As the 2015 Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year for both the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, Adam Meisenheimer and Mary Beth Mendoza have a lot in common.

In addition to generous hearts and high-achieving little siblings they've known for years, they share an employer: The Coca-Cola Company.

About 10 years ago, Mendoza, a senior activation manager, decided to get involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America mentoring network. After a thorough approval process, she was cleared to become a "Big Sister."

“I just thought it would be a really cool experience to be able to share things with this little girl that she would probably never have a chance to see or do,” said Mendoza.

She met Jasmine, a quiet seven-year-old whose mother described her as a follower in school. Their relationship started slowly, going to festivals together and working on arts and crafts projects as they got to know each other.

Mendoza volunteered without expectations. She simply hoped to make a positive impact on Jasmine’s life. “I had no idea how long this would last,” she said. “I had no idea if the little girl was going to like me, if we were actually going to become friends.”

Before long, they started accomplishing what Jasmine calls “firsts” -- brand-new experiences that drew her out of her comfort zone and boosted her confidence.

From trips to the zoo and aquarium to zip-lining and whitewater rafting adventures, they made memories. In the process, Jasmine gained self-esteem. “She is totally transformed,” Mendoza said. “She’s now a leader with her peer group, she’s adventurous because of what we do.”

Now a high school senior, Jasmine is a top student and a leader in her school’s ROTC program. She is currently preparing for college applications, a process that Mendoza will accompany her through.

 “We always joked about how they knew to match us because we’re just so perfect for each other,” said Mendoza.



UGA Game
Adam and A.J. at a UGA football game

Meisenheimer, a senior program manager who has been with Coca-Cola since 2009, shares a similar story. After a positive experience in the Big Brother Big Sisters program at the University of Georgia, Meisenheimer became involved in the Atlanta organization. He has been paired with his little brother, a 10th grader named A.J., for eight years.

Their relationship was not always easy early on. When Meisenheimer first met A.J., he had to work hard to gain the second-grader's trust. “It was pretty tough,” said Meisenheimer. “His dad stepped out of his life pretty early on, so he was a little wary about men in general. He was extremely shy.”

As they spent more time together, it became clear to them both that this would be a lasting relationship. Meisenheimer earned his trust by “letting him know that I’m not going anywhere… I’m a constant.” A.J. soon began to go to Meisenheimer for advice and they became very close.

As the years went on, A.J. grew out of his shyness and began to excel in many areas of his life. In Meisenheimer’s words, he was “becoming more of a man.”

A.J., who attended the same middle school and high school as Meisenheimer, performs well in the classroom and is involved in the school marching band and several activities at his church.

The brothers work around their busy schedules to spend time together about once a month. They usually review homework and study, before enjoying a fun activity like playing basketball or working out and sharing a meal. They both love sports and have attended several events together, including University of Georgia football games.

A.J. is passionate about graphic design and is currently researching colleges. Meisenheimer would love to see him follow in his footsteps once more and attend the University of Georgia.

Meisenheimer’s time with A.J. keeps him feeling young and allows him to pass on his life lessons. “I love just being able to give that,” Meisenheimer said of the mentoring relationship. “I wish I had that growing up.”



BBBS Gala
Meisenheimer and Mendoza celebrate their Coca-Cola connection at the BBBS Gala

Earlier this month, Mendoza, Meisenheimer, Jasmine, and A.J. were all recognized at the Big Brothers Big Sisters Gala, which Coca-Cola sponsored. Mendoza and Meisenheimer are currently in the running for National Big Brother and Big Sister of the year and their examples have inspired many others.

“It’s quite the highlight ending,” said Mendoza, whose formal Big Sister relationship will end when Jasmine turns 18. However, both Mendoza and Jasmine know that will not change anything about their bond. “She’s just part of my life now and I’m part of hers,” said Mendoza.