Building a Better Future with Big Brothers Big Sisters
Wander Hat Co. is a proud partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters, one of the largest volunteer-supported mentoring networks in the nation, solving systemic issues for almost 120 years. Julia became involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters in June of 2021. She says, "I was matched with Natasha, a sixteen-year-old girl who is creative, kind, incredibly intelligent, and such a joy to be with. I initially got into BBBS to give back to the community, but I didn’t realize how much Natasha was going to give me. I admire her more than she knows. She is so studious and places her education first. She is wildly artistic and amazes me with the creations she makes at Color Me Mine, one of our favorite places to go for outings. She has such a calm and kind presence, and I look forward to our outings together every time. She does feel like the little sister I always wanted, and I am so grateful to BBBS for bringing such a bright light into my life.” As one of the Bigs, Julia has experienced firsthand the positive impact this organization has brought not only on the teens, but everyone who is a part of it.
To help share more insight into what makes BBBS a success, we spoke with the Chief Operating Officer, Laura Corona Marcom. Laura is celebrating her ninth year with Big Brother this month, and in honor of this huge milestone she will be spilling her secrets to a successful career, staying motivated, and how to build connections in a modern world. As COO, her job is to lay the foundation and develop the systems her team needs to do what they do best: form and support life-changing relationships! Laura says, “I provide resources and remove barriers so that our staff, volunteers, and the youth we serve feel secure, feel empowered, and strive for continuous improvement.”
Strive for Progress not Perfection
Day in and day out, Laura is finding ways to improve the program, expand its outreach, and connect with more youths. She says, “At Big Brothers Big Sister, people are our biggest priority. I spend most of my day coaching my team, working directly with our CEO to solve challenges, and creating a culture of collaboration and creativity. I also spend a lot of my time collecting feedback from our Bigs, Littles, parents, and team members to evolve our strategies accordingly - I love feedback (good or bad), it helps us grow.”
She works alongside an amazing team to support youths all over Orange County. Laura says, “CEO, Sloane Keane, has been my mentor for the last 9 years. She has taught me about courageous leadership, strategic thinking, and has always believed in my potential. In addition to Sloane, I have made a conscious effort to seek out mentorship and advice - if I see someone "killing it" and I think, "I like their style, I think I can learn something from them" - I'll take them to coffee. This curiosity and continual-growth mindset has been my (not-so-secret) secret to success in life thus far.” The environment and people we surround ourselves with can make or break our future success. Laura felt passionate about giving those in unfortunate circumstances the opportunity to be seen and heard as valuable contributors to society. She says, "My passion for uplifting others combined with my love for process and organization are ideal for the operations space...but more than this, the biggest influence which brought me to this role is mentorship!”
Laura felt drawn to be a part of BBBS knowing the positive impact she could have on people’s lives. She says, “I want them to know that whatever they are going through, whatever they are currently experiencing - they are not alone! They have an entire Big Brothers Big Sisters community behind them, rooting for them, looking out for them, just a phone call (or text) away!” Being a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters community gives kids an opportunity to feel seen and heard when they need it most. Having a strong support system from their Bigs gives Littles the confidence they need to strive for greatness and overcome any challenges they may face.
Laura is in charge of fostering the meaningful mentor relationships between adult volunteer mentors (Bigs) and youth (Littles), ages 6 through 24, across Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Although her work is really quite simple, it leaves a lasting impact. She says, "Mentorship drives post-secondary success, teaches self-advocacy, and provides the social capital which allows underserved populations to improve their quality of life. Through mentorship, the entire community is energized to help youth ignite their fullest potential through the most basic of human needs; connection.”
The most rewarding part of her job has been witnessing the connections created within the BBBS community. People are better forever because of this experience, and to know she plays a small part in making it happen is so fulfilling for her. Despite all the highs, recovering from the setbacks of COVID is still a lingering challenge, in particular in overcoming the "engagement hurdle". She says, “Engaging our community to volunteer, engaging mentees to seek mentorship, engaging parents to trust in the process, engaging our team to strive forward. We are constantly thinking of creative ways to jumpstart and energize a community who has been through so much.” Now more than ever, we need the support of our community to join in on this cause to help move their mission forward.
Laura's main focus is reaching more youths in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. She says, “It's an ambitious goal, but I'd like to see our organization double in youth served in the next 3 years. My biggest hope for the youth in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program is that they know THEY MATTER and they are worthy of a life beyond their wildest dreams.” One of the biggest barriers for BBBS as they recruit volunteers is the time commitment.
Volunteering can be seen as time taken away from your own family, work, or any other obligations you have. Laura explains,“As an executive, a wife, and a mom, I understand that our time is our most valuable asset; it's so precious! However, I wish everyone would know that volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters - spending a few hours a month inspiring young people to be the best version of themselves - is an investment of your time that pays dividends. What if that 45 minutes of mindless scrolling on social media was instead spent FaceTiming with a mentee? Sharing your experiences with friendships, recounting your first job interviews, or advising on what shirt to wear on the first day of school? It's the little things that make the biggest difference for our mentees.”
There are so many ways to get involved with this wonderful organization. If mentoring is just not realistic for you right now, you can also become a "Honorary Big" by donating to the cause, host a Lunch & Learn through your workplace, or become a Career Mentor through our College & Career programming. Visit their website to learn more, and be sure to subscribe to the Big Brothers Big Sisters newsletter where you can find out about fun community events where they could always use some extra hands.