By Ken Carter
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program at the Air Force Academy has frequently offered often hurting youth a lot of hope through promoting an atmosphere filled with love and support over the years. The result: a positive emotional boost and increased self confidence among youngsters leading to the development of many can-do attitudes.
It’s been said that what goes around comes around.
The program, intended to inspire adolescents to pursue their dreams in life through some sound mentorship, has led one current cadet to come full circle. He has evolved from the little boy who needed some focused guidance to becoming a young but mature Big Brother and future Air Force officer who today is playing the role of mentor in the life of his own ‘Little’.
With parents who split when he was only 2, Cadet 2nd Class Carlos Sandoval from Cadet Squadron 14, was off to a shaky start. By the time he was 7, however, he would experience a new beginning at the hands of two Air Force Academy cadets who demonstrated a genuine concern for the boy’s future.
“My life was impacted in a big way between the ages of 7 and 11 when my ‘Big’ Brothers, who were Academy cadets themselves, helped me further understand the differences between good and bad as well as provide lots of opportunity to have fun,” Cadet Sandoval, now 21 said. “My mom wanted me to have the influence cadets could offer in my life so she got me involved in BBBS.”
Mom originally inquired about the BBBS program because she had became a Colorado Assets for Youth speaker. One of the assets on the list was “youth have at least three non-parent adults to confide in.” When she discovered there was an Academy Falcon Club, she jumped at the chance to have Carlos be a part of it.
“I believe it increased his self-esteem because the cadets he was matched with were always happy and excited to see him. They were willing to talk to him on the phone between events, and they always treated him in a positive manner,” Arlene Reilly-Sandoval said. “Because of his increase in self-esteem, his self-confidence also increased. He was more willing to try new things, even if he didn’t think he would be good at them.”
Cadet Sandoval’s dad, Steve Sandoval, (USAFA Class of 1987), is equally excited about the impact the BBBS program has had on their son.
“I feel the program at the Academy helped Carlos to see the positive in life, and therefore be positive himself, Mr. Sandoval said. “It also gave him someone to try and emulate. I saw a more positive and confident young man and think it is great that he remembers the program that helped him, and is willing to give his time to, perhaps, help someone else build confidence and create goals for themselves.”
The program gave Carlos a goal of becoming an Air Force officer. That goal made him work hard toward becoming a cadet, and it all started with BBBS.
Cadet Sandoval remembers fondly his favorite aspect of being with his “Bigs” as a little boy.
“I loved going to events and had the most fun when we were outdoors; both cadets loved to play soccer in parks and run around with me on Academy fields,” said the former JROTC and Academy Preparatory School member who’s aspired to be an aviator since the 8th grade.
With very little father-son contact through his teens, Cadet Sandoval reconnected with dad when communication lines were reopened once he’d entered the Prep School here.
Who’s the biggest winner in the healing of the Sandoval family?
It may actually be 11-year-old Corey Miller. Corey is now under the mentorship of Cadet Sandoval who has used his life’s lessons to help another unrelated youth find his way.
“He’s a little hyper and loves to run around a lot too,” Cadet Sandoval said with a smile. “My goal is to simply help him stay out of trouble.”
“I would recommend the BBBS program to others,” Mr. Sandoval said. “It lets kids be kids and helps them gain positive outlooks, which may not be in their lives at the time. It is also teaches them about sharing their lives with others.”
Mrs. Reilly-Sandoval said she believes when Carlos began to consider a career in the military, he thought about his Big Brothers and felt he would like to be just like them. A licensed clinical social worker, she understands the importance of a program such as BBBS and strongly encourages others to support it. She says BBBS provides a vital service to at-risk youth as well as provides a companionship program for other youth.
“I think Carlos received a lot of support from our family about making a choice to go to the AFA, but I believe that the example he had in his mind of what a cadet is (based on his experience with BBBS) played a large part in his decision to apply to the AFA,” she concluded.