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Mentoring Program Makes Impact on Community Youth

"Bigs" and "Littles" at Lehi Community Center as part of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Arizona. Photos courtesy of BBBSCA.

For the last 10 years, Bobbi Rose Nez has worked to bring together Arizona’s Native American youth in need of mentorship and adults with invaluable guidance to offer. Her effort includes a more recent push aimed at the youth in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Nez, a Navajo from Kayenta, Ariz., is a program specialist and tribal partnership coordinator of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona. The nonprofit promotes positive mentoring relationships between adults and youth as young as 6. Mentors are called “Bigs” and the child participants are referred to as “Littles.”

Nez oversees a site-based mentoring program, now in its sixth year, at the Lehi Community Center and works with Lehi’s Boys and Girls Club branch. This program is slightly different from the main BBBS mentoring program, which emphasizes an offsite community-based mentoring relationship.

“We’ve been doing this for the last few years and it’s a successful program,” she said.

Nez recruits Native American students attending Mesa Community College to volunteer as a Big Brother or Big Sister for the Lehi club members. The site-based program mostly mirrors the school-year calendar and ends during the summer months, but mentors can take the mentoring relationship beyond the one-hour weekly meet-up to a fulltime community-based relationship, Nez said.

The site-based program meets on Thursdays at 4 p.m. for an hour, and Nez supervises the group setting. Matches usually work on homework, arts and crafts projects, and other activities. Nez also recruits people from area Native American organizations as guest speakers for the program.

In the past, she had up to 20 matches at Lehi, with most of the mentors being women. As with the overall BBBS program, girls can only be matched with women. Boys have the option to be matched with female mentors if a male mentor isn’t available, because male mentors are harder to find, Nez said. At the end of the school year, the “Littles” take a group trip to tour the MCC campus and see firsthand where their “Bigs” go to school.

Nasonna Frank (Navajo), 25, is one of the mentors Nez recruited. Frank started college at MCC in 2010 and joined Nez’s site-based program in Lehi shortly after.

She was matched with a young girl for a few years and was re-matched in 2015 to a young boy, with whom she still meets regularly.

Frank, who is working on her nutrition degree at Arizona State University, said she loves the mentoring program and enjoys being part of the boy’s life.

“He has taught me a lot,” Frank said. “It’s a learning experience for the both of us. Every activity we do, I emphasis schooling or bettering yourself. It’s a great way to give back to our (Native) community.”

Nez oversees similar programs in the Gila River Indian Community and in Mesa that target urban Native American youth.

She has been recognized on a national and local level for her work with Native American youth. In June, she was awarded the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America “Brick Award” at the nonprofit’s national conference in Florida. The award recognizes the National Program Staff Person of the Year. She was also named BBBSAZ Employee of the Year in February. Nez has been a Big Sister for the last eight years. Her “Little” recently graduated from high school and has moved on to college.

In July, Nez helped start a new high school student–based mentoring BBBS program with the Phoenix Indian Center for Native students and Native mentors. She hopes to make up to 40 matches, with the relationship focused on college and career readiness.

“I really like showing the Native youth another opportunity to see Native people being successful and in school seeking higher education,” Nez said. “That’s one of the exciting things for me.”