I.E. Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year announced

INLAND EMPIRE, Calif. — In celebration of National Mentoring Month and the continued support of its volunteers, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire recognized and honored six outstanding mentors, including three men and three women, in a closed virtual ceremony Friday, Jan. 29.

The groups’ featured mentors, who were unparalleled in their service in the local community this past year, come from all walks of life and included real estate agents, students, baristas, and retirees.

“No two volunteers are alike, but they share one common trait: a belief in the power of mentorship,” said event organizers; who added, “These six individuals have made a difference in one child’s life that will create generational change in our region.”

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In an especially challenging year, the 2021 finalists have adapted and helped their mentees in incredible ways, which is showcased in the children’s academic, behavioral and social-emotional growth, said event organizers.

“These finalists welcomed youth into their workplaces for job shadowing, paid for groceries when finances were tight, walked through emotionally challenging situations, celebrated birthdays on Zoom and so much more,” organizers continued. “Each of these finalists embodies the organization’s mission of igniting the potential in today’s youth and serve as incredible advocates for Big Brothers Big Sisters at work, in their social networks, and within the community.”  

“Our mentors come from all backgrounds and walks of life, but they share a common belief in the power of mentorship,” said Jennifer O’Farrell, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire.

“These six mentors have channeled that belief into cultivating meaningful and lasting connections with their mentees in a time when so many of us feel isolated,” O’Farrell continued; adding, “We are so grateful for the contributions of these finalists and all our volunteers that allow us to celebrate and enhance the power and promise of today’s youth.” 

At last week’s virtual awards ceremony, Nathan Iverson was honored as Big Brother of the Year and Estela Rubio was honored as Big Sister of the Year.

This year’s Inland Empire finalists included the following, whose stories can all be read below:

  • Big Brother of the Year finalists
    • Dustin Harris of Escondido 
    • Jose Chavira of Ontario 
    • Nathan Iverson of Riverside (Winner)
  • Big Sister of the Year finalists 
    • Estela Rubio of Riverside (Winner)
    • Kyla Vela of Wildomar
    • Sharon Gutierrez of Riverside 

About Winner Nathan Iverson, Big Brother to Anderson since 2017:

Nathan was motivated to become a Big Brother after learning about the positive change the mentoring program had on local high school graduation rates. Since being matched with Little Brother Anderson in 2017, he has been dedicated to empowering his Little Brother’s potential.

A Big Brother to Anderson since 2017, Nathan has watched, and helped, as his Little Brother has grown from a young boy into a teen who “is on the path to long-term success, to graduation and beyond!”

“I first heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters in college, and I was moved by the compelling evidence in the positive change in graduation rates among under-resourced youth,” Nathan said of the program. “I began to reflect on if I was living out my values of equality and service in my local community.”

“At the time, I was not volunteering anywhere and Big Brothers Big Sisters helped me change that, beginning a path of realigning my words with my actions,” Nathan explained.

A college professor at California Baptist University, Nathan knows the value of education and took responsibility for helping Anderson with his homework and communicating with his teachers to keep him on track.

“With the support of his Big Brother, Anderson is on the path to long-term success, to graduation and beyond!” event organizers said of Nathan; whose passion for youth mentoring and ties to the Riverside community have led to numerous partnerships and volunteer inquiries at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire.

Always the educator, Nathan never misses an opportunity to share his mentorship story and inspire others with a first-person perspective on the impact one person can make on their community.

“Mentorship is two-way,” Nathan explained; adding, “Anderson has mentored me in how to love his neighborhood. He has taught me how to listen. He has led me in empathy. At 12 years old, he began saying, enough about me, how about you?

About Winner Estela Rubio, Big Sister to Annissa since 2014:

Estela first met Little Sister Annissa when she was a small, quiet eight-year-old. Together the two have seen each other through everything from Annissa’s first A on a school project to Estela’s wedding and the birth of her son.

