Monday, January 15, 2018

Month 13: Guest Post from Neil Weintraub (BBBSF)

Our sincere thanks to our friend, Neil Weintraub, for writing about his love of running, BBBSF, Flagstaff, and community service.
My love affair with running coincided with my parents' divorce. I was 12 and Dad moved from the suburbs to New York City and was living only a few blocks from Central Park, one of the world's most celebrated running venues. After watching scenes from Marathon Man where Dustin Hoffman’s character runs laps around the Central Park Reservoir, I was inspired to outpace as many runners as I could just like he did in the movie. I was hooked. 
Neil running the Westchester Half
This time period was also the beginning of the 1970s running boom and my neighbor, Abe Simon, had just founded the ScarsdalAntiques Running Club. Abe, who had four girls and his wife under his roof, took me under his wing for first run. Soon after, he mentored me through my first race, the Scarsdale 15k. I was never very fast, and I chose not to participate in track or cross country, as I preferred to run alone at my own pace. A year later, I ran my first half marathon and I truly felt like a long distance runner. 
As I look back on this catalyst to my life long obsession with running, I realize how important mentoring played a role in my life. So when I joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff Board in 2001, I found a passionate mission where I could play a role helping children succeed and couple it with my love of running by helping direct their always epic half marathon and 5K.
Neil and his sister, Dana, at the
BBBSF Half in 1989
The Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon had held a special place in my heart.  It wasn’t long after I moved to Flagstaff in 1986 that I found it to be my favorite race, perhaps because some of the friendly board members pointed me in the direction of the secretly hidden keg after I crossed the finish line. In 1989 my sister Dana even flew out from New York and we ran our first race together. 
When I joined the BBBSF board, I also was interested in learning about their programs so I began volunteering as a school based mentor to Brian in early 2002 at Christensen School. A year later we started the program at Williams Elementary Middle School and ever since, I’ve been matched with Matthew, Christian, Bubba, Justice, Elijah, and now RJ. Over the years I’ve recruited several of my colleagues at the Williams Ranger District. During the school year, no matter how hectic the day is, we all rally in the halls at 3:30 p.m., as we declare to our office mates, "Sorry, can’t help you right now, it is 'Big’s Time.'"
When we arrive at the school, we look forward to navigating the gauntlet of kids and teachers who
Neil finishing BBBSF
Half 1988
orderly head to their bus rides home. Out of the sea of children step our littles, who fly out of the crowd to greet us. Depending on how full their backpacks are, this greeting has been known to knock us down. We will spend the next two hours laughing, running around, making games, launching toy helicopters into the sky, and just being goofy on the school grounds.
In those early days as a mentor and serving on the board, I knew next to nothing about fundraising and non-profits, though I had once raised money participating in the New York City March of Dimes 20 mile walkathon, getting pledges for each mile that I finished. As a board member we were asked to raise money by asking friends for contributions to the event. While friends always obliged, it was a lot of time and effort, and it often felt like tedious panhandling. It would be a few years more before I figured out a far more creative and fun way to raise money, invoking my passion for running.
After 9/11 and then participating in my first Soulstice Mountain Trail run, I felt a need to connect with people and keep myself motivated to run so I co-founded Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association. The idea was to promote safe trail running and foster camaraderie between Flagstaff runners of all levels. 
I also knew I would be helping direct the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run the following October (2002) shortly after directing my inaugural Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon. I figured being mentored by the Big Brothers Board who had their race running like a well-oiled machine would set me up for Soulstice success. 
Soulstice After Party 
In the early days of Soulstice we were just trying to break even and cover expenses. However, when we sold out for the first time in 2003, I started donating the proceeds to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff and other community causes.  By 2006 the race had become one of the hottest events in Flagstaff and it occurred to me that I could raise money by guaranteeing entry to anyone who made a $250 donation or more to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff. On top of that, Aspen Sports partners Jerry Mclaughlin and Dave Barnett figured their raffle could also benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters. 
As a result of the demand to get into the race, entries guaranteed by donations to the recently doubled Arizona Tax Credit, and the popularity of the Aspen Sports Super Raffle, Soulstice participants raised more than $16000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff mentoring programs in 2017.  I could not be more thrilled by the generosity of runners who know the importance of helping children succeed across Arizona. 
How can you get involved?  
  1. Become a community or school based mentor by calling 774-0649
  2. Donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff
  3. Drop off clothes at Savers Bins
  4. Participate in Soulstice Trail Run for free by taking the Arizona Tax Credit! 
  5. Run or walk the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff Half Marathon/5K
  6. Register a team for our Golf Tournament or Bowl for Kid’s Sake

