2023 Bigs of the Year
2023 Bigs of the Year: Brad Roberts and Xin Peng
What does it take to become a Big? We are often asked this question and the answer is simple. Bigs – our mentors – are at the heart of our mission. Bigs are caring adults who have a passion for positively impacting a young person’s life. These individuals volunteer their time a few hours a few times a month to give youths the one-on-one time they deserve to ensure they reach their fullest potential.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts is proud to honor Brad Roberts and Xin Peng as the Agency’s 2023 Bigs of the Year. These honorees are among 4,000 Bigs this year who are making a difference in young lives. Hear more on their mentoring experiences.
Roberts started mentoring in 1985 when he was a freshman at the University of New Hampshire through the school’s campus-based program, following in his older sister’s footsteps who was matched with her own mentee, or Little, two years prior. Over the last 38 years, he watched his first Little, Chris, graduate from college, get married, have two sons whom he proudly refers to as his nephews, suffer loss and find love again. Roberts’ mentoring experience was so rewarding that the father of two daughters re-engaged with the organization in 2014 after becoming an empty nester.
Although the duo resided in the same city, they lived in what felt like worlds apart. Not only did Roberts expand his Little’s pallet, but he was also there when he summited his first mountain and took his first flight – to Florida to meet Robert’s original Little, Chris. Over the last nine years, Xzavier has struggled with family dynamics, grief, social pressures, exposure to inner-city violence, and the academic and socioeconomic impact of the pandemic. They now talk openly about overcoming these challenges as the recent high school graduate plans to pursue local job opportunities and his ambition to be an influencer.
“I never faced many of these obstacles, but I listened, encouraged and empathized,” says Roberts, an engineer. “Often, I can sense the weight coming off his shoulders as he lets it all out. I know I can’t solve all the problems of the world, but it gives me joy to know our relationship allows him to have someone to confide in, help carry the burden and walk alongside as he goes through challenges in his life. I became a Big to “give” and unknowingly ended up “receiving” so much. There is no doubt that my relationship with Xzavier has also made me a better person as he has challenged me to be patient and to open my eyes to living in someone else’s shoes.”
Peng was matched with his mentee, or Little, Alex Braga , in July 2018. Braga’s parents enrolled him in the nonprofit’s signature community-based program to provide him with the one-to-one attention he deserved, as they were focused on caring for his younger brother with autism transitioning to a residential program. At the time, the 9-year-old was shy and hesitant to try new things.
“I didn’t want to intrude on this young person’s space and boundaries, so for a while, it was mostly me sharing my feelings or hugging my/his loved ones in front of him,” says Peng. “We’ve been taking turns to decide what our next outing will be, and try to do something new since both of us struggled with trying new things. After a couple of years, he started embracing my hugs, and even gave hugs in return every now and then, becoming more and more open about other aspects of his life, and they made me feel so special and touched, some of my best moments as a Big and most beautiful moments of my life.”
Braga’s mother, Ann, credits Xin with helping her son to regulate and name his emotions and getting him outside of his comfort zone, going to overnight camp for the first time and igniting in him a passion for photography. Over the past five years, the duo has enjoyed a variety of outings, ranging from walks and kayaking to hitting the movies and visiting museums and zoos. In 2019, Peng and Braga, along with Peng’s husband and Braga’s mother, proudly marched in the Boston Pride Parade for then Mayor Walsh.
One of their favorite activities is cooking together, inspiring Braga to try new foods and even take independent cooking classes. Peng, who immigrated to the U.S. from China in 2014, even taught his mentee his family’s dumpling recipe in celebration of the Chinese New Year.
Think you have what it takes to become a Big? Anyone can become a mentor as the agency welcomes youth and adults of all races, ethnicities, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and physical abilities. Volunteers must be 18 years old or older and be able to commit a few hours a few times a month for at least a year. For more information, click here.