Estela has shared countless experiences and life events with Little Sister Annissa, who is now an award-winning freshman in high school with dreams of becoming a microbiologist. “I know firsthand that mentorship is not only beneficial for the mentee; it has also made me a better coworker, friend, sister, daughter, and mother,” Estela said of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

“Annissa makes me so proud,” Estela enthused; saying she has always pushed her Little Sister to believe “she’s capable of achieving any goal, no matter the obstacle.”

Now, as a Freshman in high school, Annissa’s goals are to graduate as a valedictorian, get into college, and major in microbiology, Estela explained. “All while continuing to play sports like soccer and basketball and continue our many crazy adventures.”

“My role is as it has always been; to challenge her thoughts, preserve her dreams, and continue to be that shoulder she can lean on.”

“I know firsthand that mentorship is not only beneficial for the mentee; it has also made me a better coworker, friend, sister, daughter, and mother,” Estella continued. “What is most rewarding about our match is that together we grow out of our comfort zones, propelling each other towards fulfilling our potential.”

Estela is determined to be a change maker, and since joining Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2014 she has been a champion for youth mentorship. As a Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire ambassador, she has used her voice as a first-generation Mexican American to help demonstrate the larger role a mentor can play in the community.

About finalist Kyla Vela, Big Sister to Amayah since 2018:

Kyla, who came into the program when she was 19 after hearing about Big Brothers and Big Sisters at an event she attended that focused on human trafficking prevention, has dedicated so much of her time to her Little Sister Amaya since they were matched, and she provides endless support and guidance for her Little.

She’s been an outstanding Big Sister throughout her experience as a volunteer in the organization and has expressed many times to friends on social media what a great organization Big Brothers Big Sisters is, and all the things that she’s gotten out of it, according to event organizers.

“Being a mentor to Amayah has been one of the greatest joys in my life,” Kyla said of the special bond she and Little Sister Amayah have built over the last few years. “She has taught me so much about seeing the good in the little things and sharing kindness to every single person we come in contact with.”

“I learned about Big Brothers Big Sisters through an event held at my church, Kyla explained. “I attended a workshop and learned how a mentor can impact the life of a child in their community.

“I was amazed by this model of mentorship and community involvement,” said Kyla; adding, “I was nervous and hesitant, but I thought I would just take a chance and see what happened. It was the best choice I ever made!”

Through Kyla’s mentoring Little Sister Amayah has learned to get out of her comfort zone while on outings with Kyla. She was even able to ride a horse for the first time in her life, because Kyla told her to be brave and that she could do it.

“The Brothers Big Brothers Big Sisters solution is not to fix, but to remind kids of their potential, providing someone who’s willing to point them in the right direction or path to reaching their full potential,” said event organizers. “And just like Kyla has created a path for her Little Sister Amayah, in November, Maya will be creating a path of flowers as she walks down the aisle as her flower girl for her Big Sister Kyla’s wedding.”

“Being a mentor to Amayah has been one of the greatest joys in my life,” Kyla continued. “She has taught me so much about seeing the good in the little things and sharing kindness to every single person we come in contact with.”

“Being allowed to know her and guide her as she navigates through life has been such a humbling experience, and I am so excited to continue our match and watch her grow.”

About finalist Jose Chavira, Big Brother to Anthony since 2017:

“When I first met Little Brother Anthony, he was 15-years-old,” Jose said of his mentor/mentee relationship with his Little. “Our bond has strengthened as we have tackled a variety of topics together and focused on his future. I have seen him mature in all aspects to become a young man with a ton of potential.”

A mentor to Little Brother Anthony since he was just 15-years-old, Jose says it’s important for young men to have a positive role model. “Young men must ask themselves what kind of person, sibling, student, son they want to be in life,” Jose described; adding, “As a mentor, my role is to assist with how to think, not what to think.”

