Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California receives $1.5 million donation

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's the gift that keeps on giving -- a $1.5 million donation to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California improve the lives of local children.

"Thank you so much," says Executive Director Diane Phakonekham. "Thank you for seeing us. Thank you for investing in the Central Valley. Thank you for investing in these children. They are our future leaders."

Thirty-eight chapters across the country will receive part of the $122.6 million donation from Mackenzie Scott.

The Central California chapter serves thousands of students from single-parent homes, foster children and students with incarcerated parents in Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.

Due to the pandemic, the local chapter had to let go of staff.

Now, Phakonekham says they plan to expand.

"The need is so great that we need more money to hire more staff to serve more children," she said. "So again, this blessing that happened, we are excited to put it to good use, really serving the children, bettering our community and making that impact that we strive to do every day."

Reyna Rodriguez is a former little sister in the organization and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient.

She and her family immigrated to California, living in the rural Tulare County community of Ivanhoe.

Rodriguez says she faced a lot of challenges in life but benefitted greatly from being appointed a big sister through the organization.

"It was that empowerment that I received at a young age that let me see that even though my upbringing might have been difficult, that there is a reason that I might have lived and that there was more to me than a hard life," she said.

Rodriguez says her big sister believed in her, guided her through life and gave her hope.

Now, Rodriguez works for the same company as her former big sister and she's dedicated her life to being a mentor and inspiring other young children.

"That would not have been possible if somebody wouldn't have looked at me, believed in me, and made me feel like I was needed and important in this world," she said. "That was thanks to my big sister through the Big Brother Big Sister program."

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