Big Brothers Big Sisters coming to Valencia County

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The nation's largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters, is coming to Valencia County to offer their school-based mentoring program in area schools.

Angela Reed Padilla, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico, said they are partnering with the Valencia County Juvenile Justice Board and US Bank to bring the program to Valencia County as a way to enrich children's lives and keep as many youngsters as possible out of "the system."

Padilla said the organization has been serving children in Valencia County for several years through their community-based mentoring program, but that it's always a challenge in rural areas to find available volunteers.

The school-based program offers mentoring for children at an area school, rather than the community-based mentoring program in which big brothers and big sisters mentor their little sister or brother out in the community on weekends or evenings doing activities.

Partnering with the Valencia County Juvenile Justice Board, she said, is what has made bringing in the school-based program a reality.

"These (the Justice Board) are a lot of passionate and dedicated business and community leaders in Valencia County who care about youth and want to make a difference and especially want to effect academic outcomes, including high school graduation rates and keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system," Padilla said. "This board approached Big Brothers Big Sisters to be a stronger partner with them and they really recognize one-to-one mentoring as a way to help keep kids in school and focus on positive outcomes."

No organization can provide services without funding, says Padilla. So the Juvenile Justice Board helped them obtain a grant to fund more community-based mentoring.

Then, to help them realize their vision to take their services further and establish a school-based program, they partnered with US Bank, which has donated a grant of $20,000 to get the program off the ground and running.

BBBS will be announcing which elementary school they will be partnering with by March and hope to match about 20 students with mentors through that program by the fall.

Jacob Armijo, US Bank marketing president in Los Lunas, said he got involved in the project after being approached by Valencia County resident Nathan Koontz, who works in the commercial real estate department for US Bank in Albuquerque and is a BBBS board member.

"Being that (Branch Manager) Larina (Lucero) and I work in the Valencia County community and live there, we thought it was a great opportunity," said Armijo.

They met with BBBS in September 2012 and talked about what the vision was and how BBBS works and how it would benefit the county. Next, a grant was written and ultimately approved by the US Bank Foundation to fund the program.

Padilla says that bringing BBBS into rural communities, such as Valencia County, provide opportunities for youth that might not otherwise be available.

"The further out you get away from metro areas the less opportunities are available for children," said Padilla. "When you look at graduation rates, when you look at opportunities for success, it's tougher for these kids to succeed and go to college than it is in the metro areas, where they have more support. In New Mexico, we're suffering in our metro areas as well."

She said the impact on children of one-to-one mentoring, and having an adult in a child's life that spends time with them is invaluable. It builds childrens' confidence on a social level, she said, and builds aspirations as well as helps them on an academic level by showing children how to trouble shoot and learn how to learn.

"The message from mentors is, regardless of where you came from, of what's happening now, you can make the choices and the decisions that will help you succeed in life," she says. "And really the singular message is, 'Stay in school.' … Mentors help through their own wisdom and being a role model."

There is a great need for male mentors since boys will often wait up to two years to be matched with a big brother volunteer.

In the school-based mentor program, mentors need only volunteer one hour a week with their little.

BBBS Board Chairman and CEO of HB Construction Adam Harrington said that the state of New Mexico needs its children to succeed everywhere.

"To prosper as a state, everyone has to prosper, especially the kids," Harrington said.

To learn more about BBBS and its programs and how to become a volunteer mentor, visit their website at www.bbbs-cnm.org.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.