Category Archives: Big Blog

Learning to Paddle: Canoeing on Lake Julian

It’s a hot Wednesday evening in July and the sun is just low enough not to scorch, but still hot enough to corral us into the shade offered by a grove of tall pines on the shore Lake Julian.

Under the roof of a small park gazebo, canoe and kayak paddling expert Peter Van Gieson of Wolf Creek Adventures is arranging an assortment of Personal Floatation Devices (i.e. life jackets) of all sizes over the picnic tables as, one by one, Bigs are arriving with their Littles for the summer’s final “Canoeing on Lake Julian” group activity.

For the past six years, Van Gieson has donated his time, equipment and expertise to this awesome canoeing series possible and FREE for Big Brothers Big Sisters matches, and each summer—the matches who build enough know how during the Lake Julian lessons, get to finish off the season with a trip down the French Broad! 

As everyone gets fitted in their PFD, Peter breaks down the difference between the purple and the red canoes (purples: hard to keep straight, reds: easy to keep straight) and reminds matches that the first course of action is to try to keep the boat straight (purple canoes were a less popular choice!), and once that’s mastered, there will be plenty of opportunities for maneuvering around. 

Little Sister Nevaeh looking a bit mischievous as she tethers the canoe to the shore while her Big Sister Kim gets the hang of steering.

Little Sister Tateonah and her Big Sister Laura, head for one of the Red Canoes and drag it down toward the water. For Tateonah—today isn’t just her first time participating in the Lake Julian activity—it’s her first time getting in a boat on any body of water!

Once all of the five canoes lined up on the shore, Tateonah quietly observes as Peter demonstrates how to properly board and disembark without capsizing or destabilizing your partner.  And then  the time comes for the Littles to wade into the water and hold the boats steady as their Bigs practice the pry and pull strokes—Tateonah is the first one out, grabbing the rope on the canoe’s bow and hanging on tight as Laura tries out some strokes. 

Little Sister Tateonah holds the canoe steady as her Big Sister Laura boards and practices the paddle strokes.

Finally, after forty five minutes of safety and technique instruction—it’s time for everyone to get in the boats and take them for a spin! 

Splashing. A few shrieks here and there. A few teeter-tottering canoes. But no capsizing—everyone is in, and getting settled in their vessels. 

For a while, Peter sloshes about in mucky shallows giving personalized instruction as the canoes collide and drift. But—it doesn’t take long until these five Big Sister Little Sister matches are paddling off into the cove and into the evening sunshine and weaving through buoys without any trouble. 

When Libby and Barrie first met a year and a half ago—Libby really wanted to learn how to swim, and so they spent their first summer together going to lessons three times a week! This summer, they get to take their water escapades to the next level!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once they’re out on the water, Tateona is all smiles! Doing a great job manning the bow and keeping that canoe moving forward!

 

Throughout the evening, these five Little Sisters learn new skills right alongside their Bigs Sisters. Together they laugh at their mistakes and then Littles’ faces beam as they see their abilities improve and discover new levels of self-confidence through trying something new. 

Each season, Big Brothers Big Sisters enlists the help of community partners, including local businesses and individuals, who make it possible for us to offer enriching experiences that build match relationships and give Littles a chance to expand what they love to do and to discover what they’re capable of!

You can expand what’s possible for WNC’s youth by volunteering your time, making a donation—or perhaps your business or organization would like to partner with us to further enrich our group activity program.  

 

Summer Adventures at the WNC Nature Center

Each summer, when our Site-Based matches are in the midst of a two-and-a-half-month hiatus in their relationship, Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC  hosts a group activity at the WNC Nature Center, where both Site-Based and Community-Based matches are invited to come and explore and appreciate the diversity of animals that live there including over 60 species native to Southern Appalachia. 

When we entered, most of the 8 matches attending delved straight into the dark room that housed the Center’s copperheads, timber rattlesnakes, tarantulas and an assortment of other reptiles, amphibians and arachnids.

When they emerged from the reptile room, Little Brother  CJ and his Big Brother Jacob made their way down hill to the foot of the Birds of Prey area. After spending some time with the Great Horned Owl and the Turkey Vulture, they lingered in awe of a red-tailed hawk as it tore at its breakfast while perched high on a branch staring intently back at them. 

In awe of the Red Tailed Hawk, Little Brother CJ and Jacob take a few moments to linger before moving onward toward the black bear habitat.

