Evelyn Atencio says she first felt shocked – it’s not every day you are recognized as the Big Sister of the Year.

In late March, the Cal State San Bernardino kinesiology student was given the award for her leadership and hard work with the local nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire.

After her initial surprise of the news, she says she then felt excited and honored, realizing she has been making a true difference in the community.

“It felt amazing,” said Atencio, who decided to serve as a “College Big” after seeing the college mentoring program advertised on CSUSB’s social media pages. “It made me feel good knowing that I really am making a difference and that’s all I want to do.”

The College Bigs program is part of the Leadership Development Program by Big Brothers Big Sisters and is a site-based service where college students mentor a high school student.

“This program has shown me what being a mentor really means and the fact that something so small can make a huge difference,” she said.

Atencio was honored at the program’s annual Mentorship Awards Celebration at the Riverside Art Museum on March 31, an event that honored outstanding mentors, community and corporate partners and public servants who are unparalleled in their service in the local community over the last year.

“She is truly amazing,” said fellow Coyote Bianca Gonzalez, CSUSB alumna who graduated in 2016 with her bachelor’s in psychology and who serves as the organization’s College Bigs program specialist.

Much like Atencio, Gonzalez enjoys helping the youth in the community to achieve their fullest potential through the power of mentorship.

“I am passionate about our mission and the work that we do,” she said. “What’s great about College Bigs is we are making an impact in the lives of the high school students we serve and it’s reciprocal for our volunteering college students.”

Gonzalez says that Bigs (college mentors) volunteer their time to help their Little (high school mentee) prepare for what’s to come after graduating. Through the program, she says Bigs are able to serve their community intentionally while gaining leadership and mentorship skills that further their professional development.

“I am extremely proud of the time and effort our Bigs put into this program while balancing their busy work and school schedules,” Gonzalez said.

CSUSB students are encouraged to participate. The only requirements include being enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program at CSUSB, commit to a minimum of 12 months, and commit 2-3 hours per month.

A Big Brothers Big Sisters staff member is there to support Bigs, their Little, and their relationship during the entire experience. For students interested in mentoring in the College Bigs program, the first step is to fill out a Volunteer Enrollment form.

“This is a great opportunity to grow in leadership, complete community service, and give back to the next generation!” said Gonzalez.

For Atencio, her experience as a Big Sister has been fulfilling and influential.

“I am so grateful for this program for letting me be a mentor,” she said, “and hopefully it inspires my Little to become a mentor and want to make a difference in the world.”

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire creates and supports one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Our mentoring model was created on the premise of youth equity and empowerment, designed to meet kids where they are and empower them with the skills to transform their lives and their communities. Since 2014, we have provided youth in Riverside and San Bernardino counties facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported mentoring connections that provide a direct and measurable impact on their lives. With a mentor, youth are able to build emotional intelligence and social capital necessary to achieve educational milestones, set postsecondary plans and achieve a living wage job. Through mentoring, our aim is to reduce the number of disconnected youth in our region and build a self-sufficient workforce with the potential to change the world. For more information, visit iebigs.org.  

Bianca Gonzalez (left) and Evelyn Atencio encourage CSUSB students to join Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Bianca Gonzalez (left) and Evelyn Atencio encourage CSUSB students to join Big Brothers Big Sisters.