Sitting in an office surrounded by glass walls, Big Sister Susan Gastle showed me a four-year old picture of her and her Little Brother Josh. The picture sat in a beautiful wooden frame, a gift from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County (BBBSEC) to celebrate their five-year anniversary. The two have been matched through BBBSEC’s Community Based Mentoring program for the last 10 years.
Susan wears many hats; she is the Team Leader of Financial Planning and Analysis for Reverie, a full time mother and wife, a Big Sister, and one of the founders of Women Who Move the City (WWMTC), an annual BBBSEC event that recognizes women who volunteer to make a difference throughout Western New York. This year, Susan is a WWMTC honoree, for her role in making the event a success and as a Big Sister, along with six other women who have made a difference in WNY through volunteer work with various charities.
Susan is a firm believer in the power of mentoring relationships. “Our legacy is with children. They are America’s future. That is why I feel so strongly about programs like BBBSEC; it is on us to teach children to be better versions of themselves, to grow up and be successful, and to become contributing members of society.”
We had the chance to talk to Susan about her 10-year relationship with Josh and how this program has impacted her life as a volunteer.
How do you think being a Big can impact a Little’s life?
There are a lot of kids who need a positive role model in their life- someone who can just dedicate some time to them. For a lot of kids who are facing adversity, having a Big is something for them to look forward to. When they’re having trouble at home, it is like an escape to get away from that situation. Some kids might not be set up for success, so showing them what it takes to be successful is important.
How has being a Big impacted your life?
I think it gives me a little bit of perspective. It’s a break for me to go and be a kid again, to go hiking or to the movies. I get a break from reality and experience life through the eyes of a child.
Through your journey as a Big, what have you learned about yourself?
It taught me how to put a positive spin on anything. A lot of times when things get tough at work or in life, you can get kind of negative. But when you’re the one who is supposed to set the example for someone else, you can’t be pessimistic. It taught me to be a lot more positive and to make sure I am relaying that positivity to him.
What has Josh taught you that you wouldn’t have learned without him in your life?
Not be so hard on myself. I am very driven and probably my own worse critic. When I tell Josh stories about when I messed up on something, or if I’m not good at something, he laughs at me a little bit and encourages me to lighten up, and not be so serious all the time. That is a lesson I wouldn’t have learned with out him. My husband has been trying to teach me that for years and hasn’t been successful, so I have to credit that to Josh.
How have you seen Josh flourish throughout your relationship?
He used to say to me, ‘I don’t think I’m smart enough to go to college,’ or ‘I don’t have enough money to go to college.’ I kept telling him he could do it. Now, he is at the point where he’s not asking ‘can I go to college,’ but he is asking ‘when I go to college, what will I go for?’ Ever since we’ve been matched, he has been on the honor roll. He is thinking about being an architect. He also is applying for his first job, and he told me he wants to be a Big Brother someday.
What do the two of you like to do?
We love trying different foods- the more unusual, the better. We really like sushi and Greek food, and we always go to a restaurant we’ve never been to before. We are both into anything outdoors. We go hiking and do a lot of apple picking, and go to pumpkin and harvest festivals.
We joke around that we’re both nerds. We like the exhibits at the science museum, or any exhibit that involves thinking and using your brain. We also love those escape room challenges. Really, we’re into anything that is outdoor or trying something new when it comes to food, or encourages logical thought. That is kind of our thing.
Women Who Move the City:
If you would like to celebrate Susan and the other incredible Women Who Move the City honorees, join BBBSEC on May 10th at the Hotel Lafayette from 5:30 pm – 7:30pm. Tickets are $50 and include delicious food, two-hours of open bar, a swag bag, a unique vendor shopping experience and a chance to win one of 3 door prizes including one of two sets of Jet Blue Travel Certificates (some restrictions apply) and a Le Vian ring valued at $499 from Ben Garelick Jewelers.
Janet Sndyer of Kiss 98.5 will serve as emcee of the event. To learn more about the honorees and to purchase tickets: www.beafriend.org.