Neil the Big Brother with Littles!


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Month 13: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff

My relationship with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff (BBBSF) began in a deeply personal way, and conjures a lot of memories for me. In the Fall of 2007, I found myself often staring at walls while two toddler children clung to what felt like every space of my skin. I was a stay-at-home mom with two toddler-aged children only 15 months apart in age. The previous three years had been spent traveling back and forth with them from Flagstaff to Richmond, VA to be with my mother who was dying of Stage 4 breast cancer. After she passed quietly in our family home, on July 17, 2007, I came back to Flagstaff full time, and felt, well….not much. A dear friend suggested community volunteerism as something to get me out of the house, as well as a way to honor my mother who dedicated much of her adult life to service.  

My friend suggested board work for BBBSF. I was tentative, and I forced myself to push back against the emotional and physical inertia I was feeling, and attended a meeting for potential board members. 

I walked into the room and felt panicky. A woman who I knew only by reputation walked over and captured me in a giant bear hug and welcomed me in her booming voice. This was Kay McKay, a Flagstaff titan, and founder of BBBSF with her husband, Dave. Her warmth reminded me so much of my mom, that I immediately (embarrassingly) started crying. Within 15 minutes, all four of us women in the room were crying and had agreed to dedicate our time and service to the mission of BBBSF. 

I tell you this because while of course this entry is not and should not be about me, this is a beloved agency in Flagstaff that was founded on the guiding principles of not only mentorship, but also community and compassion. My first experience with BBBSF was literally being embraced by a woman who was a mentor to me, and I’m certain to hundreds of other people in Flagstaff. 

Fast forward to Month 13 of 48months…. After the New Year, Jacki and I had the pleasure of meeting with Kelly Elliott, CEO of BBBSF, and Neil Weintraub, longtime board member, big brother, advocate, and general Flagstaff icon.  

The mission of BBBSF is to help children succeed by matching them with appropriate adult mentors.  

BBBSF just celebrated its 50th anniversary and currently has over 130 children matched with appropriate adult mentors. Last year over 300 children were served. Over 30% of children served are impacted by incarceration, and over 50% live below the federal poverty level.  

From the BBBSF website: 
Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, the Little Brothers and Little Sisters, compared to those children not in our program, were: 

46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs  
27% less likely to begin using alcohol  
52% less likely to skip school  
37% less likely to skip a class  
33% less likely to hit someone  

They also found that the Littles were more confident of their performance in schoolwork and getting along better with their families. 

This mission is accomplished via the following programs: 

Community-Based Mentoring 
This is the most traditional program associated with BBBSF, consisting of one-on-one mentoring. Children are matched between the ages of 7 and 15 years, and can stay in the program until they are 18. Bigs” are fully vetted and matched with children, who are often on a waiting list for 6-18 months. Boys tend to wait longer, as it is harder to recruit men as Big Brothers. Bigs are requested to make a one-year commitment and meet weekly with their “Littles” for a couple of hours. BBBSF has many community partners that donate passes and tickets to help with activities for Bigs/Littles. There is no expense invovled for the “Big."  If BBBSF cannot get activities donated, they use fundraising dollars to help purchase what is needed. BBBSF offers professional match support for Bigs, Littles and the families of Littles. This is to insure child safety, as well as to make sure the match is working.