 

Meanwhile, three other matches were making their way along boardwalks leading through the humid eastern deciduous forest toward the two Cougars—Pisgah and Mitchell—who resided at the far edges of the 40 acre facility.  As Little Sister Genazia pulled out her iPhone to take some photos of Mitchell as he paced about with a dangling tongue, Brian and his Little Brother Avery competed to see who could give the other one the most visible bunny ears for their photo op. 

Hey guys: you don’t want to look too much like bunnies while those cougars are crouching behind you…

For Jerry and his Little Brother Rashad, the group excursion to the Nature Center is just one of the many activities they’ve participated in over the course of their two-and-a-half year relationship.

“Having a Little rejuvenates and older guy,” says Jerry as he shares a smirk with Rashad, “It feels good for me to be able to go around and do things with you—because I’ve had children before and I kind of miss them, and you’re one of the better ones!” 

Jerry and Rashad have clearly grown close over the course of their match: they’re having just as much fun chatting and poking fun at one another and laughing as they are checking out the animals. 

Rashad says that he wanted a Big Brother so that he could get out and experience new things, meet new people and apply himself in positive ways.

“We’ve gotten closer, especially being at ease with each other. And I’d like to see it grow even more..” -Jerry

 

“I wanted to do more stuff, like to be active outside of my house and outside of the neighborhood—to travel around.”

Together, the two have attended basketball and baseball games, gone swimming, camped, bowled at BBBS’ Bowl For Kids Sake fundraiser,  explains Rashad.

“And we’ve been to the library,” Jerry reminds him with a chuckle as Rashad smiles, remembering the book that he checked out that day. 

“Jerry has brought me into reading more books and stuff, and so now I’m getting more…I can’t find the word for it.”

“Intellectual?” says Jerry.

“Thank you! Yes,” says Rashad. “That’s why my grades are AB honor roll now.”  

After the otter exhibit, the Nature Center group activity is just about wrapping up, but Jerry and Rashad want to hang out a bit longer and decide shoot some hoops at an adjacent basketball court. On the way down Rashad shares more about why he wanted a Big Brother in the first place: It turns out that getting out of the house for him wasn’t just about staying active. He knew that he needed to find a positive role model for himself and to find healthy, productive ways to apply himself because the only other role models in his life—his elder siblings—were already getting into trouble and making choices that he knew would compromise his potential. 

“My brother and sister…they’re just way too bad,” says Rashad, as a distant, intense look overtakes his expression. In the moment, his disposition shifts from the light-hearted laughter that he’s carried up until now, to something serious.

“Like—they’re older that me, but…they just do way too much…stuff,” he says.

“I want to grow up and be either a professional football or basketball player, because I know I can do it and I’ve been told that too…I also want to be kind, friendly….and to try to think before my actions. Or something like that.” -Rashad 

Once on the court, they start shooting,  and Jerry and Rashad settle back into their fun-loving selves, laughing and challenging each other to take more difficult shots. Though Rashad chuckles  each time Jerry misses, Jerry reciprocates with positive feedback; on Rashad form, his effort, or just about himself as a person—the effect is obvious in Rashad’s effusive smile. 

“It’s exciting, it’s thrilling—it’s something for me to do,” Jerry says to Rashad, describing his experience mentoring. “And you show me things that I haven’t noticed in a long time and I can see things anew through your eyes. And I feel worthwhile.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ‘Great Story’ From Americorps’ Project MARS

Each quarter, Americorps collects “Great Stories” from our 18 members throughout the region about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms.

This month’s story comes from Americorps member Andrew White: 

Since I began this year of service, my number one goal has been to create a lasting impression on the students that I work with. I want to do more than be just a temporary role model for them. I want to make a difference—and this is something  I have not entirely been sure how to do.

Teachers come and go, and while students might really like me during my time with them, how do I foster a positive change in these students that will persist long after I have gone?

The students at this school are all so unique in their own way that there really is no set-in-stone way to accomplish this. What it came down to for me was to simply be myself while being a leader for these kids as well as someone they could trust.

During this year of service I have worked primarily with kids in kindergarten through fourth grade. I wanted to work with the younger kids because I am better at interacting with them, I know how they operate and it was easy for me to create safe and fun environment for them. I have shared some great memories with the younger classes and I know that I have been a positive influence on them this year. But they are so young that it is hard to determine how much of what I am doing will truly stick with them long term. This is why, despite my limited time with the middle schoolers, I wanted to try my hardest to connect with some of them.

