2024 Mentors of the Year

Kellie Salmeron and Ivanna Aguayo, 2024 Inland Empire Bigs and Littles of the Year

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire is proud to announce our 2024 Bigs & Littles of the Year and Mentors of the Year. These outstanding individuals, representing four mentoring program models, demonstrate how mentoring relationships help mentees (Littles) achieve their biggest possible futures, while also creating long-lasting impact on the mentors (Bigs).

"Our volunteers continually raise the bar when it comes to their mentees, and this past year is a testament to their dedication to shaping brighter futures for our youth. The life-changing impact we have on the community would not be possible without the unwavering commitment of our mentors and mentees, and these individuals have demonstrated a desire and willingness to go above and beyond. Because of volunteers like them, we can guide our youth through difficult life circumstances, open doors and connect them to opportunity, and empower the potential each of these young people has within them.”

Sloane Keane, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire

Every year during National Mentoring Month, BBBS honors these outstanding mentors and matches with a regional title to celebrate  extraordinary mentorship, friendship, and advocacy.

Meet Our Winners

Community Program

An adult volunteer mentors a child between the ages of 6 and 16. Matches spend quality 1:1 time out in the community twice a month. Click here to volunteer!

Kellie Salmeron and Ivanna Aguayo, 2024 Inland Empire Bigs and Littles of the Year

Since the beginning of their match, Kellie’s commitment to pushing Ivanna out of her comfort zone has been nothing short of remarkable. Ivanna joined our program with feelings of isolation as an only child, particularly exacerbated by the pandemic.

Together, Ivanna and Kellie ventured into new interests, such as a dessert-making class, which sparked Ivanna’s passion for creating. Taking note of this breakthrough Kellie has continued to unlock Ivanna’s creativity and ambition through various artistic endeavors, allowing Ivanna to find her confidence through art.

This newfound confidence bled over into other areas of Ivanna’s life, such as at school and making new friends. Initially hesitant to join her middle school’s volleyball team due to social anxieties, Ivanna found the support she needed in Kellie’s encouragement. She has been able to step out of her comfort zone, and Ivanna is now loving being a part of a team.

As she dreams of becoming a veterinarian, Ivanna says Kellie’s guidance will be  helpful as she enters high school in a few years and  finds her path to achieving her career aspirations.

Kellie’s dedication to mentorship has also extended to her community. She joined the Big Recruitment Committee, demonstrating a commitment to encouraging others to give back as mentors and continue the cycle of positive impact.

Xavier Quintanar and Andrew Rodriguez, 2024 Inland Empire Bigs and Littles of the Year

Xavier’s unwavering belief in Andrew’s potential has been the driving force behind this transformative mentoring match. Initially aspiring to join the police academy, Andrew found himself unsure of his career path. Xavier exemplified the essence of mentorship by reassuring him that this self-discovery was a valuable part of the journey.

Xavier continued to guide Andrew, helping him explore college as a new option he had never considered. From financial literacy courses to crucial A through G math class make-ups, Xavier’s mentorship extended far beyond the traditional role. The duo embarked on college tours, and Andrew shifted his focus entirely to continuing his education. Now, Andrew is attending community college and contemplating degrees in engineering or criminal justice.

Beyond his friendship with Andrew, Xavier has also become a crucial support pillar for Andrew’s mother during a challenging move and home purchase. Furthermore, his commitment to Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission has led to bringing recruitment events to his company to encourage more volunteers.

Xavier’s multifaceted mentorship has not only shaped Andrew’s aspirations, it has also touched the lives of his entire family and our BBBS community, reflecting the profound impact mentorship can have on individuals, families, and the broader community.

High School Bigs Program

In this program, high school students find their voices as community advocates and leaders serving as role models to elementary school students. During weekly group mentoring sessions, they guide students through activities that support academic achievement and personal growth.

Through her remarkable journey with her Little, Otis, Harlynn has showcased exceptional patience, understanding, and commitment to her mentee’s growth. Otis was labeled as a rambunctious and energetic child, and he struggled with staying focused and managing his exuberant energy. Harlynn’s approach has been nothing short of transformative for Otis’ academic and social growth.

She worked tirelessly with Otis, introducing strategies to help him channel his energy positively. From deep-breathing exercises to incorporating fidget toys, Harlynn patiently guided Otis toward better self-regulation, significantly improving his relationships with his peers and his overall happiness.

While initially aspiring to be a psychologist, Harlynn’s experience with Otis has led her to shift her focus toward becoming a child psychologist. Her passion for working with children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, especially those facing challenges, has became a driving force in her desired career path.

Beyond the program, Harlynn has embraced the principles of mentorship, extending her support to others in her community. She has encouraged dozens of more high school students to give back as mentors, ensuring the ripple effect of positive mentorship continues even after she graduates in May.

Harlynn’s transformative journey from a self-described “problem child” to an inspiring mentor reflects the enduring power of mentorship and the profound impact it can have on both mentors and mentees.

Benny’s transformative experience in the High School Bigs program has not only influenced his personal growth, but has also sparked a deep commitment to community service.

His commitment to making a positive impact on his Little Jonny’s life has been unwavering since the day they were matched. Benny’s genuine approach, bolstered by shared interests and a personal understanding of Jonny’s need for space during overwhelming moments created a safe and nurturing environment for both himself and his Little. Through fun STEM activities, challenging conversations, and moments of joy, Benny has helped Jonny build his social skills and confidence.

