ESPN's Hugo Bernal, Making A Big Impact Through Big Brothers Big Sisters


By Vicki Adame,

Fishing, mud races and in the near future horseback riding.

These are just some of the activities Hugo Bernal and 11-year-old Jay have been doing since being paired through Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters (NBBBS) a year ago.

When Bernal, a multi-platform sports broadcaster for ESPN, first met with Jay, the 11-year-old told him he really wanted to go fishing. The two have been on numerous fishing trips. And when Bernal mentioned he had a drone, Jay said he wanted to fly it. And about a month ago the two took part in a mud run.

“Lately, he’s been saying he wants to go horseback riding. I have the place, it’s just a matter of finding the time to go,” Bernal said.

And every outing includes getting something to eat. “We get hamburgers all the time,” Bernal said.

Bernal is one of about 1,200 mentors who have been paired with a little brother or little sister through NBBBS. But the organization is in need of many more mentors.

Currently, there are more than 200 children on the NBBBS waitlist, and about 100 of those children are Latino, said Brian Kelly, director of marketing for NBBBS.

Big Sister Natalie with Little Sister Serenity

A third of the mentors are Latino, but there is a need for more.

“A lot of Latino families would like their child to have a Latino mentor,” Kelly said.

In order to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, an applicant must be 18-years-old or older.

“There’s no special education or advanced degree required. Basically, you just have to like children and want to make their lives better,” Kelly said.

NBBBS, which is based in Hartford, serves 132 out of 169 municipalities in the state, Kelly said. And mentors are needed in all of these areas.

Kids in rural areas tend to stay on the waitlist longer. And for children who are 14, 15 and 16 it’s even harder to find them a mentor, Kelly said.

Since its founding in 1966, the organization has served more than 68,000 children in the state.

Children in the program range in age from 6 to 16. NBBBS works to pair the child with a mentor who has similar interests.

“The mentors end up saying they have more fun than the children,” Kelly said. “Sometimes they end up doing things they have never done.”

The organization doesn’t ask mentors to spend a lot of money, Kelly said.

“We just want them to spend time together — be someone who they (the child) can confide in, be a sounding board,” he said.

The organization does provide tickets to sporting events or the movies, but it depends on what they like to do, Kelly said.

Bernal had wanted to become a Big Brother for a long time, but his work schedule didn’t afford him the time.

But, in the past year-and-a-half his schedule became more flexible and he felt it was a good time to apply.

“Every year I try to help out with donating money, but this is more about making a difference,” Bernal said.

While NBBBS asks for a 1-year commitment, Bernal decided to continue his big brother relationship with Jay.

“We’re still going, we see each other as much as we can,” Bernal said.

He also encourages others to consider becoming a mentor.

“For people looking to help out somehow, instead of donating money, this is so much more rewarding,” Bernal said.

For information on how to become a Big Brother or Big Sister, go to: or call 860-525-5437, ext. 117.