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Meet the 2024 MENTOR of the Year Award Recipients

At a crucial time for the mentoring field, when volunteer rates are low and recruitment has become increasingly difficult, we are especially thrilled to honor individuals who have committed to mentoring young people across New York. Fifteen mentors were nominated, but only four were selected to receive the 2024 Mentor of the Year Awards! Each recipient epitomizes the spirit of giving back to the community and helping young people tap into their fullest potential. 

Tyrone Gardner 

When Tyrone Gardner realized that his story could inspire and shape the lives of others, he decided to become a mentor. In 2019, he met Divine, a shy, then-9-year-old boy from Queens who Tyrone saw a lot of himself in.  

man sitting on a bench between two boys

To Divine, Tyrone is someone who can truly listen, provide positive guidance, and share new experiences. Their mentoring relationship also contributes to Tyrone’s personal growth by encouraging him to remain a positive force in their community. "This responsibility prompts me to lead by example, as Divine looks up to me," Tyrone says. 

Today, the two enjoy staying active together by playing basketball and snowboarding. As a former mentee himself, Tyrone hopes to serve as a role model for youth like Divine and mobilize a continued cycle of community and mutual growth through mentorship.  

Judy Lathrop 

During her childhood, Judy Lathrop found a mentor in her Girl Scout leader — someone who was kind, encouraging, and supportive. Years later, Judy joined Generation Two, an organization that connects mentors in Rochester with kindergarten, first, and second-grade children for weekly, child-directed play sessions. On her first day at G2, a third or fourth-grade boy asked if she was a G2 play buddy, then, remembering his time in the program, hugged her. Judy was struck by G2’s impact on children and has been a devoted mentor ever since. 

woman standing on steps

Julius, a 6-year-old boy who loves singing, sensory play, and especially Play-Doh, met Judy just last year, but they quickly became close. In their play sessions, Judy values fostering creativity and trust, making Julius feel seen and heard, and building a loving play environment where he can learn and grow. Volunteering at G2 has helped Judy grow as well: she has become more patient, compassionate, and empathetic, and learned to empower children to share their voices and be comfortable being themselves. 

Above all, for both Judy and Julius, their relationship is a source of sheer joy. To Judy, Julian’s curiosity, happiness, and love for exploration are charmingly sweet and rewarding to experience, and to Julius, Judy’s unwavering attention and care are invaluable. 

Darsh Shah  

Having volunteered to teach children in rural India and tutored students at UPenn, Darsh Shah has been intimately familiar with the impact of mentorship for much of his life. To him, joining Bigs & Littles NYC felt like the natural next step. There, he met Jaden. 

man and boy standing together

At the beginning of their mentoring relationship, Jaden was quiet and reserved, which worried Darsh, but that soon changed. Over the course of several outings, the two bonded over video games, trying new foods, and exploring NYC. “We've grown significantly as a mentor-mentee pair since then, and I can sincerely say I've learned as much from Jaden as he's learned from me,” Darsh says. Jaden has become more outspoken and confident, and Darsh found in him not just a Little, but also a confidant and friend.  

Darsh, who also sits on the Bigs & Littles NYC Mentoring Junior Board, thrives as a professional mentor, pseudo-older-sibling, and positive male role model. During his time with Bigs & Littles, he has proven that through dedication and consistency, mentors can have life-altering impacts by helping children grow — and growing alongside them, too. 

Abby Titmas 

Luke Boisi MENTOR of the Year Award 

woman standing next to girl at ice rink

Abby Titmas, a former mentee herself, joined Tuesday’s Children after college to give back to the community. Analeigh, a 12-year-old girl, sought a stable and supportive adult presence — and in September 2019, she found one in Abby.  

Whether it’s meeting up to do homework or attending a New York Giants game, Abby and Analeigh treasure their time together and the meaningful bond they’ve formed as a result. As a mentor, Abby is understanding, supportive, and committed. She values giving guidance and sharing knowledge, and in turn, Analeigh influences her to be a better person and mentor. 

Abby says, “I have learned that Analeigh and I have a lot of similarities even though we are almost 20 years apart in age and come from different backgrounds and upbringings. She is kind, funny, self-driven, and an amazing daughter, friend, and mentee. Together, we enjoy each other's company and give each other a new fresh perspective on certain situations every time we meet. If we see each other often or after larger gaps of time, we always pick up where we left off and know we have a support system within each other.” 

All the Nominees 

This year’s selection process was the hardest yet, with a total of fifteen unique and dedicated mentors nominated for the award. Thank you to each of the nominees for their dedication to mentoring.

  • Alex Henson – First Tech Fund 

  • Anna Maria Smeraldi – Bigs & Littles NYC 

  • Ariana Hope – Friends of the Children NY 

  • Brittany Dempsey – Empowering Families In Recovery Mode (FIRM) 

  • Erica Nedd – Dr. Tawanna Gilford 

  • Jacob Nemitz – iCouldBe 

  • Kim Ecklund – Chautauqua Striders 

  • Mechthild (Mecka) Baumeister – Bigs & Littles NYC 

  • Robert (Bob) Preti – Student Sponsor Partners 

  • Sarah Schifter – iCouldBe 

  • Xenia Lally – Bigs & Littles NYC 


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