The difficult part was that—unlike the little kids—I couldn’t just make a funny face or do a silly dance and expect them to laugh. For the older kids I had to really connect with them to earn their trust.

There was one seventh grader in particular who I saw a good amount relative to all the other middle schoolers. She was an aftercare regular and I often passed by her in the hallway. She was very shy and somewhat introverted, but also a kind and intelligent student.  Whenever I would see her, I would always say hello and sometimes try to have a conversation .

Our conversations were always short and sweet and I never lingered because I did not want to put her out of her comfort zone, I just wanted to let her know I was there and that I was someone she could talk to if she ever needed anything. It went this way for the majority of the year. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether or not she enjoyed my company. Often times, when I was talking with other groups of middle schoolers—whether I was giving them advice or just making small talk—she would sit with us but never join in. I figured she must like what we were talking about or enjoyed my company even if she was not directly involved. I was happy with this even if I could not always directly engage her. It made me happy to see her being part of the group.

One day in aftercare she overheard a conversation I was having with one of her peers about one of my favorite shows. She immediately got up from where she was sitting and ran over, grabbed my arm and gave me a high five. She told me that she also really liked that show. For a while we talked about it and other things we were interested in. It was nice to finally have a full-length conversation with her that she was totally engaged in.

A couple days went by and I eventually saw her in aftercare again. She came over to where I was and told me that she had something she wanted to give me. She pulled a piece of paper and handed it to me. On it was an amazing drawing of one of the characters from the show we both watched. It was, hands down, one of the most awesome drawings I have ever received from any of the students. I was sure to let her know that because I could not stop talking about how cool I thought it was.

When I went to put it away in my backpack I noticed there was a note written on the back, it read: “Thank you for being here this year. You really made a difference.”

A ‘Great Story’ From Americorps’ Project MARS

Each quarter, Americorps collects “Great Stories” from our 18 members throughout the region about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms.

This month’s story comes from Americorps member Jennifer Mathis:

The excitement I felt coming into my school and beginning my service year is indescribable. I’d heard stories from other members about their activities with students and the mentoring happening at their school, but nothing could have prepared me for experiencing it all first hand.

I had a long list of under-resourced students in my school when I first arrived, and made it my mission to visit each of them as quickly as possible so that they could grow comfortable around me and I could properly identify the resources for success that they required. Immediately, I developed a bond with a young girl named Daisy. Daisy was loud and very obviously eager to be the center of attention when I walked into the classroom. Always bright and bubbly when skipping down the hallways on her way to lunch. She told me she liked to skip because she could see her hair bouncing from side-to-side when she did; her long white-blonde hair that caused me to call her ‘Goldilocks,’ which would always make her smile. Then again, it was rare that I ever saw her without a smile on her face.

That was until the day I saw her crying in the nurses office. Instantly, I was tense and concerned for Daisy; to see a child as happy as she was crying her heart out, I was very anxious. I looked around the adjoining main office to ask someone why Daisy was with the nurse, but found that the school secretary, guidance counselor, and vice principal were all on the phone. I impatiently waited for someone to get off of the phone, and literally sighed in relief when the counselor set her phone back on the hook.

“Daisy?” Was all I asked her.

Shaking her head in obvious frustration, the counselor told me. “Lice. And no one at home will answer their phones. We’re all trying, but no one will answer.”

I could see this was weighing on her, and when I asked how long Daisy had been in the office, she told me she’d been in the nurses office since she walked into school; which was four hours earlier. I understood her frustration. Poor Daisy, sitting miserably with the nurse, and no one answering the phone so they could come get her.

I sat and thought of how sad Daisy was already, and how even more upset she’d be when I would tell her that her school based Big Sister wouldn’t be able to visit her because she had to stay at the nurses station. I glanced over to the nurses office to see her sniffling, trying to hold back her tears, when I heard the school secretary make a shout of victory from her desk.

Thank goodness for our resources.

Since Daisy and her older brother Daniel are community based members of Big Brothers Big Sisters, their father added Daniel’s Big Sister to the school pick up list so she’d be able to take them from school. And she answered the phone when we called.

When Daisy heard that Anna, the big sister, would be picking her up from school, that big smile I’d grown to adore appeared on her face once more.

“I like when I get to see Anna.” She told me.

And just like that, her itchy, uncomfortable head had been momentarily forgotten, and she started telling me about all the fun things she, Anna, and Daniel always do. And when she came back to school a week later, with her once long blonde hair now cut above the shoulder, she smiled and told me that her hair still bounced, she just had to skip a little higher to make it do so.

