The branch director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Comal & Guadalupe Counties used to be that kid.
Rianne Sykes-Wenske struggled with childhood trauma. She brought drugs to school and battled substance abuse. She got into fights. She couldn’t follow directions. She dropped out of high school.
None of that mattered to the high school principal who mentored her and even showed up at her brother’s funeral.
“She saw me, and she loved me, and every time I show up in her office she would say ‘Rianne, what is happening here? This is not you,'” Sykes-Wenske recalled.
The constancy, concern and commitment the principal demonstrated helped turn her life around. At age 30, Sykes-Wenske graduated summa cum laude from Texas State University with a degree in social work.
Now she’s in a position to find mentors for hundreds of children and teens who need positive role models that can provide the positive guidance and support they need to be successful.
Her organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters, will host a mixer for prospective mentors from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 20 at the Screaming Goat Yard and Tap, 4 Sun Valley Dr., Spring Branch. Anyone who’d like to learn more about the program is invited to attend.
The nonprofit needs mentors for 31 area children and teens. Volunteers must be at least 18, have a valid driver’s license and pass a background check. There is no age limit — grandparents also qualify to become big brothers and big sisters.
And Sykes-Wenske’s not too concerned about volunteers who may not have squeaky-clean pasts.
In fact, mentors who’ve experienced hardship or struggles in their own lives make the best mentors.
“So many great people are mentors in our program,” she said. “We really have something special here.”
When Sykes-Wenske arrived in March 2021, there were 14 children in the program. Today Big Brothers Big Sisters serves 55 children in Comal and Guadalupe counties — a 300% increase over the last two years.
She attributes that success to volunteer training and the effort the program makes to “match” volunteers with children.
They already have parents who are actively involved in their lives.
But those parents need help filling a gap in their children’s lives. Single moms might need someone who can step in and provide male influence.
The kids need someone they can see themselves in, Sykes-Wenske said.
A lot of potential volunteers think their job would be taking kids out to Six Flags or going to dinner to learn important life lessons.
Sykes-Wenske it’s sometimes the opposite. One of her charges was able to develop a sense of purpose and control by working with a mentor who taught him how to do outside work.
Another child ,16-year-old Jordan and his six brothers and sisters moved out of a two-bedroom house in Philadelphia, where they lived with their grandmother, into a house in Garden Ridge with a relative who is retired military.
Despite the move, Jordan was a child who was well on his way to becoming a statistic.
“There was no doubt about it,” Sykes-Wenske said.
She “matched” Jordan with Sgt. First Class Jason McMillan, who works with the U.S. Army’s Medical Capability Directorate Integration Division.
They did do the fun stuff like going to football and soccer games and playing football.
Jordan was introduced to Pluckers, a chain restaurant specializing in chicken wings.
“This is the good stuff,” Sykes-Wenske said.
Big Sister Madelyne Mann and little Sister Bella bonded over Texas A&M games. Bella now wants to become an Aggie.
Sykes-Wenske said the two also love watching soccer together since Madelyne played the game when she was younger.