School-Based Mentoring 
This program currently exists at five school sites in northern Arizona (Killip, Kinsey, Thomas, Marshall, and Williams). Children meet with their Bigs in a school setting (sometimes in groups) for 12 weeks in the Fall and 12 weeks in the Spring. High school students (aged 16+) are encouraged to sign up as Bigs for this program. 

Step-Up Mentoring 
This is a group mentoring program through the Coconino County Juvenile Court. Groups are for children who are currently in Juvenile Detention as well as those on probation. Data shows a significant reduction in re-offending in children who participate in the program. 


January is National Mentoring Month! Here are the ways you can get involved …. TODAY!


BBBSF has so many available volunteer opportunities. There is truly something for everybody. If your New Year’s resolution was to give back and get involved, this is the place for you!
  • Volunteer to be a Big. DUDES, we really need you. There are dozens of male children in Flagstaff waiting for you. Run, do not walk, to the website and request more information. Ladies, we need you too as Bigs. Sign up and encourage the men in your life to do the same. 
  • Volunteer for events (see fundraising below) 
  • Look into joining the BBBSF board. It’s primarily a fundraising board and it’s one of the most effective in town. 
  • BBBSF is an AZ Charitable Tax Credit organization. Visit this link and donate today. All of your cash donations qualify. 
  • BBBSF has some of the best fundraising events in town… they have this dialed IN, y’all. Check it out: 
    1. Bowl For Kids’ Sake coming up on February 24. Get your workplace, family or friend team together and come out for lots of fun, raffle prizes, and obviously bowling alley food and beer. 
    2. Golf Tournament (May/June TBD). If golf is where you find your joy, plan to participate. This is super fun with lots of activities and prizes along the course. 
    3. Dave McKay Memorial Half Marathon and 5KY’all know that Jacki and I are elite runners, I mean wine drinkers. This is my favorite race of the season. The incredibly dedicated Board members line the course with the best snacks of any local race, music, cheering, and a water cup “poll” at the midpoint of the half marathon course. The views of the Peaks and the often epic (muddy) conditions cannot be rivaled.  
    4. Neil is going to tell y’all more about the Summer Running Series and the Soulstice Soulstice Mountain Trail Race and how they support BBBSF next week, so stay tuned for more ideas on this front. 

Clothes for Kids’ Sake is a wonderful partnership with Savers. It funds approximately 1/3 of BBBSFs programs. There are 19 bins around town. It’s simple. Donate your clothing, furniture, and household goods to Savers. They in turn pay BBBSF by the pound for all of the goods received. They will even come to your house or place of business to pick up! The added bonus is that unlike some thrift stores, Savers actively recycles items that they cannot sell. This is truly one of the gems in our town and an incredibly easy way to give back. 

As we wrapped up our meeting, Kelly shared with us that the agency’s goals moving forward are to establish longer and stronger matches. They want to grow the school-based mentoring sites they have and expand to other locations. Kelly told us, “Everything we do goes back to the kids, and the importance of having adults they can count on in their lives.” 

Kelly admitted that she feels a bit nervous about the future, given the unpredictable state of our world. “Our goal is to work from the great legacy of the McKays, and continue to work smarter with partnerships, volunteers, and community.” 

Neil and Kelly both told us that they feel strongly that Flagstaff does community better than most. Everything is dependent on relationships, and BBBSF has worked hard to partner with other nonprofits to operate more efficiently rather than make everything a competition for limited dollars. 

BBBSF represents the best of our community, and I challenge each and every one of you to find a way that you can help this agency, which is undeniably changing the lives of children.  

The people at the heart of this agency are the best of the best. Even as a grown woman, I was able to find mentoring at a dark time in my life. The relationships that I built during my service on the BBBSF board are ones that have followed me personally and professionally over the last 10+ years, even as my time on the board came to a close. Find a way to get involved; be the light in a child’s life, and my guess is that you will benefit as much, if not more, than they do. 

For more information on BBBBSF, please visit

-Cristy Z.