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Mentors make a difference in the lives of local teens

The list was late going up, and Ashley Mroczek was nervous.

She couldn’t wait to see the names of girls who made the Massaponax High School softball team. So she repeatedly sent text messages asking, “Is it up yet?”

Mroczek was interested in one name–Sydney Macleay. When she learned that the 15-year-old made the team, Mroczek cried for joy and went to Sydney’s home with a new softball bag filled with goodies and face paint in Massaponax’s trademark black and teal.

Mroczek isn’t related to Sydney–the Spotsylvania attorney was matched to the teen through Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters. The nonprofit agency helps at-risk children and teens–called “littles”–by pairing them with adult mentors–called “bigs.”

Three years ago, Mroczek, who lives in Falls Church, worried that the match wouldn’t work. She wasn’t sure about working with a girl on the verge of her teen years.

But then she met Sydney and the pair hit off. In fact, the match has been so successful that Mroczek was just named Big Sister of the Year for Virginia.

And for the first time in recent history, the state Big Brother of the Year is also from the local agency.

“We’ve gotten some really nice accolades,” said Stephen Kingsley, the agency’s board president.

Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters also received Stafford County’s Florence D. Helms Award and was named the Agency of the Year by the Rappahannock United Way.

“But there have been some scary things; we just lost a major grant,” Kingsley said.

That $200,000 federal grant was among the recent budget cuts.

Kingsley said the agency is ramping up fundraising efforts and also focusing on its strengths.

“We’ve got amazing big brothers and big sisters who are working really hard, building relationships,” Kingsley said.

And that includes the match that won the Virginia Big Brother of the Year.

Spotsylvania resident Mark Houghton compared the first meeting with his little brother to a blind date. But one that was set up by a trusted friend.

Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters officials asked Houghton a lot of questions, so they could make a compatible match.

“We hit it off right quick,” Houghton said. “It didn’t take us long to become friends.”

His little brother, Nate Sexton, just turned 13 last month.

“He and I are sharing the beauty of him turning into a teenager,” Houghton laughed. He may not be thrilled with Nate’s affinity for hip-hop music and Lady Gaga, but Houghton is proud of the strides Nate is making.

The Walker-Grant Middle School student’s grades have improved since meeting Houghton. And so have his manners, Houghton said.

“And he’s just fun to be around,” Houghton said.

Nate said he’s glad his big brother encourages him to keep up with his schoolwork.

“Having a big brother has helped me do better in school. It’s helped me change my behavior and how I act towards other people. Now I show more respect.”

Nate said he can count on Houghton. “He’s honest and when I talk to him, he’s always paying attention. He cares and stuff.

“He’s the kind of big brother that’s hard to find; he’s like the perfect person.”

Nate and Houghton go to the movies, hike, bike and attend church events together. They also go to Costco, rake leaves and chop wood.

“That’s kind of what they tell you to do: Don’t make every occasion a trip to Kings Dominion for your little; let him tag along with you as you do your life,” Houghton said.

Having fun and feeling encouraged are parts of strong Big Brother Big Sister relationships.

Sydney said her big sister “always wants me to do my best. A lot of the things I do, I wouldn’t be able to do without her encouragement.”

Sydney said she was nervous about trying out for softball and would never have considered it before.

“She pushes me to do stuff I never knew I could do.”

Sydney returned that support, encouraging her big sister to open her own law office. “We’re really good for each other that way; we always encourage each other,” she said.

Sydney helped her set up the office in Spotsylvania County. She assembled furniture and carried boxes.

They do have fun–getting manicures, volunteering and going to softball games.

Mroczek has also started taking Sydney to visit Virginia colleges. She expects to be crying when Sydney graduates from high school and again when she moves into a college dorm.

“She’s just made such strides and has worked so hard in school, in softball, in becoming a young woman, and it’s so exciting to be a part of that,” Mroczek said. “She’s already so great that I think the next step is going to be amazing.”

PressMatt Mroczek