It was in that moment that I realized, nothing could prepare me for this service that I’m allowed to be apart of. It’s just something that has to be experienced.

Honoring, Celebrating and Recognizing the Littles

Each year, a new group of Littles reach the end of their high school senior year. Many of them have turned eighteen, some are moving on to higher education and—for most—their sometimes decade-long match with their Big comes to an end, and a new chapter begins. 

Every May, Big Brothers Big Sisters honors such an occasion with our Littles Recognition Dinner where regional matches are invited to share a meal, view a slide show, connect, reminisce and celebrate their many accomplishments.

Teriyah happily receives her certificate recognizing her for making the A honor roll at school, being inducted into the national junior honor society; and learning to play the violin and doing well with it!

With a mentor in their lives, BBBS Littles are exposed to so many new experiences and opportunities, and they’re provided with a consistent and long-term relationship that enriches and supports them as they grow. We know that with the support of their mentor, Littles improve academically, in self-confidence and in avoiding risky behaviors—but beyond that, in the long-run what is REALLY made possible in the lives of these mentees and what they bring to their communities as a result of these mentoring relationships? What are the long term outcomes in the life of a child who has the support of someone who truly believes in them and what they are capable of? With the encouragement to believe in themselves and their own potential—there is no way of quantifying the ultimate outcomes in the lives of Little Brothers and Sisters—but we know that they are BIG. 

Little Sister Siyuna is recognized for her inquisitive, open, funny, and appreciative character—and her out-going magnanimity!

The Littles Recognition Dinner is an occasion  that BBBS creates to bring the community together to honor and acknowledge not only the graduating Littles for all of the amazing progress they’ve made, but to also celebrate and recognize ALL of our Littles for who they are, what they are up to, and the amazing things they are capable of.

Last Thursday, May 25, we gathered at Asheville High School for the 2017 Littles Recognition Dinner, celebrating and recognizing five graduating Littles and over fifty other Littles for their many strengths.

“I am grateful that Big Brothers Big Sisters brought me and my Big Sister Nikki together,”said graduating Little Samara during her speech. Samara’s eleven year match with her Big Sister Nikki will be completing at the end of the school year.

” I wouldn’t have met this person—who is just like me—without this program. I have such a connection with her.  What I’m also grateful for is how we built our relationship— how close we are. We just have that bond that nobody can break.” 

“We’re sisters—and that’s what I feel all the time. And I do love you dearly and I’m so excited that you get to see me walk across that stage!” -Samara, pictured center with her Big Sister Nikki (right) and her mom Stephanie (left).

Over the course of the evening, program directors and match support specialists from four of BBBS WNC’s ten branches recognized sixty of our program’s Littles and presented them with certificates to take home.

Making the A Honor Roll; making the A/B Honor Roll; trying new things; excelling at sports; participating in the church choir; learning the violin; reading 100 books this year; overcoming significant life challenges; community service; adventurousness; courage; maintaining an open mind; GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL! All of these things were among the diversity of talents, efforts, qualities and accomplishments of this amazing group of Little Brothers and Sisters. Congratulations again to all of them! 

“When I first became a big sister, I thought I was going to just be helping a little girl out,” said Big Sister Denise of Henderson County, as she began a brief speech looking back on her seven year relationship  with her —now graduating—Little Sister Tatum. “But  I’ve received so much more from it, than I think she probably did—and I still am,” she said.

“Jacob has expanded his horizons by joining Jr. ROTC as a ninth grader and he has also being going through confirmation classes at his church. He remains ‘a force’ on the ping pong table.”

 “I watched that little girl grow into an outgoing, compassionate, goal-oriented young lady. She became a cheerleader at school and was co-captain of her school cheer squad. We’ve laughed together, been sad together. We’ve talked about a lot of different things including problems at home and school, hopes for the future, getting a driver’s license and—yes—even boys. I was able to be with her when she got her learners permit and her drivers license and I was able to see her cheer, and even sing at church. We’ve developed a friendship that I hope continues for many years to come and I am thankful to have been a part of her life.”