Benny’s realization that he can positively impact the lives of others by being the supportive role model he wished he had growing up has driven him to give back tenfold.

His aspiration to create organizations supporting queer youth and making resources more accessible exemplifies his dedication to creating a more inclusive and supportive community for everyone. His journey from feeling inadequate as a mentor to aspiring to be a person of positive influence for all showcases the profound impact of mentorship—not just on the mentee, but also on the mentor’s own personal and philanthropic aspirations.

Growing up as a trans man, Benny shares that he has faced unique challenges and adversities. His story of self-discovery, acceptance, and the support he found in supporting others in the High School Bigs program is truly inspiring.

Benny’s journey is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of mentorship in overcoming life’s hurdles.

Workplace Mentoring Program

Corporate and community partners sponsor mentoring relationships between their employees and young people at local high schools or community colleges. Matches connect during monthly group mentoring sessions to help students develop career goals and prepare for the workforce.

Karina’s dedication to being the best mentor she can be and building the Workplace Mentoring program at Citizens Business Bank has earned her the title of Mentor of the Year. She has been instrumental in creating a supportive environment for mentors and mentees alike, and her multifaceted involvement significantly contributes to the program’s success at CBB.

In her commitment to her mentee, Sarah, a student at Chaffey College, Karina has demonstrated unparalleled dedication through consistent communication, trust-building, and accessibility. Her patient approach creates a positive and nurturing dynamic that is a joy to witness. Notably, Karina’s decision to attend Sarah’s in-person play showcases her genuine investment in her interests and well-being, going beyond the virtual Workplace Mentoring experience. With Karina’s guidance, Sarah has made significant progress toward her career goals, even securing a job while matched with her Big!

By regularly sharing her positive experiences and actively engaging in mentor recruitment efforts at her company, Karina also plays a pivotal role in expanding the program’s reach and fostering a community of engaged and supportive mentors within CBB.

As part of our first Workplace Mentoring 18+ partnership with Citizens Business Bank, Jess’ commitment has helped set a precedent for being a corporate mentor. Contributing to program growth, Jess played a vital role in recruiting colleagues as mentors, showcasing a commitment to cultivating a mentorship culture within the company. Going beyond the call of duty, Jess committed an additional six months to the program so he could help guide a mentee from Chaffey College, and he also hosted a Financial Literacy Workshop for the College Bigs Program.

In Jess’s mentorship journey, his unwavering commitment to his mentee, Eisen, shines through his consistency, responsiveness, and a proactive approach to addressing his mentee’s evolving needs.

Demonstrating genuine interest in the Eisen’s academic and career goals, Jess has gone beyond our usual 1:1 mentoring friendship and providing valuable insights to the entire cohort.

Even when Eisen chose to  change his major and left the BBBS program temporarily, Jess’s commitment persisted, promising ongoing support and guidance for his mentee’s long-term growth.

A powerful advocate, Jess also spoke on behalf of the Workplace Mentoring Program at the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce recently, emphasizing the transformative impact of mentorship on academic and professional development. We are grateful and honored to call him our WPM Mentor of the Year!

College Bigs Program

This innovative program opens doors to new opportunities for high school students and enriches the lives of college students. College mentors, many of whom are first-generation students, help their high school mentees from similar backgrounds overcome education and economic barriers while strengthen their college readiness.

Nandita’s commitment to the College Bigs program and her mentee’s growth is truly commendable. Nandita has gone above and beyond by actively recruiting other students to join the College Bigs program at University of California, Riverside, increasing match potential and fostering a sense of community on campus. Her encouragement for peers to take on a second mentee also showcases her dedication to maximizing the impact of mentorship, creating a ripple effect of support within the College Bigs program.

Nandita’s commitment to her mentees can be characterized by resilience, patience, and adaptability. Despite facing challenges with her first mentee, she persisted and expressed interest in being rematched. Her patience during the re-match process paid off as she formed strong connections with Taliza and Abigeal.

Nandita’s impact is evident in the progress her mentees have made, particularly in increased confidence and communication. Both Taliza and Abigeal have been inspired by Nandita’s pre-med track, aligning with their own aspirations.

Nandita’s participation in both in-person and virtual events demonstrates her commitment to supporting her mentees’ growth and promoting the Big Brothers Big Sisters mission.

Overall, Nandita’s dedication and positive influence have significantly contributed to the success of the College Bigs program at UCR.

Darwin has been an outstanding mentor to his mentee, Adrian, at our University of California, Riverside site. His dedication is also evident in his open advocacy, encouraging his other UCR students to join and actively engage in mentorship. His outreach not only promotes the program’s growth, but also establishes a culture of support and mentorship within the College Bigs program.

Darwin’s commitment to Adrian is characterized by exceptional attentiveness and genuine care for his well-being. Regular check-ins, combined with allowing Adrian the space to take initiatives, showcase Darwin’s understanding of mentoring as a collaborative and empowering relationship.

Adrian’s growth in confidence, supported by Darwin’s recognition of his strengths and areas for improvement, highlights the positive impact of their mentorship. Darwin  recognizes  that building a strong relationship contributes to trust, and he has created a foundation where impactful moments and shared interests strengthen the overall impact.

Darwin’s commitment and positive influence have truly set a standard for excellence in the College Bigs program.


Bright Futures

In June 0f 2023, we hosted the Bright Futures Brunch, our annual graduation event to honor the matches of our Community-based program in Orange County

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