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2022 Match of the Year: Eric, Levi, & Sonja

Drumroll, please! Congratulations to our 2022 Match of the Year: Big Eric, Little Levi, and parent Sonja!

This exemplary match has demonstrated consistency, resilience, and a powerful mentoring relationship since meeting in December 2018. Eric, Levi, and Sonja’s commitment to the match paired with the incredible impact they have had on one another are just two reasons why Eric, Sonja, and Levi are the 2022 Match of the Year.

You might remember this match. Eric and Levi were highlighted in the 2020 agency video. You can view that video here.

Big Pride

Levi and Eric were among the first matches to be a part of BBBS’ Big Pride program. This program,  in partnership with OutFront Kalamazoo, matches LGBTQIATS+ youth aged 6-18 with an LGBTQIATS+ mentor. In a world where representation matters, a mentor is an additional role model to the child.

Representation Matters

Sonja enrolled Levi into the Big Pride program when he was in 5th grade. As a mom, she recognized that her son, who had recently come out and was being bullied in school, was facing challenges she had never experienced.

“I knew the program was going to offer Levi something that was really important,” Sonja shares. “I just wanted to get him some support that made him feel that he was made the way he was supposed to be made.”

Eric, who signed up to be a Big through BBBS’ partnership with OutFront, explains, “I didn’t have any queer mentors growing up, so it feels like it’s my responsibility to give back to my community in this way.”

Eric photobombing Levi on set with Rhino media
Eric and Levi, on set with Rhino during the filming of the 2020 BBBS agency video.

When Levi and Eric were matched in 2018, neither of them knew what to expect– a sentiment many new matches share. “I just remember thinking to myself, ‘What am I even doing?’ because Levi was so shy,” Eric laughs. “Now he picks on me for things like accidentally driving past their house because we’re just so comfortable with each other.

Levi remembers the beginning of their friendship in a similar way. “I thought I was going to be forced to talk to him [when we met], but it’s fun to talk to him,” he explains.

Unexpected Family (And Snacks!)

Since meeting one another, they have grown a friendship none of them ever anticipated. Being matched through the pandemic was no easy feat, but Levi and Eric persisted.

When they weren’t able to meet in person, Eric found creative ways to let Levi know he was thinking about him. “We would get these packages in the mail stuffed full of Levi’s favorite snacks (Hot Cheetos!). Levi thought it was hilarious. Eric really, really, really cares, and it shows… He has become a part of our family,” Sonja shares.

Levi and Eric, standing outside, looking into the distance.
Eric and Levi at Levi's 8th grade graduation.

On Growth

Often, when people consider the impact of mentoring, they think about the impact it has on the youth- not the adult. Eric and Levi are proof that BBBS programming benefits the Big just as much as it impacts the Little.

Eric shares, “The growth I’ve experienced as a result of this relationship has been incredible… I gained a second family. That’s the power of mentoring.”

“Levi has grown so much since he met Eric,” Sonja shares. “He’s more confident in who he is.”

“We like to watch movies, eat food, and talk. I enjoy being his friend because he’s nice to be around… I don’t know how long I’ll know him for, but I know I’ll remember him,” Levi adds.

Levi lives in this space of ‘this is what I’m doing now.’ For a while, every time I picked him up his hair was a different cut or a different color and I didn’t know what to expect. I have so much to learn from him... He can be so inspirational. Eric, about his Little Brother, Levi

Congratulations, Eric, Levi, and Sonja! We are pleased to award you this honor, and look forward to supporting your match for many years to come. The impact you are making, together, exemplifies what can happen when we ignite the potential of those around us.

Interested in igniting a child’s potential? Learn more about becoming a Big here.