Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound pairs children with adult mentors to help them build positive attitudes and behaviors. It's one of 13 nonprofit agencies supported by donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
Haydee Vizcarra says the little things are big for her family.
Faced with raising four boys and a girl, she finds there’s not always time to do the little things, like going out together for ice cream or a movie. It’s also difficult because her husband, Jesus Vizcarra, works two jobs to support the family.
That’s why, over the past few years, the Vizcarras have welcomed three more guys into their lives: mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.
“It just changed our life,” Haydee Vizcarra said. “It’s truly a blessing.”
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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound pairs children with adult mentors to help them build positive attitudes and behaviors. It’s one of 13 nonprofit agencies supported by donations to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
At its essence, the Big-Little relationship is about having a caring adult who shows up, said President and Chief Executive Patrick D’Amelio.
“What we do is really very simple,” he said. “In its purest form, it’s about finding a caring adult and putting them in the life of a child, and letting that adult and child spend time together in a meaningful way. … It matters that the adult shows up consistently — week after week after week.”
Pete Teigen, 32, of Seattle, has been showing up for Jobany Vizcarra, 12, for more than three years now. Jobany was the first of the family to join the program. He and Teigen both recall there was one thing in particular that clicked when they hung out for the first time years ago: baseball.
Teigen said he was amazed at how much the boy knew about the sport.
“That was kind of when I was really like, ‘Yeah, I think this would be a good kid to hang out with,’ ” he said.
Baseball likewise helped Byron Dill, 28, of Kirkland, and Jesus Vizcarra, 10, connect the first time they met this past summer.
Rachael McKinney, their match coordinator, was there for Jesus and Dill’s first meeting, and she says she noticed something she doesn’t often see between new matches.
After they signed paperwork, the newly paired Big and Little played a get-to-know-you game. Jesus found out Dill played baseball, and before the game was done, McKinney said, he rushed into his room to grab baseball pictures to show his new Big.
“And so they were like instantly able to bond over their love for sports and baseball … and that’s not something I see very often with a kid being instantly really comfortable like that,” she said.
Like the other two Big-Little pairs, Jeff Josephsen, 31, of Bellevue, and Jonathan Vizcarra, 10 (he and Jesus are twins), meet up a few times every month.
“We get to go out and do a lot of stuff,” Jonathan said, recalling that they’ve baked cookies, seen baseball games and gone bowling.
“Remember I tried to explain electricity to you?” Josephsen asked on their drive to the Seattle Aquarium earlier this month.
“Oh, yeah,” Jonathan says.
“Remember any of that stuff?”
“Yes, we made a light bulb flash.”
“We blew up a light bulb,” Josephsen said, laughing.
The Bigs also can be there just to listen.
“It’s always someone you can talk to because you can’t really talk to your mom all the time,” Jobany said. “… I’m really thankful. I always can have someone to talk to and share a bond with someone.”
Teigen says he’s not sure what role he’ll have as Jobany gets older, but he hopes he can be there for support.
“Hopefully, I’ll … just continue to be an additional support for Jobany as he goes through middle school and high school,” he said. “But more than a support, you know, a friend — somebody he can talk to when he needs to get out of his house and just kind of get away.”
But some Littles are still waiting for their Bigs to come around.
About 400 boys and 180 girls are on the waiting list for an adult mentor. Littles can wait for a Big anywhere from two weeks to two years, depending on the child’s needs and the available pool of adult volunteers.
Location plays a part, too. The agency says the areas most in need of volunteers are South Seattle, South King County and Pierce County, particularly for Big Brother volunteers.
“The need for Big Brothers, Big Sisters is great, and it’s always our biggest priority and challenge,” said D’Amelio, the CEO. “We need good men to step up and volunteer.”
To keep up with the demand, D’Amelio says his agency is putting more resources into its volunteer-recruitment efforts this coming year.
“There’s other circumstances that are a lot worse,” Haydee Vizcarra said of children seeking Bigs. “And I’m so thankful that we were able to get a Big, considering how much need there is, and how [many] kids that are really going through a lot of stuff and need that Big.”
As Haydee describes how much the three Bigs have meant to her boys, her youngest and only daughter, 5-year-old Johanna, scurries across the living room of their Kirkland home and whispers something in her mom’s ear.
“And you want one, too. You want a Big Sis, too.” Haydee replies. “We’ll have to sign you up for a Big Sis.”
Joanna Nolasco: firstname.lastname@example.org