When Gina and Bryan Christ moved to Virginia two years ago, the mother and son duo thought that their days of working together were over. Fortunately for the Charlottesville educational community, that notion didn’t last for long, and their venture Rise 4 Real Change, an evolving and adaptive teen mentoring program is now an integral part of the curriculum at Western Albemarle High School (with two more Charlottesville schools to be rolled out this fall). Bryan, a UVA First Year at the time, and Gina, newly enjoying a well-earned schedule sans a regular 9-5, had recently left behind a beloved mentorship program that they had created and fostered in their North Carolina hometown. Although in theory they had now shifted focus to other things, they couldn’t shake the feeling that they were called to do more.
A family vacation in Virginia Beach served as a needed catalyst to reopen the discussion. Gina and Bryan recall a particular moment during that trip as a pivotal point in the creation of their venture – staring out at the vast ocean and watching the waves ripple to the shore, they agreed that their mutual goal to inspire and support kids throughout their academic journeys was far from complete.
Gina had spent over 25 years working as a school counselor in both New York and North Carolina and, through her tenure, she had touched the lives of countless students who came through the ranks of the private school at which she worked and Bryan studied. One day, a student who had been heavily involved in the local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, came into her office dismayed that the county had unexpectedly dropped the program. He wondered aloud what would happen to the child whom he had mentored for three years and was clearly devastated that he “didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.” Gina and Bryan felt compelled to help fill the void that had been left in their county and to do their part to ensure that no children felt excluded from the traditional constructs of the system. They turned their “social and moral obligation” into action and began a program that connected their high school student community to area public elementary schools in need. Thus, in 2011, “Big Buddy Teen Mentors” was born.