After having to grow up fast and take care of his younger siblings while also working a graveyard shift part-time to support his family, since being paired with Jose Little Brother Anthony has once again been able to enjoy his childhood thanks to Jose; who takes him out to experience new adventures like indoor skydiving.

Additionally, as his Big Brother, Jose has stepped up to shoulder a lot of the stress and pressure Anthony feels, providing the family with resources, checking in on Anthony’s mental health, and helping with homework.

“I think it is important for young men to have a positive male role model in their life so they can discuss subjects that will develop character. Young men must ask themselves what kind of person, sibling, student, and son they want to be in life,” said Jose.

“As a mentor, my role is to assist with how to think, not what to think,” Jose continued. “These are tough questions for kids to address on their own, so a mentor can help create that conversation that then leads to personal growth.”

About finalist Dustin Harris, Big Brother to Ayden since 2016:

As Ayden’s biggest support system, Dustin is dedicated to guiding his Little down the right path, while helping him overcome bullying and other trouble at school.

“At the end of each year, I make us each a photo album,” Dustin said of his special relationship and bond with Little Brother Ayden. “We now have 4 albums filled with pictures, movie ticket stubs, and other mementos, and it’s always fun sitting down with Ayden and looking through the album from the past year.”

Despite the nearly year-long COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis, Dustin has found innovative ways to stay in touch with, and be a mentor to, Little Brother Ayden; and says he feels privileged when Ayden seeks him out for advice or just wants to play another round of UNO while chatting online.

“While the pandemic might have impacted the variety of photos for next year’s album, it hasn’t stopped us from having fun through Zoom,” Dustin continued; saying he meets with Ayden weekly on Zoom to check in and play educational games to keep Ayden on track toward his bright future.

“When Ayden says he looks forward to our virtual hangouts on Fridays at 5:30, or when he asks for one more round of online Uno, I feel very privileged that he and his family want me in his life and that I get to be there for these fun moments.”

“The world, society, and technology are always changing, and a mentor can help a youth process for themselves what’s going on around them and encourage healthy choices,” explained Dustin.

Beyond being a mentor, Dustin is also an active leader within Big Brothers Big Sisters, attending Big Chat panels to support other volunteers and motivating others – including his own biological brother and sister – to become mentors.

About finalist Sharon Gutierrez, Big Sister to Emily since 2017:

With her warm personality and passion for teaching, Sharon has helped Little Sister Emily – one of six siblings – “feel special and seen during a time in her life when she really needed someone in her corner.”

Saying, “People have SO much more to offer than they realize,” Sharon has helped Little Sister Emily feel special at a time in her life when she really needed someone in her corner.

During the pandemic, Sharon made sure Emily had a phone so they could stay connected and also dropped off school supplies for her and all her siblings. She has not only been a great mentor to Emily, she helped to provide thousands of dollars in STEM supplies for other Littles.

“You always hear people say, ‘Someone should…’ followed by an idea that would theoretically improve education, poverty, crime, etc.,” said Sharon.

“But we are all the ‘someone’,” Sharon explained; adding, “And while I cannot overhaul the education system, end poverty, suicide, or any other social ill, I CAN make a difference to one child, just by spending time with her.”

“I love to share my experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters whenever I can, hoping it might spark an interest in someone else,” Sharon enthused. “People have SO much more to offer than they realize. I know that in the end, I get more than I give from being a Big Sister.”

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About Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire believe every child is born with potential. Yet, one-third of the nation’s youth are growing up without a mentor who can help them overcome challenges such as poverty, unstable housing, absentee parents, and lack of access to educational resources.

With a mentor, youth are able to achieve milestones such as high school graduation, set postsecondary goals, and strive for long-term success as they achieve their full potential. Since 1958, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire has provided youth facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships.

Community members excited about changing the world by empowering local youth as a mentor are encouraged to visit www.iebigs.org/mentoringmonth. To learn more about the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations, visit: www.iebigs.org or www.ocbigs.org


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Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 49, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS).

Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County-based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.

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