Dozens of Big Brothers Big Sisters staff members lined their Santa Ana office’s parking lot ringing cowbells, shaking pom poms, and cheering loudly as more than 100 class of 2020 graduates drove by in cars full of family and friends.
In an effort to adhere to social distancing measures but still allow for the graduates to see the staff members that have supported them through all four years of high school, the nonprofit organized a drive-thru graduation celebration. The staff stood at different stations and handed out handfuls of goodies and class of 2020 themed gifts to each of the graduates throughout the four-hour event on Tuesday.
“One of the things that we have really clung to over the last couple of months, especially with the shelter-in-place and having to restrict face-to-face communication, is the value of connection,” said Sloane Keane, CEO of BBBS of Orange County and the Inland Empire.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national youth mentoring program that primarily pairs children with adult and teen volunteer mentors. BBBS of Orange County and Inland Empire has been actively serving Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties for nearly 65 years.
This celebration gathered high school graduates from different programs. One group was made up of teens who have gone through the program as mentees. They overcame poverty and disadvantaged backgrounds to earn their diplomas. On average, about 75 percent of the chapter’s high school graduates are the first in their families to graduate high school. After these graduates have completed their high school-based programming, there are even more mentorship opportunities through BBBS that help prepare them for the future.
The other group being honored included those who volunteered to give back to their community as members of the High School Bigs program, in which high schoolers are paired with elementary school students who they meet with once a week after school. Two of the High School Bigs graduates were presented with the High School Big of the Year award honoring their improvements as mentors and the impact that they have had on their assigned “Little” in the program.
Alfred Mota and Isabel Delgado were this year’s honorees, both graduates of Western High School in Anaheim. Mota and Delgado each attended the celebration with their families.
“At first, I was shocked (to receive the award) because entering this program, I was just trying to have fun and really make an impact on my Little, but then I started getting more and more attached,” said Mota.
Delgado is heading off to Cal State Fullerton University in the fall where she will major in human services and Mota will attend Cypress College where he will prepare for a future career in the medical field as an anesthesiologist assistant.
“Being a Big has really impacted my high school career because I was able to get experience working with children to see if that was something that I was interested in and to see if I wanted to further my career in it. I actually fell in love with it and started working with the City of Anaheim through the S.T.A.R.S. (Study-Time, Arts, Recreation, and Sports) program working with children,” said Delgado.
In total, there were 370 grads recognized in the celebration.
For more on Big Brothers Big Sisters Orange County and the Inland Empire: https://www.orangecoast.com/features/big-little-lives-newport-beach-resident-commits-to-matching-youths-with-mentors/