LEMOORE — After being in the works for a few years, Lemoore is now finally part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California program that matches high school mentors with elementary students.

Members of the program and those who helped make everything possible celebrated Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Lemoore Elementary School.

Executive Director Diane Phakonekham said the high school one-on-one mentoring program is where the “best of the best” high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors are chosen as “bigs” to mentor elementary-aged students, known as “littles.”

Phakonekham said Lemoore is now the 19th place to develop a High School Bigs program in the Valley. She said she is excited about this new endeavor Lemoore High School is taking on with Lemoore Elementary School.

“I am so honored to work with [Lemoore Union High School District Superintendent Debbie] Muro and [Lemoore Union Elementary School District Superintendent Cheryl] Hunt,” Phakonekham said, adding both women and their school boards are “amazing” and have put in a lot of hard work into making the program happen.

Phakonekham said Lemoore Mayor Ray Madrigal went to her two years ago to talk about getting a High School Bigs program in the city, but it was a long process because there was no initial funding to get started. She thanked Madrigal for opening doors and getting the process going for the students.

Madrigal said although getting the program started was a long process, nobody gave up on it. He said people in the community had been responsive to the idea from the start, and he’s happy everything came together in the end.

Muro, who said the two-year process felt more like 10 years because she wanted it so much, also said the program was going to benefit both groups of 25 high school students and 25 elementary school students.

“We’re going to try our best to make the Big Brothers Big Sisters program proud of what we do and hope to see it grow in numbers,” Muro said.

“Big things are yet to come,” Hunt said, adding she wishes the kids success in building relationships with their mentors.

The high school students were chosen by an application and interview process, Phakonekham said. She told them they should be proud of themselves for being a part of the program, especially because they are now examples for the younger kids to look up to.

Lemoore High School Principal Rodney Brumit said he knew his students would be receptive to the idea of being a part of this program. He said even after only advertising on a small scale, he received over 100 applications.

“I am extremely proud of you,” Brumit said to the high school “bigs” in attendance. “I’m extremely proud of our school and all the things you’re going to provide to these younger kids.”

Brumit said what the community and what the world needs is mentorship to teach kids how to be respectful, responsible and resilient.

Eunique Barnes, 15, is a sophomore in high school and a “big.” Erykah Mendoza, 10, is in fifth grade and is Eunique’s “little.”

Eunique said the reason she wanted to be a part of this program is because she just really loves helping people. She said she would like to do something like this — where she helps kids — when she gets older.

“Whenever I come to this program and I see Erykah or any of these other children, I’m just so amazed,” Eunique said. “[There are] so many kids around. I just love kids.”

Eunique said the program has an “amazing group” of “bigs” and “littles.” She said she’s had nothing but fun since she’s started. She said when they meet, the “bigs” first help the “littles” with their homework, and then they play games inside or go outside to play on the playground.

Erykah said her favorite thing about the program is playing outside and talking with her “big sister.”

“She’s fun,” Erykah said about Eunique.

Lemoore Elementary Principal Amy Garcia said she is honored to be a part of the program and that her students are afforded the opportunity to achieve their academic and social goals.

“We look forward to the continued partnership and success for our students,” Garcia said.

Phakonekham said every child is assessed to figure out what their personal needs are, and are worked with to meet those needs. She said a year from now she can’t wait to show the school boards how much the students have progressed through the program.

A slide show was played at the event with pictures of all the “littles” in the program, each holding a sign saying what they would like to be when they grow up. Program coordinator Amanda Phelps said she would like to see the Big Brothers Big Sisters help these kids reach their dreams.

“I look forward to the journey ahead, the relationships that have been made and will continue to thrive, and the impacts that we will make with this High School Bigs program,” Phelps said.

Phelps said Hanford has also recently started a High School Bigs program and will have a ribbon-cutting later this month.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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