DENVER, June 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A Fort Wayne, Indiana TV news anchor and a Peoria, Illinois insurance executive are this year's national Big Sister and Big Brother of the Year. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America selects the winners from hundreds of submissions from the mentoring network's 340 local agencies across the country. Comcast and NBCUniversal, as part of its sponsorship of the 2013 Big Brothers Big Sisters of America National Conference, will present the awards at a gala in Denver on June 25.
Pat Ferrell, matched through Heart of Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters, has been Big Brother to 16-year-old Jamir since 2009. Alyssa Ivanson, matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, has been Big Sister to 18-year-old Jordain since 2007.
"The best proof of our top 'Bigs' greatness are their 'Littles,'" said Big Brothers Big Sisters of America President and CEO Charles Pierson. "Big Brothers Big Sisters holds itself accountable for specific outcomes, helping youth improve in school, behavior and self-esteem. The stories of Jamir and Jordain reflect the dedication of their amazing mentors."
"Pat and Alyssa are national role models for us all, and understand how one-to-one mentoring changes lives for the better," said Charisse R. Lillie, Vice President of Community Investment for Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast Foundation. "We are honored to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters in operating the nation's largest workplace mentoring program, which gives our employees the opportunity to experience firsthand the power of helping our youth succeed."
When Big Brothers Big Sisters introduced Fort Wayne, Indiana WANE-TV health reporter-anchor Alyssa Ivanson to Jordain, she knew almost instantly that there was something extraordinary about the 12-year-old girl. Ivanson noted her new Little Sister was extremely shy and had difficulty making contact with her. Shortly after their mentoring match began, medical experts diagnosed Jordain with Asperger's Syndrome.
Ivanson worked closely with her Little Sister's mother to do everything in their power to help the pre-teen conquer her communication challenges. She has watched her Little Sister make steady progress, becoming more confident, making eye contact during conversations -- even placing her own order at restaurants.
"It was a steady process that began with scrapbooking. It's a hobby we both enjoy and working so closely on something so personal helped build trust," Ivanson said.
Over the years, the two have attended social functions; gone horseback riding; and attended movies and theatrical performances. Jordain also joins Ivanson for public appearances her Big Sister makes as part of the community service that comes with her high-profile job.
"I always felt safe with her," Jordain said. "She's been extremely supportive when it comes to me, and she also gives me an honest opinion on whatever I ask. I feel like my life would've been completely different if I didn't have Alyssa as a part of it. She's a great friend and an even better Big Sister."
"While I was encouraging Jordain to step out of her comfort zone, she was pushing me out of mine. I wanted to make a difference in a little girl's life. That little girl ended up changing mine forever," Ivanson said.
"We nominated Alyssa for this award because of her passion and sincerity toward our mission, and more importantly her Little Jordain," says Big Brothers Big Sisters Chief Executive Officer Josette Rider. "She always takes into consideration Jordain's best interest when choosing activities and utilizes her visibility in the community to expose her to things that have a direct impact on overcoming her personal challenges. Alyssa is a champion, a fantastic mentor and worthy of this award in every way."
Pat Ferrell expected his Big Brother commitment to last at most a year and be limited to visits to his Little Brother's school. That was the agreement he made when his employer, RLI, launched a corporate partnership with Heart of Illinois Big Brothers Big Sisters' Peoria office. With a six-year-old son at home and a busy career, he could not imagine that he would have more time to spend as a volunteer mentor. Then he met Jamir, his eleven-year-old Little Brother.
"We initially connected on one level – our love for sports," Ferrell said. "Jamir was pretty reserved and struggling academically. But as fast as our friendship blossomed, his grades improved."
The noticeable progress was enough to encourage Ferrell to do more. He made a deal with his Little Brother, promising that if he turned in all of his homework and had no unexcused absences for three straight weeks, he would take him to his favorite restaurant.
Jamir held his Big Brother to the bargain, letting him know the day and time he could meet him at Jimmy John's for subs. Before Ferrell knew it, he was applying to be Jamir's Big Brother outside of school in the agency's community-based mentoring program. Jimmy John's became a frequent meet-up spot.
"Pat has helped me really focus on my school work by giving me incentives or goals to meet. As I started reaching those goals, I noticed that everything he was preaching started to make sense and it was all setting in," Jamir said.
"The national Bigs of the Year should be more than great mentors; they should bring new meaning to the concept going above and beyond. Pat Ferrell is that Big," Match Specialist Jami Truelove said.
Last summer, Ferrell helped Jamir get a scholarship to attend a premier basketball camp at Kansas University. Jamir had an amazing time and was able to improve his basketball skills. Ferrell is driven to help his Little Brother maintain a clear perspective of important aspects of life off the court as well.
"If you asked Jamir to name his favorite activity we do together, it has nothing to do with basketball or going to movies, or bowling, or anything like that," Ferrell said. "It's just coming over to our house and hanging out. I would do anything for Jamir. He's smart, funny, polite and genuinely cares about people. He has become a part of our family."
Special Note: Applicants for the Big Brother of the Year and Big Sister of the Year awards commit to being available with their Littles for the awards gala and other appearances for 12 months. Shortly after receiving the initial 2013 Bigs of the Year results from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kansas City, Sandra Rayford, an original frontrunner, learned her Little Sister, Sena, had enlisted in the U.S. Navy and would, therefore, be unable to make the commitment. Given the special circumstances, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America will also recognize Rayford during the Bigs of the Year awards presentation.
About Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters, the nation's largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, holds itself accountable for children in its program to achieve measurable outcomes, such as educational success; avoidance of risky behaviors; and higher aspirations, greater confidence and better relationships. Partnering with parents/guardians, schools, corporations and others in the community, Big Brothers Big Sisters carefully pairs children ("Littles") with screened volunteer mentors ("Bigs") and monitors and supports these one-to-one mentoring matches throughout their course. The first-ever Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Summary substantiates that its mentoring programs have proven, positive academic, socio-emotional and behavioral outcomes for youth, areas linked to high school graduation, avoidance of juvenile delinquency and college or job readiness.
Big Brothers Big Sisters provides children facing adversity, often those of single or low-income households or families where a parent is incarcerated or serving in the military, with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. This mission has been the cornerstone of the organization's 100-year history. With about 350 agencies across the country, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves nearly 630,000 children, volunteers and families. The organization is engaged in a nationwide search to reunite with alumni mentors, mentees, donors, and family, staff and board members. Learn more at BigBrothersBigSisters.org.
SOURCE Big Brothers Big Sisters