like:
Kimberle Crenshaw’s framework of intersectionality.
Social movements within the Black community
The impact of the Combahee River Collective and what intersectional feminism means to them
Environmental justice movements, the impacts of food deserts, and redlining in Portland.
“By having these active discussions, learning from not only the workshops but one another, we are further celebrating and validating our Blackness and our lived experiences. We are learning how we can advocate for ourselves and how we are seen in the world. We tell our Littles that they can reach for the stars, and this group furthers that notion! My hope for the Littles involved is that, as Black youth, they understand and know that the world is their oyster. As we grow and develop our collective efforts within this group, we will not only continue to empower one another, but continue to create community through discussion, explanation, and active participation,” said Amaya.
Next month the Black Youth Ambassador Group looks forward to discussing radical self-love and ways in which they, as Black youth, can show it to themselves. They will also dive into the themes of self-esteem, self-worth, aiming high, goal setting, and how to stop negative self-talk. We look forward to all of the amazing work they will embark on together this year. A BIG thank you to the Oregon Department of Education for funding the work of the Black Youth Ambassador Group.
In Korede’s professional life, he leads as the Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President at General Sheet Metal. He is a multi-faceted finance thought leader with a proven track record of driving growth and increasing efficiency. Having worked for large companies like American Airlines, General Electric, and Vestas, Korede has developed his entrepreneurial energy and sharpened his focus on driving businesses to the next level.
As a strong advocate for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Korede is excited to contribute his expertise to the organization’s growth and impact in the community. Korede is committed to investing in the next generation and serving as an ambassador for the organization’s mission to defend the potential of youth through one-to-one mentoring relationships. We can’t wait to see all of the wonderful things we accomplish together under his leadership for the youth in our community.
You can learn more about becoming a Big on our website www.itsbigtime.org/become-a-big/
Meet Big Brother and Ambassador Board Member Hector, who shared why he decided to become a mentor:
“I am a mentor to my Little Brother Kevin who is 16 years old. We have been matched for a year and a half and even though our match is fairly new, I have learned so much from him already. I decided to become a mentor because growing up I felt extremely fortunate to have the support of those around me telling me “You can be whatever you want to be!” As I’ve gotten older, I realize that not everyone has that support and it made me want to give back. In Kevin’s company, I am constantly seeing the world through a different lens. He has shown such strength through difficult times and that resilience inspires and motivates me to be a better person.”
For Little Brother Kevin, his match with his Big Brother Hector could not have come at a better time. Upon enrollment, Kevin’s Dad shared that he was struggling in math. As a devoted Big Brother, Hector met with Kevin every week. The two would watch YouTube math tutorials during each meeting. After homework, they would play their favorite video game, Call of Duty. The extra time and attention Hector was able to offer Kevin helped him improve his grades in math and helped build his confidence overall.
The presence of a Big Brother has also been immensely helpful for Kevin’s father, a single Dad who also has a younger daughter to care for. Hector helps the family by lending a hand as an attentive adult in Kevin’s life. He is always up to taking Kevin out to get some fresh air and exercise, by going on hikes and other outings, giving Kevin the extra care and support he and the family needed.
You can learn more about becoming a Big on our website www.itsbigtime.org/become-a-big/
The month of January is National Mentoring Month. All month long we are proudly introducing a few of the amazing Bigs carrying out our important work. Meet Big Brother and Ambassador Board Member Keenan, and learn why he decided to become a mentor:
“My Little Brother Titian and I will be celebrating two years matched in February. I chose to become a mentor because I have a strong desire to give back to my community and those around me. I have been blessed with some incredible opportunities in my life, due in no small part to strong role models and mentors who have guided me along the way. Seeing the positive impact that mentors have had on my own life, I am now committed to play a similar role in Titian’s life and support him in all his endeavors, big or small. This experience has taught me just how fulfilling it can be to work with youth. They are so full of joy and optimism and being able to play a small role in encouraging Titian to achieve his goals has been incredible. Some of our favorite activities include attending sporting events and exploring our community through hikes and activities. Titian also has a deep love for dogs, especially huskies, and so we spend a lot of time with my Siberian Husky, Copper.”
Did you know that at BBBS have 5 times more boys on our waiting list for a mentor than girls? #JointheVillage by becoming a #mentor today! You can learn more on our website www.itsbigtime.org/become-a-big/
To help us celebrate “I am a Mentor Day,” Big Brother Mizael shared with us why he decided to become a mentor:
“My Little Brother, whose name is also Misael, is 18 years old, and we have been matched for two years. He is a smart young man who has dreams of becoming a dentist. I decided to become a mentor after a conversation with a BBBS staff member at a Latino networking event in Hillsboro. She told me there was a BIG need for male mentors, which intrigued me to look into what that involved.
Growing up, many of my role models were authors I looked up to, but nothing beats having someone in person that you can directly connect with. After researching Big Brothers Big Sisters, I was thrilled that I could help in this way, to help a young person during their formative years. Two years later my Little, Mizael, feels like my actual little brother. He has taught me so much during our time together, like how to be a better listener. I truly believe he has made me a better person; I know he looks up to me and that drives me to keep improving myself.”
Mizael also volunteers his time serving on Big Brother Big Sister Columbia Northwest’s Ambassador Board. Members collaborate with the Board of Directors and BBBS staff to strengthen and grow the impact of our mission in the community, to help us serve more local youth in need of a caring adult mentor. You can learn more about the Ambassador Board by reaching out to Darcie at [email protected].
Little Brother Martin and his Big Brother Sean have been matched for almost two years, and already, Sean has had a BIG impact on Little Brother Martin’s life. Together, the two started an annual tradition of sitting down to establish their goals for the year ahead.
Last January, in his junior in high school, Little Brother Martin set a goal to improve his grades so he could apply to colleges. He had been struggling with his studies, but thanks to the encouragement of Big Brother Sean, he focused on his school work and raised his GPA from a 2.5 to a 3.5!
Providing transportation to the BBBS office, Big Brother Sean was on a mission to help Little Brother Martin work on his college application, essay, and the financial aid process. As a result, Little Brother Martin was accepted into Portland Community College and will be the first in his family to attend college in the Fall of 2022!
By supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest, you are helping to empower youth in our community to reach their greatest potential. Little Brother Martin and Big Brother Sean’s story is another example that “It takes a village to raise a child!”
You can help us match a child or teen with a caring adult mentor that empowers their potential and resilience today! Click Here to make a donation
Today Big Brother Rich and Little Brother Jayden’s friendship continues to flourish. Jayden dreams of one day becoming a chef. He and Big Brother Rich have been sharpening their culinary skills, trying out new recipes together. This year, Jayden was excited to join a special culinary program at his high school and is excited to build upon his future career. One thing we know for sure is that Little Brother Jayden is destined for BIG things!
You can help empower the potential of Littles, like Jayden, by investing in mentorship today!