Sometimes the difference between a student earning a highschool diploma or dropping out of school is determined by a mentor who is willing to befriend them.
Two Riverside locals, Dr. Nathan Iverson and Estela Rubio, received the annual Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year awards last Friday on what is nationally recognized as “I’m A Mentor Day.” Out of the 15 nominations submitted to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire chapter, the award recipients were recognized as volunteers who went above and beyond their outlined responsibilities over years of time spent with their “Littles.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters creates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships which connect volunteers in the community with a child. Because of these bonds, the child can more likely achieve educational success, higher aspirations, greater confidence and better social skills.
Iverson, director of the Industrial-Organizational Psychology program at California Baptist University, said he invited volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters to come recruit students in his classroom in 2017. It was then he wanted to take part himself.
“At the time, I wasn’t involved or volunteering anywhere. I realized the disconnect between my actions and what I said I valued,” he said. After he applied as a “Big” in 2017, he was matched with his Little, Anderson.
Jennifer O’Farrell, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire, said one in three children in America have no mentor or positive role model. In the region her chapter serves, 66 percent of children live in poverty making them 10 times more likely than those from high-income households to drop out of school.
“There’s no greater return on investment than mentoring,” O’Farrell said. “Through these mentoring relationships, 100 percent of our youth graduated high school and 75 percent of them were first in their family to have a high school diploma.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America was founded at the national level in 1904 and the Orange County and the Inland Empire chapter was established in 2014.
“When I came six years ago, 20 kids were being served,” O’Farrell said. “We are now serving 1,300 … And 38 percent of our youth are in Riverside.”
Rubio, a sales support representative with GM Business Interiors, was matched with her Little, Annissa, six years ago.
“We’ve done everything, from rock climbing, hanging out at the beach, and we love hiking,” Rubio said.
Then, the 2020 pandemic brought an emotional depth to their relationship, Rubio continued. “I want to acknowledge her emotions. It was a time to focus on our one-on-one relationship, rather than ‘what are we doing next?’”
For Iverson and Anderson, taking a break from homework for a Boba Tea run or going to the movie theater became a natural way to build a friendship.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ main office offers weekly suggestions for socially-distanced activities and ways Bigs can still encourage their Littles.
“For Anderson’s birthday, I picked up enough cakes for everyone in his house and dropped it off outside his front door to keep distance,” Iverson said. The two also talk on the phone sometimes and Iverson said Anderson gets to practice his conversation skills.
“The mentor gains so much,” Rubio said. “I feel like this program has helped prepare me for motherhood. My son now looks at Annissa as a big sister.”
Iverson also shared that he has learned much from mentoring Anderson and that he hopes more in Riverside will become involved with the organization. “The most metric driven way to impact our town is to mentor those in our community,” he said.