Denise’s graduating Little Sister Tatum—who could not make the occasion because of a conflicting obligation of presenting her senior project—delivered a brief speech by way of her Big Sister, with this special word to the Littles: 

“I want you to know that you are important and you are loved. Whatever difficulty you are facing, it will pass. When life gets hard—turn to your big. They are there for you in good times and bad. They love you—so let them. Life does get better. I wish all of you good luck in the future and: Have fun with your big.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters Spends An Afternoon with Hood Huggers International

Last week, four Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC staff members and esteemed local Big Brother of five years Jeff Paul spent an afternoon with DeWayne Barton of Hood Huggers International as he led us on his “Hood Tour: a journey through an ever-evolving patchwork of sites that all play an important part in weaving the history of Asheville’s African American community.

“I heard about the Hood Tour through a teacher at Francine Delany, and it seemed like a great opportunity to learn about the history of African-American communities in Asheville,” says BBBS WNC Assistant Director Jamye Davis.  

“As local citizens—and in our work with families and mentors at Big Brothers Big Sisters—it’s important for our staff to learn about and appreciate the rich history of African-Americans in Asheville over many decades and the societal, cultural and economic factors that affect African-Americans in Asheville today,” she says. 

On its home page Hood Huggers describes the tour thus: “Hood Tours is an intimate, interactive experience that is guaranteed to leave you looking at this mountain town with new eyes,” and that is exactly what the tour accomplishes. 

Before integration, Stephens-Lee High School [Pictured in top photo] was not just esteemed as local educational institution—but people came from all over the WNC to enroll. “This  school  was called ‘Castle on the Hill’, and it was a very powerful looking place that was producing a high quality product of students, and teachers,” says Barton. 
Beginning at Stephens-Lee Recreation Center on the east side and wrapping up at the Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center on the south side—the individuals and landmarks featured in the tour change a bit each time explained Barton, but what is consistent is that the individuals and institutions highlighted consistently weave a story that gives participants a deeper understanding of Asheville’s African American community—its history and its heritage. 

Check out the photos for a window into the story the Hood Tour helped to tell: 

“In 2007, those disparities [between the local white and black communities and white and black high school students] have grown. They’ve gotten worse [since the time of integration],” explains DeWayne Barton
When renovating the gymnasium of Stephens-Lee High School to create what is now the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center, the community insisted the gym’s original wall be preserved as is. The wall itself bears thousands of marks from past students and athletes who have scrawled and carved their initials and graduation years into the wooden panels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original wall of the Stephens-Lee high Gym has many stories to tell—scrawled in pencil, pen, knife marks—a plethora of messages with a plethora of mediums: “Tinch Parks Class of ’49”
Painted by local organization Just Folks in 2012, over 270 linear feet of murals in Triangle Park depict real stories of real people and local historical heroes of The Block—the historically black neighborhood in downtown Asheville that houses the park. As we walked from mural to mural, Barton narrated the particular story depicted on each panel: some illustrated The Block’s everyday heroes of days past, other one’s features cultural icons, political activists and other movers and shakers. Now, as The Block faces a future of serious gentrification (evidenced by a new Hilton-owned hotel being erected adjacent to the park)—like many other historically African American neighborhoods—Barton’s hope is that Triangle Park will remain as a permanent installment—”a planted flag”—and a tribute to the neighborhood’s creators and original heroes. 
“The land St. Matthias was built upon was donated by Mr. Patton—and we know that Mr. Patton was the second largest slave owner in Western North Carolina—second only to Mr. Woodfin. He donated the land and his daughter also played a role in helping to establish the church before the other early African American leaders said ‘Ok—we’ve got it from here.’ St. Matthias used to be called ‘Freedom Chapel’ and when you do the reading, a lot of early schools for African Americans were started in the church.” -Dewayne Barton
This mural panel at Triangle Park in The Block neighborhood depicts African American convict railroad workers who were leased by the state of North Carolina to build the railroad leading from Asheville to Murphy. Soon after emancipation, the practice of states leasing convicts for compulsory non-paid labor became common—and “gave birth to the modern prison industrial complex” explains Barton.

 

 

A ‘Great Story’ from Americorps’ Project MARS

Each quarter, Americorps collects “Great Stories” from our 18 members throughout the region about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms.

This month’s story comes from Americorps member Charlie Page: 

Fifth grade is a hard year: it’s transitory, they’re no longer the ‘kids’ of fourth grade in their minds— although at the beginning of the year developmentally they’re not that far away. In our case, they’ve also moved from the elementary “South Wing” to the middle school “North Wing,” which has its own connotations of autonomy and power.

Fifth grade can also be a big hormonal change for many of the students. In assisting with the fifth grade, I was usually met with frustrated glares, emotional angst and a lot of uncooperative students.

