Ohio Teacher Named 2007 National Big Sister of the Year

Published: June 26, 2007 | 6395th good news item since 2003

Crystal Rivera, 26, a special needs teacher from Lorain, Ohio (near Cleveland), has been named 2007 National Big Sister of the Year, the top volunteer honor that the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) organization confers.

The youngest of seven children, Rivera has been matched for three years with Ariana Melendez, 13, the third youngest in a family of eight children.

“Ariana has made great strides since we met,” said Rivera. “When we were first matched three years ago, Ariana was getting into a lot of fights at school. Since our first couple of months together, she has not been in a fight with her peers. In addition, her grades have improved tremendously from D’s and F’s to honor roll and merit roll,” said Rivera.

These changes came even though Rivera and Ariana’s match has two inherent obstacles. Although Rivera is Hispanic, she was born in the United States and speaks very little Spanish. Ariana’s mom speaks Spanish and very little English, so Ariana is the translator. In addition, Ariana’s family has no phone so the simple pleasure of calling to set up a spontaneous meeting is not possible. Not showing up or not being there is out of the question because there’s no easy way to communicate. So, the duo has worked out a system whereby every Saturday at 2 p.m. Rivera arrives at Ariana’s house. And in three years of their relationship, the system has never failed.

“All of our volunteers are like stars that shine brightly in the night but, as we all know, some stars shine more brightly than others,” said Giovana Cruz, the match support person at BBBS of Lorain County who nominated Rivera for the award.

Ariana’s mom approached Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County several years ago because she wanted her children to have the extra one-on-one attention she knew she couldn’t provide due to the size of her family. Ariana was also acting out at school at the time and Mrs. Melendez thought a Big Sister could be a good influence. Rivera says that she and Ariana spend a lot of time with her family. “We are able to do things that most sisters do like shopping, dinner, movies and simply having fun,” said Rivera. “She has not only become close with me, but also with many other members of my family, including my baby.” Rivera’s son, Julian, is ten-months old.

“Also,” said Rivera, “two of my sisters and my brother-in-law have recently become Bigs because they saw the wonderful relationship that Ariana and I have. They have seen first-hand how being a Big Sister helped Ariana and me become better people.

“I wanted to become a Big Sister because I was looking for a way to help out my community,” continued Rivera. “In my search, I found out about the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. It seemed like becoming a Big Sister was the best choice for me since I really love working with children. Also, being an educator, I know how much the children of Lorain need a positive role model in their lives,” Rivera explained.

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