Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland & Salem Counties is proud to announce and celebrate the 2023 Bigs of the Year within its organization. The 2023 Big Sister Whitney King and 2023 Big Brother John Wuzzardo have dedicated their time, money and more to their Littles, and Big Brothers Big Sisters celebrates them.
In 2015, Whitney moved home to New Jersey after living in Texas. She had experience volunteering and working with children in other capacities in the past and wanted to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters to continue her work in a new way. She hoped to get to know a child and develop a consistent relationship, so that she might make a lasting difference on a deeper level in a child’s life.
Jeannie Torres enrolled her son, Jesias, in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program so that he could flourish on his own away from the busy life at home. He is a very caring, affectionate, quiet, and observant student and was struggling a bit in school. She hoped that connecting with a Big through the program would afford him new opportunities and a dependable mentor and friend.
He was matched with Whitney, who immediately invested time in connecting with Jesias. She showed interest in his pursuits and encouraged him to be the best young person he could be. Even after she moved states away, she kept her commitment as a mentor. She modeled how to pack up and move to pursue her dreams and interests without sacrificing relationships. They transitioned to virtual learning and mentoring with ease.
Everything they do is engaging and age-appropriate for Jesias, combining his interests in science fiction, thrillers, and action, with educational opportunities and introductions to new interests and areas to explore. They have explored old “ghost haunts” together and discussed Steven King novels alongside discussions about life and school challenges.
Jesias is now in his second year at a highly selective technical high school. He excels academically and participates in school activities in addition to helping out at home. He has learned what it’s like to have a positive role model in his own life and now models that at home with his younger siblings as a caring big brother. Whitney’s influence on his life is immeasurable and for Jesias, the future is wide open!
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Luis entered the Big Brother program leading to John and Luis being matched.
“I wanted to become a Big to provide support, positivity, and hope for a young person,” said John Wuzzardo, a teacher.
Things went well from the start. John and Luis saw one another often at school, meeting for lunch in John’s classroom or going outside to play soccer, basketball, or any number of their other shared sports interests. John quickly saw a new confidence in Luis. His schoolwork and social skills began to improve. When it came time for Luis to graduate from eighth grade at the end of the next year, John and Luis were determined to stay matched. John attended Luis’ middle school graduation party and was determined to offer Luis a dependable support system as he ventured into high school.
John and Luis committed to Saturday morning breakfasts together, which has become their “thing” to this day. Sometimes, John brings his son, Sammy, to breakfast, and other times they meet just on their own to catch up or to talk. Luis has developed a deep respect for John and considers him to be an important person in his life.
John is especially proud of Luis for who he has grown into. Luis spends his time with his family and friends, focusing on schoolwork, and playing sports. Luis chose to enter a program called Pathstone, which gives students the tools to become a member of trade work.
John shared, “Besides having a great impact on me, Luis has taught me some lessons as well. I think the biggest lessons are the need to be heard and the value of feeling listened to. I think that sometimes our youth don’t feel like they have a platform to voice ideas, and they definitely should. Our bond allows both of us to share things with each other, and it gives Luis the opportunity to express himself with me. Luis has a ‘Big Bro’ forever that will empower, ignite, and always defend him through this journey of life.”
Luis’ mom shared, “Since Luis has been involved with Mr. Wuzzardo at Big Brothers Big Sisters, I have seen progress in Luis’ behavior, he has many learning opportunities, and he has made many friends. Mr. Wuzzardo has taught Luis the importance of having a good support system.”
John “stepped up” five years ago when he learned that students in his school needed mentors, and he continues to have an impact on his students and community as a mentor, coach, and teacher. John supports BBBS’ mentoring programs in his school and encourages his co-workers to join him in the BBBS mission to empower, ignite and defend the potential of youth. He continues to impact Luis and his family in an incredible way and leads by example in the community.
To learn more about mentoring in our community or ways to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland & Salem Counties, call 856-692-0916 or visit southjerseybigs.org.