Each grade has performances based on units of study. There are two performances: he first is presented to other students of the school and the second is an evening performance for parents. Recently, the fifth grade had an informal informative performance,  called an “Informance’ that was about the human body systems they had studied in science class. Students had written songs and even short dance phrases designed to exemplify the actions of each system as it was highlighted. After, they proceeded to segment of reading creative fiction monologues that involved characters who were experiencing individual systems.

Being argumentative and stubborn most, if not all, of the fifth grade students did not want to do their ‘Informance.’ For one thing, it involved performing on stage, which wasn’t necessarily an exciting prospect. To boot, it involved a lot of group work—which wasn’t a skill they had developed, (personal issues between students they can’t get over and on top of that—compromising not being something they’d practiced).

Leading up to the day of the performance, even the teachers were wondering if they were going to be able to pull it off or not. I was supporting the dance instructor during class time to help one day. I was working with the Nervous System group. They were struggling to come up with, and agree on, movements as well as struggling to balance the more efficient personalities with the lackadaisical personalities. They were not incredibly receptive to my suggestions or my help, but managed to come up with some movements they could agree upon with a few minutes to spare—and as a result of this session I became very invested in their group’s success.

During a rehearsal a couple of days before the ‘Informance,’ the Nervous System weren’t singing their song . They’re dance moves…were more or less according to the script.  Without seeing as enough time to polish things before the actual performance, it was decided that this group wouldn’t sing the song they had written— they would just do the movements twice. They were the only group that wasn’t going to sing. Most of them were very embarrassed by this fact. Isaiah, in particular, respectfully fought back and it was decided that if they could suitably sing the song by the performance date they could both sing and dance like the other groups.

After the rehearsal I worked with the group individually. The students that showed up were determined to work on their song and get it right. I talked with them about putting in their best effort and how they were embarrassed that they couldn’t do it. We went over their part several times. Their enthusiasm and their effort was a complete turnaround from before and it was so heartwarming to see. During the dress rehearsal the day of the performance, the Nervous System group did a great job,: they sang clearly and loudly. However, it was during the in-school performance that I was really proud of them.

I was working the tech side of things. The songs were supposed to be displayed on the projector—both for the audience’s benefit and to provide a backup for the students on stage. A recording of the song was also played as their accompaniment. During the Nervous System’s performance, I accidentally played the wrong song. I pictured the students just standing there not knowing what to do and I was so embarrassed because I knew how hard they worked. But instead of choking, they all sang the song anyway – to the wrong tune, which is even more impressive. And they did their movements as well. They knew the words and the melody so well that they sang it anyway and they powered through my mistake.

At the end of the ‘Informance’ I went to the Nervous System group to apologize but also to let them know how incredibly proud I was of them. At the beginning of the rehearsals I didn’t know if they were going to be able to perform at all but they worked hard and they practiced and they sang the song even without the backup of the recording. At the beginning of the year most several of the students in the Nervous System group did not respond well to my overtures of friendship. I had seen them bicker and blame each other for the failings of the group throughout the Human Body Informance process. When I apologized for my mess-up during the show I half expected some of the students to be hostile. Instead I was given “It’s okay” and some thumbs up and a “we forgive you” said good-naturedly. This more than anything showed a growth in these students through this performance process and I’m so excited to witness them grow and mature even more throughout this year.

Kids On Campus Say Farewell

It’s a sunny spring afternoon. Trees are finally in full foliage, the air is crisp and clean from an (ongoing!) onslaught of rain, and in the basement of the chapel at Warren Wilson College, scattered balloons and a table of watermelon and pizza mark the farewell celebration for the 2016/17 Kids On Campus program.

Administered through Warren Wilson’s Center for Community Engagement, Kids on Campus has been connecting local youth to engaging on-campus activities with Warren Wilson college students since 1999.

For most of this year’s KOC matches, today’s farewell is only for the summer time—they’ll have the opportunity to continue their mentoring relationship in future years. But for graduating senior Emily Fox, today is the final match activity for herself and her Little Sister of two years.

“I just turned in my capstone this morning,” says Emily smiling, adding that she plans on maintaining a relationship with Harmony, at least by phone, in the coming months.

 “Harmony’s funny—but she’s also super responsible,” says Emily, “She always checks in with me and tells me about any homework she has to do, ready to get that out of the way so we can go do fun stuff.”

