Big Brothers Big Sisters host ‘Summer Splash’

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which started in Eastern Madera County for the first time this year, hosted it’s first ‘Summer Splash’ pizza party at the Yosemite High School pool July 11.

“The program in Oakhurst has been very successful due to the help from Yosemite High, and Oakhurst Elementary School,” said Zenia Brizendine, program coordinator of Madera County Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California. “With the support of True Value Home Center in Oakhurst, we successfully matched 20 ‘bigs’ and ‘littles.’ They all have had a great time getting to know each other while participating in various activities.”

“With our other sites, we always have some type of event during the summer as a way to keep the bigs and their littles in touch with each other,” said Brizendine.

The Yosemite High mentors spent 90 minutes one day a week with their ‘littles,’ helping older students with home work, and playing games with the younger students.

Giana DeFelice, who will be a senior at YHS when school starts, said her Big Sister experience this past school year with OES kindergartner Kessler Thomas, 6, was super rewarding.

DeFelice said it was nice to be a role model for Kessler and looks forward to being her Big Sister when the program resumes.

Kessler’s mother Chea-Lynn, praised the program.

“It’s nice for children to have someone to look up to,” Chea-Lynn said. “Giana was incredibly patient with Kessler, and a lot of fun ... to hear the two of them giggle together is amazing.”

“I love my Big Sister Giana,” Kessler added. “She’s so much fun.”

YHS junior Chandler Clarke was teamed-up with Nicholas Jeffris, a third grader this past school year at OES.

“It was a good experience to provide Nicholas some help with his homework,” Clarke said.

Clarke plans to continue as Nicholas’ Big Brother this next school year.

Bella Flaherty was another YHS Big Sister for Danyah Rivas, a OES second-grader.

“It’s pretty amazing to be able to help influence a child’s life in a positive way,” Flaherty said.

“Bella was nice, and helped me a lot with my homework,” Rivas said.

At the party, the students received backpacks filled with school supplies donated by True Value Home Center.

Brizendine said that during the last session of the program, the bigs and littles wrote letters to each other, which were mailed by BBBS staff during the summer vacation.

“When the children read those letters, you could see in their faces the huge impact their Big Brothers/Sisters have made in their lives,” Brizendine said.

Other YHS students who participated in the first year Big Brother Big Sister program were Audrey White, Brianna McCully, Erin Schettler, Will Martyn, Armando Villanueva, Amethyst Wages, Natile Bates, Alexia Dahlin, Megan Montalto, Summer Bolmer, Brittany Collier, Adam Vanzaat, and Aubree Walle.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program, which was introduced to Oakhurst Elementary School in February, was made possible by a $20,000 sponsorship from the Bryant family, owners of True Value Home Centers in Oakhurst and Coarsegold, and H&L Lumber in Oakhurst, and Mariposa. The family also donated office space for the BBBS staff.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held at OES to celebrate the new “High School Bigs program,” that provided academic mentors from Yosemite High for the younger students once a week for 90 minutes in hopes of providing a positive alternative for children after school. Dignitaries attending the ceremony included Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney, Supervisors Tom Wheeler and Rick Farinelli, and Don Eaves of Yosemite Bank.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, OES Principal Kathleen Murphy said the program connects high school students with elementary students, and “our students have always enjoyed associating with our friends at Yosemite High School.”

“This program would not have been possible if it weren’t for the generosity and support from the Bryant family,” said Diane Phakonekham, executive director of Big Brother Big Sisters of Central California.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Theresa Bryant said her family had been talking for some time about getting involved with a children’s organization, and it was important to them to give back to the community that has supported them and their business for nearly 30 years. Phakonekham and Bryant had a chance meeting several months ago, and after the meeting, Bryant said she got to thinking that maybe this is the organization that would be a good fit for the Bryant Family to get involved with.

“My grandfather was involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters starting in the 50s, and he continued to volunteer for many years until his passing,” Bryant said. “It makes our family proud to be involved with such a long standing and well respected children’s organization.”

Bryant said Bryant family children are now grown, but they were all raised in Oakhurst, and attended the same schools the “Littles” are attending.

“Until we spoke with Diane (Phakonekham), the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, we were unaware of the void in children’s mentoring programs in our area. We wanted to do more than just a one time donation and so we thought what a perfect fit for our business to work with BBBS and help these students grow.”

The “Bigs,” and the “Littles” are assessed, and matched based on compatibility to ensure a long lasting relationship.

Yosemite High Guidance Counselor Stephanie Samuels served as adviser for the YHS students.

“We hope the community will continue to show their support in any way that they can,” Brizendine said.

Donations would help expand the program.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has existed in the Central Valley since 1969, increasing education levels, strengthening families, and increasing positive youth development through one-to-one caring relationships. Over the past 45 years, the agency has successfully served more than over 10,000 children in the Central Valley.

Details: Big Brother Big Sisters of Central California, (559) 673-4863,