When Gabriella and Estefany first met in the summer of 2018, a spark was ignited in the then 12-year-old mentee. Despite growing up in New York City, many of its major landmarks remained unexplored mysteries, and she was thrilled to embark on a journey of discovery with her newfound "Big Sister." As she and Gabriella walked the paths of Central Park together and their relationship blossomed, Estefany began to see a new world of opportunity unravel before her.
Estefany is a bright Mexican-American teen who lives with her siblings and mother Guadalupe in the vibrant neighborhood of the Bronx. She decided to enroll in Bigs & Littles NYC’s mentorship program to enhance her academic and social growth, with 26-year-old mentor Gabriella quickly becoming a pillar of support and encouragement.
Gabriella's own story is one of overcoming adversity to thrive in a new place. Having grown up and received her law degree in Brazil, she relocated to New York City in 2018—but the transition was far from easy. Navigating an unfamiliar city alone was a daunting task and she took on multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“During my first few months in NYC, I wanted to give up,” Gabriella recalls. “Finding work commensurate with my qualifications without an American degree was difficult, but I found opportunities elsewhere. Almost defeated, I turned to the only person I knew in the United States, Debbie.”
Debbie, a family contact who had employed Gabriella's mother as a nanny decades earlier, soon became a mentor and friend to Gabriella, advising her on a variety of professional and financial issues to help her find her feet. “I am a success story because someone invested in me and allowed me to display my potential,” Gabriella explains. Gabriella's motive for mentoring young people stems from wanting to help students of color cultivate knowledge, she says, and receive the same kind of encouragement, kindness, and access to opportunities that she did from Debbie. She hopes to continue the cycle of success through mentorship and empower Estefany to follow her own path. After five years of being matched together, Estefany motivates her to be a better advocate, lawyer, and person, she said. "Having ‘Fany as my mentee influenced the kind of lawyer I wanted to become,” Gabriella explains. “I will continue to support and empower students of color to follow their dreams and believe in their potential. I aim to continue to be a key collaborator for my 'Little Sister’s' career." Gabriella's presence in Estefany's life has woven a bond that extends beyond mentorship; she is now considered part of the family and attends many of the special moments and events they share together. As Guadalupe expresses, “It feels like Estefany truly gained another sister.” With big dreams of pursuing a degree in the city after high school, Estefany draws strength from the unwavering support of her family and mentor, knowing she has the belief and encouragement she needs to conquer any challenge and achieve her aspirations.
Gabriella was honored at this year's MENTOR of the Year Awards in recognition of the inspiring relationship she shares with Estefany. If you know a mentor who goes above and beyond for their mentee, share their story today!