As someone with older siblings, Lompoc High School senior Lourdes Cortez said she knows firsthand just how critical having a mentor can be.
“I know how it feels to have that role model in your life and someone to look up to,” she said. “I know it’s really important to have someone in your life that cares and listens, or to just help you.”
It is because of that knowledge and experience that Cortez said she made the decision to become that positive influence in someone else’s life.
On Thursday, she and several of her classmates who made the same choice were thanked for their efforts.
A total of 28 Lompoc High students joined with the 28 young kids they have been mentoring at the Lompoc Boys and Girls Club to celebrate Thank Your Mentor Day, a national event started by Mentoring.org.
The high school students, referred to as the “bigs,” received handmade thank-you cards from the younger children, referred to as the “littles,” during a small ceremony.
This is the second year of the local mentor program, which is managed through a collaboration between the Boys and Girls Club, Lompoc High School and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Barbara County.
The program is the only one of its kind in Santa Barbara County, and the number of big and little matches has doubled from the inaugural year.
“We’re thrilled,” Sarah Rudd, a program manager with Family Service Agency, which manages Big Brothers Big Sisters, said of the program. “We do survey data on all the littles, and we’re seeing that not only are the littles avoiding risky behaviors and staying away from drugs and alcohol, they have interests in going to college, and they’re thinking about their futures because their bigs are thinking about their futures.”
Among the speakers at Thursday’s ceremony was Andrea Murray, who became the first person to be both a little and a big in the program.
Murray, who stood next to her little, pointed to her own mentor, Sandra Grim, who was in the audience, and noted the impact that having a mentor has had on her.
“She always pushes me to get done what I need to get done, and without her I would not be standing in front of you guys today talking,” Murray said of Grim. “She’s taught me what it is to be a leader … and I thank her for that.”
Fernanda Rojas, another senior at Lompoc High, has participated in the program for two years now. She said the benefits go beyond the personal connection that she has made with her little.
It’s because of this program, she said, that she has been able to attend leadership conferences and learn other things that she likely otherwise wouldn’t have.
“It’s just helped me grow as a person, as well as grow along with my little by teaching her new things that she can use later in life,” Rojas said.
Dena Marie Hardeman, the director of the Lompoc Boys and Girls Club, which is part of the United Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, said she believes the program is beneficial for all sides.
“When you think about what works in Lompoc, it’s these partnerships,” she said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is involved with a similar program in San Luis Obispo County, and Rudd said she would like to expand the program in Santa Barbara County to include Santa Maria, but that first will require finding a funding source.
“What we all know, and what the studies are showing, is that mentoring continues today to be the difference between whether a child reaches their full potential or struggles to succeed,” Rudd said.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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