Big Brothers Big Sisters Volunteers Recognized for Making a Difference

By Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna
Vanessa Serna is a California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times.
January 10, 2022 Updated: January 10, 2022

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire will recognize two volunteers as “exceptional mentors” to youth facing adversity, including low-income youth, during National Mentor Month.

The organization will recognize the two individuals out of 10 finalists nominated for the 2022 Big of the Year Award during a Jan. 20 annual awards ceremony in Newport Beach, California.

“A lot of our volunteers go above and beyond,” Big Brother Big Sister spokesperson Casey Gomez told The Epoch Times. “This campaign is all about highlighting and celebrating our exceptional volunteers who have an impact.”

The nonprofit organization matches youth with a mentor to assist them in reaching their full potential academically, socially, and mentally.

Nominees are submitted based on the impact a volunteer has had on the life of his or her mentee over the span of two years, according to Gomez.

While picking out nominees, organizers at Big Brother Big Sister observe the progress a child has made from when they first started the program. Factors such as family background and challenges faced before beginning the program are taken into consideration.

Mental health has been a common concern for mentees amid the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning.

“[There are] a lot of different challenges that our kids have been facing recently and [some are] kind of unprecedented,” Gomez said. “Volunteers really stepped up in a huge way.”

Sending daily text messages to make sure mentees weren’t feeling too isolated made a massive difference in their lives, Gomez said.

“So many of our youth are feeling that loneliness these days,” she said.

The 10 finalists have helped their mentees reach academic goals while also improving socially and mentally.

Nominee Amy Ellis stepped up to assist her mentee, Esmeralda, as her grades and mental health was suffering during the pandemic, according to the organization’s website.

By Ellis simply setting weekly check-ins to help her mentee with her homework and have quality time, Esmeralda was able to thrive academically during her first year of high school.

Nominee Michael Justiniano assisted his mentee, Adrian, with building his self-esteem and mental health by taking him on intentional outings.

Justiniano and Adrian volunteer together and participate in sport fitness activities. Through the mentorship of Justiniano, Adrian joined his high school wrestling team and is continuing to be exposed to different career paths.

Nominee Zachary Stangle has been walking alongside his mentee, Elijah, since 2013. Stangle has guided Elijah through his academics and has motivated him to receive a higher education.

Elijah is about the graduate high school and will attend college.

Big Sisters and Brothers of the Year Finalists

  • Monica Da Re
  • Jennifer Detlefsen
  • Amy Ellis
  • Steve Guzman
  • Conner Halsted
  • Michael Justiniano
  • Samantha Leonard
  • Braulio Moreno
  • Mayra Sanchez
  • Zachary Stangle
Vanessa Serna is a California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times.