Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire is proud to present its finalists for the 2024 Mentors of the Year from its High School Bigs program. These outstanding young leaders illustrate how peer mentoring helps students achieve their biggest possible futures while making a long-lasting impact on their mentee and their communities.
These six peer mentors have demonstrated a true dedication to their Littles by regularly spending time with them, guiding and supporting them as they navigate growing up through adversity. They have also been an integral part of the mentoring movement as champions and advocates for the impact positive role models have in our community.
Each of these outstanding mentors will receive college and career funding to continue their advocacy work; two of them will be announced as the winners on January 30 as part of National Mentoring Month.
Camila Sanchez, San Bernardino High School
"Being in the High School Bigs program has taught me a lot of new aspects of life. It has given me the ability to give back to my community by being more involved in clubs at school, and it has also opened my eyes to the idea that we all go through hard things. Working with my Littles has shown me that there are always people who look up to you, even if they're not family. This has allowed me to open my horizons and help others, not only younger kids like our Littles, but also people who are my age—or older!"
Harlynn LaCava, Murrieta Mesa High School
"When I was a kid I was labeled a 'problem child.' The High School Bigs program has influenced me to give back to my community by allowing me a space to help the next generation find support and a listening ear. I had already wanted to be a psychologist before joining the program. Once I joined, though, I realized how much I enjoyed working with kids. I decided to change my career path slightly and become a child psychologist. I want to help kids who need a bit more support than the average kid, kids like me or Otis. Otis taught me that there are definitely kids out there who could use someone who genuinely wants to listen to what they have to say and someone who genuinely enjoys working with them."
Kasandra Verduzco, Eleanor Roosevelt High School
"As I've worked with my Little every week, I know I give her a consistent person in her life that she can rely on and bond with. I love seeing her smile each week when she sees me walk in. My Little calls me her Big Sister, and although we have met through the program, I believe both of us have grown a sibling-type bond. I love to watch her succeed and be patient with me, while I do the same. Being a good role model to my Little has shown me how important our actions are in our community. I think that showing younger community members guidance will benefit them in a way that others won’t get to experience."
Lilis Escobar, Fontana High School
"I remember when I was first introduced to Isis, she reminded me so much of myself when I was her age. Isis was shy and I knew it would take us some time for her to become more open. Sometimes she’s not sure whether to join the others but after some encouragement she has so much fun working with the Littles. It has made me proud of her progress and I admire her persistency to work towards her goal. BBBS has taught me how to work and listen better to students so that I can attend to their needs and be able to create connections with them. I believe that being able to see the joy in the Littles gives me energy to help other students in my community and motivates me to inspire others towards STEM."
Benny Suarez, Ramona High School
"Joining the High School Bigs program has helped me understand that I can't change what I went through, but I can impact other people's lives by being the positive adult role model I didn't have. It has influenced me to give back to my community by becoming someone willing to adapt and help create change, because the world isn't fair or just. It's scary, but worth living in. I want to create organizations that will help queer youth and make resources for them way more accessible, so people can learn and be comfortable enough to boldly reach out for help. I don't have to become something incredible in my life, but I always want to choose to be the kind of person who isn't just kind by nature, but by choice. That's how I want to continue to give back, and Big Brothers Big Sisters has helped me build that."
Gerardo Landeros, Eleanor Roosevelt High School
"My Little Daniel and I have built a strong relationship from completing homework together to participating in fun games together. I feel like Daniel has grown to become more focused in school, and I’m glad I was able to have this opportunity to help a child with that, as when I was younger, I was never able to get the help I needed academically. Prior to joining this program, I was very focused on myself instead of lending a helping hand to others. This experience as a mentor has helped me find a passion for helping others and opened up possible career paths I would like to pursue in the future, like a nurse or physical therapist. Both share the interest of putting others first and helping them get into better health. High School Bigs has given me a spark to share my passion of helping others in any way possible."