Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County recently honored four volunteers as Big of the Year for their outstanding volunteer service as one-to-one mentors to young people in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Howard Liebman and Shenika “Nik” Harris were selected as Big of the Year from the traditional community-based program, and teenagers Sofia Morales-Guzman and Angel Nava, who mentor elementary school-aged children, were chosen from the school-based program. They were chosen out of more than 1,000 mentors in the program.
“This is the first year we’ve honored teenage mentors in our Big of the Year program,” said Malena Mendez, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward. “They certainly are worthy of this special recognition, as are our adult Bigs. We’re so grateful to all of Bigs of the Year for their life-changing service to their Littles.”
Big Brother Howard met his Little Brother Walter five years ago when Walter was a fourth grader. At the time, Walter was struggling academically and socially. Howard immediately set to work helping Walter learn to read, and as a result his reading literacy scores improved by three grade levels with his other academic work improving as well. Plus, Walter had always wanted to learn karate, so he could defend himself from bullying in school. Howard and Walter set out to make his dream a reality and started an online fundraising campaign to fund his karate. They raised more than $1,300 to pay for his annual tuition at his karate school. Walter is now getting ready to obtain his black belt.
“We work hard together to practice his reading every week, and now he is able to fully comprehend and read all ofthe material presented to him in school,” said Howard, a Fort Lauderdale resident. “He also has excelled tremendously in karate and it has helped his self-esteem, his confidence and his focus. He has developed confidence and self-assurance that is quite incredible to witness.”
Big Sister Nik heard about the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward BIGPride mentoring program at a LGBTQ+ workplace training. Nik was matched with Katie, whohad recently lost her mom. Katie needed someone to provide support and guidance as she dealt with profound loss. She faced additional challenges because she moved from a home-school environment to public high school, where she was bullied. Nik came to the rescue by helping Katie stand strong in these rough situations, gain additional confidence and express gender identity more freely. Katie now is attending Broward College studying social work.
“I admire the bravery I see in youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth,” said Nik, who resides in Fort Lauderdale. “Kids are full of wonder and are adventurers at heart. I became a Big to help a young person hold on to those qualities, regardless of their situation.”
SofiaMorales-Guzman, 18, is a senior at Nova High School and resides in Plantation. She mentors Myra, who is a fourth grader at Nova Blanche Forman Elementary School.
“I wanted to become Big because I know how important an older sibling is,” said Morales-Guzman. “My older sister had a significant impact on how I grew up, she is my best friend and the person I admire the most. I hoped that in becoming a Big I could be the same for someone else. Myra has become a little sister to me, and my greatest reward is seeing her grow up before me.”
Angel Nava, 17, is a senior at South Plantation High School and resides in Fort Lauderdale.He mentors Justin, a 5th grader at Plantation Park Elementary School. He became a Big because he’s good with kids, having looked after his younger siblings and cousin and helped them with homework.
“We’ve created a great bond and developed a strong friendship,” said Nava. “After we got comfortable with each other, we started talking like we’ve known each other forever.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations across the state nominate Bigs to be the Florida Big Brother and Big Sister of the Year. The Big Brothers Big Sisters Association of Florida selects one Big Sister and one Big Brother who personifies what it means to be a defender of potential.