Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire is proud to announce the recipient of the 2023 High School Bigs Mentor of the Year award. Two individuals, one Big Brother one Big Sister were chosen for their outstanding dedication to mentoring and making a positive impact on the life of their Little.
The 2023 Inland Empire High School Bigs Mentor of the Year award goes to David Munoz-Padilla from Fontana High School in Fontana, CA, and to Kayden Sejkora of Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, CA.
It’s impossible to not like David. And while there is only so much we can say in this post about David’s impact, the this is his story, so we’ll let him tell it, so, without further ado, here is David’s journey of mentorship in his own words:
“Big Brothers Big Sisters has been one of my most proud achievements in my high school career. I joined my freshmen year as a mentor for young elementary kids who have been designated to receive emotional support. I was paired with a young boy named Max, and he, just like me at the time, was very shy. As I began talking with him, he began to open-up and I did just the same. We would go on about handwriting, dream jobs; he was my first little and I will always remember the connection we had.
Throughout the year I was proud to see him embrace his creativity and be the first to raise his hand high to tell everyone his idea. I beamed with joy knowing that I was making an impact on Max. But little did I know the impact he would have on me. When COVID hit, the program had difficulty moving online; participation dropped tremendously, motivation was low, and I no longer saw Max. However, I made the most of what I could in those online meetings. I made sure to make participation a main priority for myself. In order to help engage other students, I consistently emailed people directly at Big Brothers Big Sisters to share my ideas, and while unfortunately the pandemic put a big obstacle in our way, I know that I was heard when the executive director Jennifer O’Farrell contacted me to express her delight and acknowledgment of my mission towards the program.
When we moved back to in-person meetings (2021-2022 school year), I worked with our site specialists to establish a school-based club focused on recruiting high school students and planning additional activities for the Littles at the elementary school. As Club President, I worked with my peers to help motivate and recruit 15 new mentors. Together with my peers, we worked hard to make arts and crafts for the littles to let them know that we Bigs were back in full force, more engaged than ever before. Originally each mentor was paired with one child, but that year I took on the whole group of children as they looked up to me as the leader among the mentors. It was intense!
I placed special attention on Luis, with whom I was matched, but when I heard shouts from across the room from multiple littles who did not have a Big, I took them under my wing. These other littles included Jade, Leah, Tyrone, and Miguel. Even so, I was still able to balance the craziness that was having multiple littles and still getting to know them on a deeper level.
One of my favorite experiences was when I hosted a pizza party for the students on the last day of the program for the 2021-2022 school year. That day the child who had the most troubled experience, Emilio (Luis’ Brother), came up to me and gave me a hug and a thank you. While a small gesture to some, it meant the world to me knowing that everything I did, to make these kids feel heard, made an impact.
Later, when other Littles mocked me for the way I expressed myself, he came to my defense and told them how “cool” I was. His bravery and compassion for me was something that surprised me, given that he was not “my Little”, but his growth in particular helped me become more confident in my own leadership. The Program Specialist for that period had even congratulated me for an amazing year and had said that our elementary site was the most successful and creative for the year.
Now in my final year I am proud to have been through the thick and thin of the Program. My time as a high school Big is almost at its end, but I am certain that the passion, gratitude, and dedication I have for this program will be with me forever.
Congratulations to David for this well-deserved honor.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire is incredibly grateful for Big Sister, Kayden Sejkora. Her impact has been a shining example of the difference one person can make in the life of a child, especially when they have a mentor that they look up to. We are honored to recognize her as our 2023 Inland Empire High School Bigs Mentor of the Year.
Here Kayden’s story is her story in her own words:
I have a special relationship that has developed with my Little, Abel. Every Tuesday when I get to spend time with him, he makes my day so much better. Abel and I have become closer over time, and I think he has improved both personally and in our relationship.
When I first met Abel, he was a very lively and energetic kid who didn’t listen well. Over time, we’ve worked on having fun but also respecting people by listening when they speak. I’m so proud of his effort, and I’ve seen a lot of improvement. He has also gotten much better at following instructions.
Abel is a bright young man, and occasionally I think he may be smarter than me. My goal as a mentor is to have a positive influence on him, and to give Abel enough encouragement and support to be himself. I want Abel to always know he can be himself, and if people judge him for being true to himself then they are not people he should associate with.
Abel has also impacted my life by showing me that I can be myself and that I don’t have to feel afraid to show others my true self. Ours is a great relationship because of the ways we support, respect, and understand each other.
I never would have thought that mentoring others would be a way for me to give back to my community. In my opinion, the finest way to give back to a community is through this program. As a mentor/big I’ve had the chance to help my mentee/little grow as a person.
What is a bit odd, is that being a triplet, I have never known how much I’ve benefited from having sisters in my life. My sisters have always supported me and pushed me to be better, but it was not until I joined the High School Bigs program that I was able to look after and protect my Little in ways that I never could with my sisters. Knowing I was this person for Abel inspired me to keep becoming a better mentor.
Mentoring is a powerful tool that can change lives, and Kayden’s experience is a testament to that. She has shown that mentoring is not only about the mentee, but also about the mentor’s growth. We encourage everyone to take a moment to recognize the impact of mentoring and the positive change it can bring to the lives of young people in our communities. Thank you to all our dedicated mentors for your continued support and for making a difference in the lives of our youth.
To learn more about High School Bigs, visit iebigs.org/highschoolbigs.