Award winning BBBS mentor shares her rewarding experiences as a first gen Mexican-American Big Sister
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif., — Growing up in the Inland Empire as a first generation Mexican-American and finding herself in the middle of two cultures blending together, Estela Rubio did not have a mentor but grew up with strong and important figures in her life like her father, who helped define her and prepare her for her future. Knowing how crucial the transition from adolescence to young adulthood and a career path has become, in 2014 Estella joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire (BBBS), and in May of that year was introduced to her new “Little Sister” eight-year-old Annissa.
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. Over the next seven years, that relationship has blossomed and progressed – much like Annissa has – and the once shy but now confident 15-year-old tenth grader has goals and aspirations of graduating as a valedictorian at her Riverside County high school, getting into college, and majoring in microbiology.
Estela’s strong and years-long commitment to her Little Sister, along with her continuing work as a BBBS Ambassador, was recently recognized when she was named Big Sister of the Year. She has said she has every intention of continuing to mentor her Little; recently telling RCNS, “Annissa and I have a real sisterhood. We are on a grand adventure together with many more stories to tell.”
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Estela first met Little Sister Annissa when she was a small, quiet eight-year-old. Estela had just graduated from college and was seeking a career, but still learning about adult responsibilities such as managing her finances and upholding her other commitments.
“There was so much happening at one time, and I recall wondering, ‘When did I lose my sense of wonder of the world around me?’,” she explained; saying that despite everything already going on in her life, her desire to make a difference in the lives of local youth led her to start researching local volunteering opportunities.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission stood out to me the most.”
Estela has shared countless experiences and life events with Little Sister Annissa, who is now an award-winning sophomore 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.
After being paired with Annissa, Estela learned her new Little Sister had self-confidence issues and was struggling tremendously in school, while the young girl’s mother was facing her own life struggle in her ongoing battle with thyroid cancer.
Estela was able to step in and be the listening ear and voice of reason and comfort Annissa needed, right when she needed them the most. Together, they sat down and organized all her school folders and began working together to come up with realistic short and long term goals.
Most importantly for Annissa, with her mom having to endure chemotherapy and unable to participate in or attend many of the young girl’s school events, Estela has been able to step in and take her Little to school, support her at her soccer games, attend her school programs and award ceremonies, and just embody what a strong woman is.
The year after they were matched, Estela got married and before her big day she took Annissa on a surprise outing where she bought her a dress so she could match – and be – one of the bridesmaids at her wedding. Later, Annissa shared another joyous occasion with her Big when Estela gave birth to her now four-year-old son.
“Annissa makes me so proud and I’ve always pushed her to believe she’s capable of achieving any goal, no matter the obstacle,” Estela enthused; saying, “My role has always been to encourage her to grow out of her comfort zone, 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,” the Big Sister 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.”
Together, Big Sister Estella and Little Sister Annissa have enjoyed countless fun adventures and shared many huge life experiences, such as Estella’s wedding and the birth of her son, as well as Annissa’s first A on a school project. But it is the many countless small events, such as sharing an ice cold drink on a hot summer day, when many of the pair’s most important and life-changing conversations have occurred.
Estela says her passion for mentorship originates from her parents and as a BBBS ambassador, she is determined to be a change maker. Since joining BBBS she has been a champion for youth mentorship and has used her voice as a first-generation Mexican American to help demonstrate the larger role a mentor can play in the community.
“Coming from Mexico, my parents have always exemplified what good mentors look like with their actions and behavior and showed me how a mentor’s role could play a larger role in the community by connecting with individuals, helping someone with less experience, and opening the door to new possibilities,” she explained. “Being a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters allowed me the opportunity to mirror that same impact I witnessed growing up as a first-generation Mexican-American.”
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According to BBBS, although 81% of the children that the nonprofit serves are Hispanic, only 26% of volunteers are Hispanic and Estela and others say there is a need for more Hispanic volunteers to help support and impact local Hispanic youth and future generations.
Citing Cesar Chavez, who said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own,” the award-winning Big Sister said she would love to see more Hispanic/Latino mentors join the BBBS organization.
“The transition from childhood and adolescence to young adulthood and a career path has become far too perilous and unpredictable for many of the country’s youth and becoming a mentor gives our younger counterparts hope and aspiration to move forward and a role model to look up to,” she explained.
“Suppose out of the 8,760 hours in a year, people took a few of those hours to share with a child who needs someone in their corner. We would see so many benefits for our communities: lower dropout rates, higher college enrollment rates, healthier lifestyle options, improved interpersonal relationship skills,” she opined; adding, “I like to tell people that being a Big Sister is not only making a difference in one young girl’s life, it is impacting our entire community.”
Both Estela and Annissa have said their participation in Big Brothers Big Sisters has been one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives, with Annissa saying her Big Sister brought light, direction, and a different outlook into her life when she needed it the most.
Today, Annissa has gone from being shy and withdrawn to now being “super confident” according to Estela; who said her Little is carrying a 3.7 GPA and has already begun steering her scholastic and life goals toward attending university and a future career in microbiology.
“If I could talk to others about my experience with Estela, I would say it is one of the best things that happened in my life,” Annissa said of her life-changing relationship with her Big. “She is one of the most important people to me, and I aspire to be like her.”
Saying she appreciates Estela for “everything she has done for me and my family”, and the fact that her Big Sister’s family “has always treated me like one of their own,” Annissa explained, “She brought light into my life and provided me a different outlook, and I do not know where I would be or what kind of relationships I would have with my family if I had never met her.”
To learn more about how you can become a mentor to a Little Sister or Brother, or how you can support the ongoing efforts of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations, visit: www.iebigs.org or www.ocbigs.org.
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Trevor Montgomery, 50, 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 and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.
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.