Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa making an enduring impact on people’s lives

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“Big Brother” Enrique Alameda-Basora with 15-year-old “Little Brother” Zaiden Martinez. | “Big Brother” Enrique Alameda-Basora junto a “Little Brother” Zaiden Martinez, de quince años.
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By Joaquin Ramirez-Andrade, Hola Iowa

Making a positive impact on someone’s life is a humbling and honorable experience, especially when you witness the impact happening right before you. It’s a great feeling to follow in the footsteps of a role model who inspires you and to pass on the positive influence to others who need guidance. That’s precisely what drove Enrique Alameda-Basora to become a “Big” with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa (BBBSCI).

“I was looking to make an impact on the community in a very positive way that is beyond feeling good, having an impact on someone else’s life, not just for a moment, but for a lifetime. That is my greatest inspiration.” He continues by adding, “I’m the youngest of my family, and I never had an opportunity to mentor someone younger than me before, and seeing the impact my older brother has had on me inspires me to have that sort of impact on someone, too.” Mr. Alameda added.

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Alameda-Basora has been a “Big” for three years, currently mentoring his second “Little,” fifteen-year-old Zaiden Martinez, who, with the encouragement and support of his mother, has been in the program for seven months.  “The first time I heard about it was from my mom last year; she was like, ’There’s this program. I think it’d be really good for you to join.”’ I was kind of hesitant at first cause I didn’t know much about it until I joined it. I enjoy my time with Enrique.” Zaiden said.

His mother, Gina Martinez, was very familiar with the program because she was a “Little” when she was younger, and she still remembers her Big Sister’s impact on her life. “Back when I was younger, when I was in Colorado, I did have a Big Sister when I was about 13. To this day, I remember her full name. She was a very impactful person in my life, and I learned a lot from her and think about her constantly. It was a great experience. I wanted Zaiden to have that same experience,” says Martinez about her decision to enroll Zaiden in BBBSCI. 

Bridget Cravens-Neely, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, shares her personal connection to her work. “I know personally that mentoring works because I am the product of youth mentoring. I didn’t have a formal program like Big Brothers Big Sisters growing up. My mother was a single parent who built a village around me with mentors. Most of them were women and were diverse in every sense (age, ethnicity, occupation, life experience, background, socio-economic status, etc.). What they had in common was their desire to see me reach my full potential and succeed in life. This is what mentoring does for young people. It gives hope. It allows dreaming. It gives confidence and provides security. This is my why for being a mentor. This is my why for joining BBBSCI. I have a responsibility to reach out and pull in the youth who are willing to grasp my hand,” says Cravens-Neely, emphasizing her responsibility to guide youth reaching for support. 

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Martinez reveals the impact BBBSCI has had on Zaiden. “Ever since Zaiden joined the program, he has really come out of his shell, and he’s really starting to find himself as a person. I feel like him having this third person outside of his family who he can trust, get to know, and confide in helps because it’s somebody who doesn’t know what’s going on inside, and so he can feel like he’s not being judged. Strictly, it’s their relationship; nothing else, nobody else is involved, and I feel he’s comfortable enough that it’s grown on him. I’ve seen much growth in Zaiden in the last seven months since he’s been spending time with Enrique.” 

Mentors also benefit from the program as well. It’s beneficial for the Big Brother, too. “Being a Big means providing as much support as we can in very effective and healthy ways, so it doesn’t have to be you take responsibility for your Little. No, you just listen, guide them, try to give them advice, and do as much of that as you can and make sure that they know that if anything ever goes wrong, you are there to help them, and you’re there to support them. I really believe that’s the main goal of Big Brothers Big Sisters; to provide them with a comforting adult that they can confide in case things get tough,” says Alameda-Basora.

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Enrique and Zaiden meet for a few hours every two weeks, depending on their planned activities. They have had many unforgettable experiences over several months. Their favorite memory is their visit to the iconic Science Center of Iowa. In addition to their adventures, they also attend outings with all the other matches of Bigs and Littles. “There’s a bunch of different events where you get to meet people. You get to hang out with other matches, really understand their stories, their experiences, and together go to a park and play water balloon fights or make hot dogs and go grilling together in a park. You see everyone and their matches and you can see their interactions,” says Alameda-Basora. 

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“It’s a good way to talk to people that are other than your friends, a good idea to go out and do something you’ve never done before, and overall, just have a good time,” adds Zaiden. 

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In the past year, Big Brother Big Sister of Central Iowa significantly impacted 570 youth, with 61% from diverse communities (Black, LatinX/Latine, AAPI, Indigenous). An impressive 89% of Littles felt they had a caring adult. BBBSCI mentoring programs include Group Mentoring, I Am Enough, Future Pathways, Workplace, and Sports Buddies. Some are school-based, where mentors visit their Littles at school, and community-based, where mentors and Littles explore their communities together, like Enrique and Zaiden. All mentors are volunteers who have passed criminal, child abuse, and driving background checks and want to be positive role models for kids. Currently, 200+ youth eagerly await mentors, prompting the call to recruit 60 Bigs in 60 days, focusing on male and BIPOC mentors. 

The new youth mentoring center, located at 2130 Grand Avenue in Des Moines, will open in Fall 2024 and be a hub for mentorship and community events. “As the city of Des Moines and surrounding communities grow, the needs for mentoring our youth continue to grow – BBBSCI is uniquely positioned to step in and serve the needs,” says BBBSCI CEO Bridget Cravens-Neely. 

Zaiden and Enrique always have a great time when they meet. Each meeting strengthens their relationship and presents new adventures. Their next get-together will be for a friendly game of bowling with all the other Bigs and Littles. Meanwhile, Martinez is working hard to achieve her educational goals. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in project management.

“Being part of Big Brothers Big Sisters has been a humbling experience and an honor. I think the organization is doing great things for the community and doing great things for the children. It’s an organization that really cares. The match coordinators, when you have a conversation with them, they are amazing, and they really try to listen to you and any potential issues that you might have with your Little, what you’ve been up to, and they really support you,” says Alameda-Basora. 

There are many ways to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, from monetary support to in-kind donations and volunteering in various capacities. Visit bbbsia.org to get involved.

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