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Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Awards Outstanding Volunteers and Youth in Mentoring Program

July 2, 2021 GMT
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Big Brothers Big Sisters of America awards outstanding volunteers and youth.
1 of 2
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America awards outstanding volunteers and youth.

TAMPA, Fla., July 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is honoring outstanding volunteers and youth for their inspiring stories, progress, and dedication to the program.

In partnership with iHeartMedia and Influential, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America announced the awardees at the Bigger Together Celebration, the culmination of the organization’s 4-day Virtual National Conference. The two volunteers (called ‘Bigs) and two youth (called ’Littles) were selected out of nearly 280,000 volunteers in the program and for the first time, the winners were announced to a streaming audience on Facebook.

“We’re thrilled to be able to celebrate the unique connections and relationships that are made through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and this year, more than ever before, we truly understand and recognize how important these mentor relationships have been for the development and encouragement of our youth. Out of thousands of Big/Little matches, we’re honoring Julie and Karma, and Mark and Eric, as our two Bigs and two Littles of the Year, as we believe they are both true testaments to our organization’s strength and impact.” Artis Stevens, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

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Big Brother Mark and Little Brother Eric

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh

“My Big Brother Mark helped me redirect the sadness that I had after the loss of my dad. Mark turned the light back on in my heart.”

Little Brother Eric was just 7-years-old when his father passed away. His aunt reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh hoping that a mentor would be someone Eric could open up to and trust, and he found that in Mark, who works in community affairs at a local bank. In fifth grade, Eric invited Mark to his school for ‘Take Your Father to School Day’ and when his classmates questioned Eric and Mark’s connection to one another since they weren’t the same race, Eric simply replied, he’s ‘My Big Brother’.

The conversations surrounding race aren’t as simple when you’re in high school.

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In 2020, during Eric’s junior year, in addition to the normal stressors of classwork, Eric was coping with the pandemic, family members who died from COVID-19, the challenges of social distancing, and the racial unrest across the country. In fact, Eric witnessed several racial incidents at his school. Mark was there to listen, sometimes not knowing exactly what to say, but to offer support as an ally, attending forums and meetings surrounding the difficult conversations about racism. What Eric appreciated the most is that Mark never pretended to understand the struggles Eric faced as a young Black man, but was there to learn and grow, too. “Eric has become a young leader in the fight for racial justice,” said Mark. “I look up to him in more ways than I ever thought I would.”

When Eric heads to college, he’ll play football, but his ultimate goal is to become a math teacher. He’ll have more than basic math facts to share with his students. He wants to remind kids what his 10-year plus friendship—now brotherhood--with Mark has taught him: “You don’t have to be alike to be a great Big/Little match, learning to understand each other’s views can be a good thing and trust is the hurdle to get over it, to make it work.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City

Big Sister Julie and Little Sister Karma

When 16-year-old Karma thinks about her future, studying psychology and interior design are on the top of her to do list. And along with Karma’s aunt and other family members, there’s someone else who will be cheering her on—her Big Sister Julie.

Julie, a third grade teacher, and Karma were matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City in June of 2017. Both will tell you they’re more on the quiet side but have bonded over their love of ice cream! Two months after their first meeting, just when they were getting to know one another and connect, Karma was in a tragic accident. A drunk driver collided head on into the car Karma was riding in, killing her mother and injuring her sister.

Karma was in a coma for 8 days, in the hospital for 99 days.

And Julie was there and has been, ever since.

“I remember leaving the hospital and sitting in my car crying at just how proud of Karma I was thinking how strong this young girl is,” said Julie. “She’s resilient, she’s brave, she never complains.”

The most challenging time of their lives brought them closer together.

From country music concerts to whipping up dessert masterpieces in the kitchen, the two haven’t missed a beat. Karma’s putting her creative side to work as the official glass designer for Julie’s wedding favors. And the reason she wants to pursue a career in psychology is to help others, the same way it helped her.

“My Big Sister has taught me how to be more open,” said Karma. “And I hope what Julie has learned from me is to keep fighting even when the odds look like they are against you.”

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Founded in 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is the largest and most experienced youth mentoring organization in the United States. The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Big Brothers Big Sisters’ evidence-based approach is designed to create positive youth outcomes, including educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors, higher aspirations, greater confidence, and improved relationships. Big Brothers Big Sisters has over 230 local agencies serving more than 5,000 communities across all 50 states. For more information, visit: www.bigbrothersbigsisters.org.

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SOURCE Big Brothers Big Sisters of America