Staff Bigs

Sign Me Up (Again)! Big Staff at BBBSEMO

Many Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri staff do two interviews with us: one to join our work team, and another to volunteer. So which comes first? The job, or being a Big?

In Paul Heinemann’s case, it was the latter.

Along for bumpy (car) rides: Little Brother Nate holds the wheel as Big Brother Paul takes a selfie at this past summer’s Missouri State Fair

“My mom was a Big Sister as a young adult,” says Paul, who started volunteering just before starting his junior year at St. Louis University. Inspired by his mother’s stories about bonding with her Little Sister and finding purpose through that relationship; and already passionate about working with youth, Paul felt being a Big seemed like “a really unique opportunity to make a significant impact on a kid interested in having another supportive adult in their life.”

Paul, a transplant from Kansas City, MO, says his Little Brother Nate has been a great partner for exploring his new city and community outside the SLU campus bubble. Being matched also led to a job prospect he’d have missed if he wasn’t a Big.

“I learned about the Enrollment Specialist opening through the Bigs Weekly newsletter,” Paul says. “My experiences as a Big were very influential to deciding to actually apply because I knew first-hand the impact mentorship can have on both Bigs and Littles.”

“I had also experienced how passionate, organized, and mission-driven the staff at the agency were from my interactions with them, and could see myself growing from working alongside those people,” he adds.

Percy Baldwin also joined BBBSEMO’s staff with a resume featuring “Volunteer” – a five-time Big, in fact, matched with his first-ever Little when he lived in L.A. While Percy’s history with Big Brothers Big Sisters got started in California, he’s remained committed as a mentor — he’s now matched with 10-year-old Little Brother Ryan — in his hometown of St. Louis.

Once a match, forever friends: Percy’s L.A. visits include face-time with Brandon, his very first Little Brother. “I tell him, ‘I don’t care if you’ve got four kids, you still need to be a Big one day,’” Percy says.

Becoming a Support team member wasn’t Percy’s plan, however. “After I retired last year from the VA, I was just going to come here to volunteer a couple times a week – you know, moving books around or something,” he laughs. “Then they said they had a part-time job that pays, and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it out.’”

Friends on the West Coast and the Midwest frequently comment on how long Percy has stayed involved with BBBS. “They go, ‘You are really still sticking with that program, aren’t you? It must be good if you still hang out with it…’” Percy says. “I’m glad I met that mechanic [who was a Big] at work and started doing Big Brothers. It’s been an important part of my life. I work here now, so I’m in double trouble!”

For Senior Relationship Manager Patti Watson-Soluade, working for BBBSEMO did precede Big Sister-hood as part of a Big Couple match with her husband Wale. She always knew she wanted to be a Big; and doing so with her spouse has not only meant building bonds with Little Brother Ja’Vante as part of a couple, it’s also enabled each partner to develop a distinct connection with their Little.

“I don’t do traditionally male things like sports,” Patti says, “so Ja’Vante and I have connected a lot over cooking and doing recipes.”

Big Brother Wale and Little Brother Ja'Vante, early match Big Sister Patti and (bigger!) Little Brother Ja'Vante

“With Wale, it’s very much the sports aspect, and trash-talking and making fun of each other and jone-ing is their thing. But our relationship with him as a couple is the same. He does great with both of us, he’s comfortable with us both,” says Patti.

The 2:1 ratio of a Big Couple/Little Brother match has worked well for the Soluades.

“Where I lag, Wale can pick up and when Wale gets busy – he travels a lot for work – I can jump in,” Patti says.

Little Brother Ja’Vante and his Big Couple’s permanent plus-one. “When they were playing at our house recently, Ja’Vante joked to Ori, ‘I was here before you,’ laughs Patti, “and it’s true!”

“It doesn’t always have to be both of us with him. But we’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s FaceTime you so you can talk to Ja’Vante and see him,’ if one of us can’t be there to hang out in person.”

In their seven-year match through BBBSEMO, Wale and Patti have grown as a married couple; the time they spend now with their Little Brother includes their three-year-old daughter. It’s a part of their still-growing relationship with Ja’Vante they love about being a Big Couple.

“It’s great that Ori can see we’ve established this relationship with our Little Brother, and that we’re doing this volunteering together. We really care about Ja’Vante, and his well-being and his family, all together,” they say.

Whether they signed on for off-clock time with a Little Brother (or a Little Sister) before or after joining our work team, these staff Bigs’ stories are just three examples of what motivates so many BBBSEMO’ers in St. Louis, St. Charles, and Cape Girardeau to volunteer.

They’re also a reminder that our staff is here for young people, families, and volunteers… and they’re committed to being there for matches as fellow Bigs, too!


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Young Mom

When I was 15, I got pregnant with my first child. At 18, I was pregnant with my second and having complications during the pregnancy. So even though my boyfriend and I were both working hard, we were struggling. We moved in with my mom, but soon had to leave. One morning, in the pouring rain, we packed everything we could fit into our Honda Civic and drove to Oklahoma, where his aunt lived.

Fresh Start

Once our family moved to Broken Arrow, everything changed. Our quality of life improved dramatically. My boyfriend (now husband) got a job with a major security company. We moved into our first house together. We could provide for our kids, and I could stay home and take care of them. We had insurance, so I was able to really take care of myself and my mental health.

“They set me up with a Big who was so sweet and loving. Whitney really showed that she cared about me. Things just kind of changed from there because I started seeing her at least once a week. She would come and pick me up from school and Big Brothers Big Sisters had all these activities we would do after school. And I just felt important.”


I’m a stay-at-home mom (#SAHM) to our three kids. On top of that, I have a YouTube channel. Big brands like Clorox reach out to people with channels like mine, and that’s encouraging. I’m now an affiliate through Amazon, which is huge.

My channel is called “This Life of Mine” because I have gone through so many trials and tribulations but was able to make it out, and other people can, too. Eventually, I want to create a platform for myself that will be a safe place for teen moms, or moms in general, to ask for help for themselves. Since I started staying home and taking care of my kids, I know it’s possible to do whatever I want to do in the future.

A lot of people kind of look down on mental health challenges. I know that’s a big part of why I struggle with depression and what holds me back. But being honest with myself means knowing that every day is not going to be sunshine and rainbows, and that it’s okay to say that you need a little help, you need the extra push to go. I am owning my future by getting the help that I need so that I can explore and flourish in life, and grow. And I’m happy with what I’m doing… it feels good!”

About the author
Catherine Martin
spent nearly a decade in print journalism before moving over to the nonprofit world. She has volunteered as a Big Sister with BBBSEMO since 2016.

About Big Futures

BBBSEMO’s Big Futures staff work directly with “alumni Littles” from age 18 through age 25. The program offers connections to resources and experiences that support young people as they pursue education in college or trade school, enlistment in the military, and/or living wage employment. By actively partnering with parents, Bigs, and other mentors, Big Futures staff help alumni with planning and serve as advocates.

For more information on how you can share opportunity with alumni Littles and Big Futures, contact Senior Director Tashanna Rucker at


About the Author

Elaine Cha

Elaine Cha, "founding" Storyteller/Journalist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, creates and contributes to written, visual, and audio content highlighting ways BBBSEMO's work touches people's lives. Her past work includes producing engagement content with/for Forward Through Ferguson and the Ferguson Commission; the Nine Network of Public Media; and the Regional Arts Commission.