Since August of 2015, Emily and Harmony have been hanging out for three hours every Tuesday afternoon of the school year. They always start with homework but afterward, they get to explore the vast network of forests and fields of the over 1100 acre campus—which includes a working farm on which lives one of Harmony’s favorite campus attractions: a cow named Pepper. 

“I didn’t expect I was going to have this much fun here,” says Harmony, “I thought it was going to be, like, just doing homework and then having fun for, like, a half hour. But it’s way more fun than I thought it would be.”

Hosting this program on campus doesn’t just make it easy for college kids to get involved in enduring mentor relationships—it also offers a valuable opportunity for kids to be immersed in an environment of higher learning—which connects them with a clearer vision and inspiration for how they too can pursue college. It also helps mentees build a deeper understanding of what higher education has to offer. 

“I want to grow up and I want to come to school here,” says Harmony, adding that if KOC is still in operation at that time, she wants to become a volunteer so that she can help kids to grow in the same way Emily has helped her. 

Like most KOC afternoons, today starts out with each of the six Bigs linking up with their Little to assist them with homework. But once they’re finished—a host of fun games awaits them, including a tug-of-war, a relay race and paint twister to name a few.

Senior Brian Wuertz has participated in the KOC program for the past two years, mentoring his Little Brother, Chris, who’s now in the fifth grade. When he was growing up, Brian explains that he didn’t have many—if any—male role models in his life. No one to talk to about his problems, to received support from, or just to be with.

“I’m just excited to see Christopher every week…It feels like this part of the day, this part of the week is really important—like I’m doing something worthwhile,” he says.

Brian’s been matched with Chris for two full school years, and after he graduates this fall, the two plan on continuing their match in Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Community-Based Program.

“Brian is a really nice guy. He always listens whenever I want to talk to him, “says Chris, explaining that he loves this program because there are no other kids in his neighborhood to hang out with.

“We mostly just go around doing whatever we can think of,” he says, “We went to a science lab here on campus last week. They were making a certain type of bacteria glow—to where you could actually see them!”

Brian chuckles, remembering that afternoon.

“You’re really really clever,” he says to Chris, “You’re always interested in talking ab out how things work, like the other week when the van drove by making a weird sound, you turned to me and asked: ‘What do you think is wrong with the van? How do you think we could fix that?’—and then you came up with all sorts of ideas about it. You’re also really smart,” he says. 

These complementary words from his mentor mean a lot to Chris—you can tell. Even though he bashfully toes at the ground as Brian shares them, the praise brings a smile to Chris’ lips—which may not be a huge show of emotion in the moment, but might just be the encouragement he needs to make it through the next big challenge he faces in life or to expand his future aspirations.

It’s time for the tug-of-war and the six matches are splitting into “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” teams. As it turns out,  the tug-o-war ends badly for the gentlemen. But—to be fair—they were outnumbered, and the one mentor was compromised with a wrist brace.

Still, regardless of who smears whom, every competition over the course of the afternoon poses an opportunity to practice sportsmanship, and with only a few outlying pouts and jeers, the group agrees that the best way to respond to both winning and losing is: graciously.

After the games, there’s plenty of time for free-play. Everyone scatters.

Meric flies off on his scooter toward the main campus and his Big Brother Bobby rushes to start up his moped and zoom after in pursuit. Ethan and Conrad disappear between a row of hedges (a secret passageway, I’m told) to balance along a stone wall, then—once joined by their Bigs—they climb en masse into a beautiful old Dogwood tree and discuss Assassins Creed at length.  Harmony and Emily sit down at a table inside, abundant in craft supplies, to decorate frames that will house photos of them throughout the year which they’ll take home as keepsakes.

At KOC, Chris, Harmony, Ethan, Conrad, Meric and Jaycee are full of laughter and smiles. Here, they feel seen and valued for their uniqueness. But it isn’t only they who benefit from these relationships—the mentors grow tremendously and learn from the mentees as well.

College is a great time to get involved in something like this..[A]s people grow up, and become more ‘adult’, they get disconnected from just how to have fun…Becoming a mentor allows you to stay connected inter-generationally.
“One way that I’ve really grown as a result of this relationship is in the ability to talk about my own feelings—and that’s something that we don’t really value as a society: men talking about their feelings,” says Brian.

“Just having a relationship like this makes that happen—and there are a lot of people who don’t have that. And so…it’s something that we can do…” he says, turning to Chris, “to be brothers.”

2017 Spring ‘Humans Of Asheville’ Series

This week, local blog Humans of Asheville will be rolling out a series of portraits and stories profiling Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC staffers, mentors, mentees and board members. 

