Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts Names Brad Dixon Big Brother of the Year Bellingham Resident is a 9-Year Volunteer for the Youth Mentoring Program
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts (BBBSEM) has named Brad Dixon, 67, of Bellingham, the agency’s 2022 Big Brother of the Year. He is one of over 3,000 volunteers, referred to as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, for the nonprofit who are committed to developing caring and life-altering one-to-one mentoring relationships with children.
Dixon’s mentoring journey began nine years ago when he found himself an empty nester looking to do more in his community. A proud father of two daughters and grandfather of six, he knew he had more guidance to instill in a young person. Never having a son of his own, he believed he could foster a meaningful relationship with a child in need of a positive male role model. Enter Ayden Li Vargas, 18, of Waltham, Dixon’s Little Brother.
Li Vargas was enrolled in BBBSEM’s school-based program by his mother who was looking for additional support for her son as the family transitioned to a new normal post-divorce. Dixon was matched with Li Vargas in 2013 and the duo began meeting once a week at the then 3rd grader’s school during lunch and recess.
“I didn’t know anything about Ayden before we were matched except what I learned from our match support specialist while going through the matching process,” says Dixon. “He told me Ayden has some interest in sports, was somewhat quiet, liked playing games, lived with his mom and little brother, and had regular contact with his father. All of those interests, including having a brother, resonated with me and being a divorcee myself, I knew a little about how being separated from one’s father can be a challenge for a child.”
Those commonalities and a shared passion for the Boston Celtics forged a mentoring relationship that has grown to be like family. In their early days together, they bonded playing soccer and basketball in the Waltham Common. As Li Vargas become more involved in music and choir, Dixon would make sure to attend as many of his performances and athletic games as he could. In more recent years, the duo’s focus became helping Li Vargas to achieve his goal of being the first person in his family to go to college. The soon to be high school graduate was recently accepted into all eight of the Massachusetts state universities where he applied. He looks forward to starting school at Framingham State University in the fall where he will study Computer Science.
“Brad has become almost like Ayden’s grandpa,” says Tara Welsh, Ayden’s mother. “He has attended swim meets and basketball games for which he even helped to train him, school concerts both during and after hours, and even competed in a run together. They have been so supportive to each other during family sicknesses and deaths of very close family. Brad even attended my wedding with his wife Anna and is now here advising on many hard choices like college. The relationship with Ayden and Brad is what each parent hopes their relationship would be like with their Big.”
With research and proven outcomes at its core, BBBSEM creates matches based on shared interests, geography and personality and serves as a consistent resource for Bigs, Littles and their families. The organization serves as a bridge between communities and community partners, helping to address larger social issues, such as race and education gaps.
“Having a Little in a match that works is definitely a two-way street,” says Dixon. “Ayden has taught me that persistence and a “can do” attitude can overcome so many obstacles. Even when one door closes on the opportunity for a desired outcome, there’s always another way to keep working on that desire. Believing in one’s self is the first step toward attaining any goal you may have.”
Mentoring is one protective measure that adults can take to minimize risk factors, such as lack of motivation, anxiety, stress and isolation, that are threatening children’s mental health and academic success. A national study of 950 youth from eight Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies showed that positive relationships between Littles and their Bigs have a direct and measurable impact on children’s lives. Big Brothers Big Sisters’ matches consistently spend more time together, and continue as a match for longer periods, than those in other mentoring programs. Results also showed Bigs help Littles learn right from wrong, make better life choices, do better in school and advance to the next grade level.
“Brad and Ayden’s nine-year friendship is a testament to the incredible work of our volunteers and staff members who keep kids learning, engaged and having fun,” says Mark O’Donnell, President & CEO of BBBSEM. “Now, more than ever, youth and families need additional support. We need more caring adults, like Brad, to step up for our children to become mentors to ensure they reach their fullest potential.”
Anyone can become a Big 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 and have a passion for positively impacting a young person’s life.
In its 70th year, BBBSEM has created and served more than 20,000 matches. The nonprofit is now enrolling and matching Littles and Bigs. For more information, to register your children or to become a volunteer, visit: www.emassbigs.org.
About Big Brother Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts is an innovative, energetic organization that is making a real difference in the lives of nearly 3,000 youth annually by providing them with an invested, caring adult mentor in long-term, professionally supported relationships. With research and proven outcomes at its core, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts is working to defend the potential of children facing adversity and ensure every child has the support from caring adults that they need for healthy development and success in life. The organization’s vision is to inspire, engage and transform communities in Eastern Massachusetts by helping youth achieve their full potential, contributing to healthier families, better schools, more confident futures and stronger communities. Throughout its 70 years, the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate in New England has created and served more than 20,000 matches. For more information about the agency and its mission, visit www.emassbigs.org.