Mike Auzenne, Director of Marketing Analytics for Inspire Brands, admittedly doesn’t spend much time reflecting on his life’s journey. When he does have a moment to think about where he’s been and how he got here, he can’t help but point to his introduction into the youth mentorship program, Big Brothers Big Sisters as a monumental moment in shaping the next 20-plus years of his life.
In some alternate universe, his life could have been significantly different — he likely never would have met his Big Brother, Austin Scee.
He’ll never know if the pieces would have fallen into place for his successful high school tenure, a college football scholarship or his graduation from Harvard Business School without the help of Austin and Big Brothers Big Sisters. What Mike does know is that his inclusion in the program helped to pave the way for him to live up to his potential in his personal life and career.
Mike was 9 years old when he joined Big Brothers Big Sisters. He saw his Big Brother, Austin, as just another friend he could hang out with. His mother, however, had a different vision for their relationship.
“My mom was a single parent and she worked to support our family. She thought it would be good to have a male figure in my life, someone who would provide some structure,” Mike said.
“She thought a Big Brother could be someone who showed me what my life could and should be like.”
From the onset, Austin was instrumental in Mike’s development.
“I remember after we were matched, I was playing little league baseball and Austin came to watch me. I was doing cartwheels in the outfield, and the umpire stopped the play to yell at me,” Mike said.
“Austin asked me after the game if I wanted to get better, and I said ‘Yeah, of course.’ So, he said we could work together, practice every weekend and he could teach me all the things he knew. I worked really hard, and by the next year, I was one of the best players on the team. But it took a full year to show me how to do it — how to throw a ball, hit a ball.”
More than sports, Austin has been there for some of Mike’s most significant moments. When Mike’s grades slipped in his first semester of high school, Mike and Austin sat down and talked about expectations, and set goals for college.
Then there were the little things. Austin showed Mike what life was like outside of Atlanta, helped Mike learn to tie his neck tie, and introduced him to Thai and Indian food. All these experiences shaped Mike and prepared him for an academic and professional path he may have never even known existed if it hadn’t been for Austin.
“Growing up, I didn’t know any doctors, lawyers or business professionals, I just knew Austin.” Mike Auzenne, Director of Marketing Analytics, Inspire Brands
“Your future is often largely dependent on what you’re exposed to. There are a lot of kids that do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential due to their circumstances, whether it be a single parent, socioeconomic status, where they live, etc.,” Mike said.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters isn’t forced on a kid. It’s a very positive experience where they’re able to spend time with someone who’s interested in seeing them do well. It exposes them to a world they don’t see every day, but also provides a steady source of support.”
When they were first matched, no one imagined the relationship Mike and Austin would develop over the years.
Mike was the best man in Austin’s wedding, and Austin served the same role in Mike’s. Mike and his wife get together with Austin, his wife and their child at least once a month. They’re friends for life, and it all started with Austin’s decision to mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Big Brothers Big Sisters currently serves 150,000 kids nationwide each year. But because of a shortage in adult mentors, the process of connecting a Big Brother or Big Sister with a Little in many locations is delayed a year or more, forcing over 30,000 kids to wait in line to be matched with a Big.
“A lot of people want to do it, but they’re afraid they’re not going to have enough time or not going to know what to do with their Little.
Each match has a dedicated support person for ongoing Q&A to maintain the match and grow the relationship.” Mike Auzenne, Director of Marketing Analytics, Inspire Brands
“It’s an amazing experience. I would encourage people to move past their reservations and sign up to be a Big. Having been on both sides, a Big and Little, I am still amazed how much I get out of the program as a Big,” Mike said.
Mentors in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program are required to commit to at least one year to the program, spending time with their Little a couple times a month. That requirement is set due to the program hoping to add some stability in these kids’ lives.
“Spending time with your Little can range from going to the park, visiting a museum, or just having your Little tag along for whatever you planned to do on the weekend,” Mike said.
For Mike, he continues to pass down his learnings to the next generation by serving as a Big Brother over the last two years.
“Justice, my Little, loves football, so many of our outings involve sports. Justice also enjoys meeting up with Austin’s son. They’re about the same age,” Mike said.
“Justice is an amazing kid and it’s been a ton of fun. When else am I going to get off the couch and go to Lego Land or the College Football Hall of Fame?”
If there’s anything Mike wants to be taken away from his story, it’s the impact his relationship has had on his life, from his time as a child well into adulthood.
“Through Big Brothers Big Sisters, kids have a support system where someone is willing to help when they need it.
This goes beyond just an evening or an afternoon. It’s for a lifetime.” Mike Auzenne, Director of Marketing Analytics, Inspire Brands
Inspire Brands oversees the Arby’s Foundation which recently partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters in an effort to end the mentorship gap.
Go to TheBigWait.org to learn more on how you can contribute to mentorship today.