We’re so glad to have the opportunity to share our stories of why we are committed to transforming children’s lives through mentoring and how mentoring truly can change our communities and the world. 

Dorian Palmer: Mentee, Board & Advisory Council Member
“But when I think back on it it was me diversifying, trying to understand another way of life. It was really broadening my scope of life, living.”

If it weren’t for Nathan I don’t know where I’d be. I wouldn’t be here, that’s for sure. Not here in the sense of the word, present, but not here in this organization. I wouldn’t be here mentally. I wouldn’t be involved in Non-Profits. I wouldn’t be involved with half of the other stuff I do. I serve on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters as well as the United Way in Burke County. I’m also certified by the United Methodist Church to preach in any church internationally. I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if it weren’t for Nathan.

Robin Myer: Executive Director 
We all have a responsibility to children.

I know it works. I’ve seen it work. It works not only for the kids but for the volunteers. We hear from them. They get as much out of it as the kids. This is a way for children and adults to come to commonality. We work with poverty level kids. We work with middle and upper class volunteers. It’s the chance for both of them to see the other side and figure out how to work with the other side. We work with a lot of interracial matches. It’s one kid at a time. You start with your children and then branch out. You help others with their kids. It makes a difference for people and that’s why I’ve done it for so long.”

Jamye Davis: Assistant Director
The most rewarding things about my job are the stories.

I think not everybody is cut out for mentoring but I do wish more adults, even if they have school aged kids, find some way to get involved in the life of other kids in some supportive way. There are so many ways in our community to help. I think a lot of people don’t realize what families are going through. What’s more common in our program is that kids only see what’s in their small circle, they don’t have a lot of resources to do a lot of things. Their world view tends to be really small, their neighborhood, their school. There was one Little Sister that wanted to work at Sonic when she grew up because that’s what people in her family do. But then her Big Sister says, let’s see what other things that you might want as options. She ended up going to AB Tech and completed the Nursing Program. She’s a nurse now. Those are the kinds of things that we see on a regular basis, kids having their horizons expanded.

Jill Hartman: Enrollment Matching Specialist
Just to get out on the Blue Ridge Parkway, go have a picnic, see a waterfall. Most have never done that unless they’ve been with a volunteer.

When a family would like to use our services they are usually put on a waiting list. Our waiting list for girls is usually a couple of months. For boys it’s anywhere between 8 months to a year. Men don’t volunteer nearly as often as women do. Pretty much for every 10 women I get one guy. So boys linger and linger and wait. Sometimes they never get a Big Brother. We’ve tried everything over the years to get more men to sign up. We continue to try. It’s heartbreaking when a mom calls in and wants hep and I have to tell them we are at a 10 month wait. That’s just to get them an application not even a Big Brother. I have a drawer full of applications for boys that are still waiting for more male volunteers. I have between 60-80 boys currently waiting. There are a lot of people who don’t know that we are even here much less that we need more volunteers.

 

Elizabeth Gillette and Kayada: Big Sister and Little Sister

We haven’t been together that long (almost 3 months) but I already feel so close to them. It’s really and amazing connection. I feel really honored to have been matched with them.

Everybody always asks me if I like having a Big Sister. I do. It’s fun. I like to play UNO and we play tag. We like to go eat ice cream. I like rainbow ice cream because it has every color in it.

-Kayada

I love to see that competitive side of her come out. Just to think about what she’s going to be like when she gets older and I have the opportunity to be with her on that journey. I would love to be with here for a very long time. That feels important to me.

-Elizabeth Gillette

Laura Maynard and Quan Morris: Former Big Sister and Little Sister

It’s incredible, the feeling of having my daughter in the same program that helped me. -Quann

I was 9 when I met Laura. She was more than just my Big Sister. She was the big sister I always dreamed of.  She was another mother. I can’t express it enough. Without this woman I don’t know where I would be. When I came into the program with my mom battling drug addiction, my dad incarcerated. Laura was my angel that came to me.

-Quann Morris

We’ve done all kinds of things and we would have special events that would happen when she would reach a goal or something but it was the day to day just spending time/ordinary moments that come to mind when I think of special times spent together.

-Laura Maynard

Sara Basile: BBBS Outreach and After-School Program Coordinator

With this job a good description of what we do is that we build bridges and fit puzzle pieces together.

The way things are going in our society now I feel like making matches like that—people from different cultures that have some key commonalities—is very important for these children going forward.