Growing up isn’t easy. It is especially challenging when circumstances can lead a young person on a downward spiral, preventing them from successfully transitioning into adulthood.
Pablo Figueroa, a resident of Hartford knows firsthand how important role models can be to young people who he says, “just need someone in their lives to light the spark inside them.”
“I was inspired to be a Big Brother because of how other generous people helped me stay on the right path”, says Figueroa remembering a baseball coach and high school teacher. “They helped me stay away from gangs and pursue a higher education.”
It’s that experience that Figueroa shares with his Little Brother, 12-year old Nyzaya Torres. The duo was paired up by Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters (NBBBS) six years ago; a noteworthy feat since most matches last an average of two and a half years.
Figueroa was recently named Nutmeg’s Big Brother of the Year. He is credited for helping Nyzaya navigate through some particularly difficult periods in his young life – including the COVID 19 pandemic.
Like so many people, the pair were not able to see each other in person due to social distancing guidelines. But they made the most of it by keeping in touch through weekly calls. Last March, Pablo, and Nyzaya were able to reunite; resuming their in-person activities including 1-1 basketball matches.
The distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations has also allowed NBBBS to return to normal pre-pandemic programming.
In the first episode of CTLN’s 3 Questions With podcast, Andy Fleischmann, President & CEO of NBBBS shared what the youth mentoring organization calls enduring, life-enhancing experiences for adult volunteers and the children they mentor.
“The Community-Based program involves matching (adults) with a child who has similar interests, develop goals for the year, and schedule meetings at least 6-10 hours per month”, says Fleischmann who has been leading NBBBS since 2011.
NBBBS offers two other programs: Site-Based and Foster Grandparents. The site-based programs bring mentors and mentees into mostly a classroom setting, including gyms, playgrounds, or workplaces. The Foster Grandparents program provides loving and experienced tutors and mentors to children and youth with special needs.
About 15-percent of the adults enrolled in the mentoring program are Hispanic-Latino compared to the 25-40-percent who are children.
Fleischmann says NBBBS strives to match adult volunteers with children who share similar backgrounds like race and ethnicity, but what is most important is to listen to the families and their children in finding them a dedicated mentor who can fulfill their needs.
Figueroa agrees that while having cultural ties with Nyzaya is a plus; it’s not exclusively what makes the relationship work. “I see a lot of myself in Nyzaya when I was his age. He is a respectful young man with a lot of talent and potential”, he says. “I am just grateful to be able to help him (on his journey).”
NBBBS’s mission is to provide children in need with outstanding mentors who help them reach their highest potential. The “Bigs” and “Littles” team of Pablo and Nyzaya are certainly a testament to meeting that goal.
For more information about Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, including how to become a mentor – visit their website https://nbbbs.org/