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ASU student named Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor of the year

Sofia holding her award certificate in front of Big Brothers Big Sisters sign

Hsiao-Ya (Sofia) Chen at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona award reception

May 01, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

In a ceremony held on April 17 by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, Hsiao-Ya (Sofia) Chen, a graduating senior from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, was awarded the Big Thanks Award for her role as volunteer mentor.

Chen, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in family and human development with a minor in sociology, was selected from over 1,100 volunteers by her program specialist to receive this special award.

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps children realize their potential and build their futures by nurturing children and strengthening communities. They accomplish this by providing children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships (mentors) that change their lives for the better, forever.

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters' promotional resources, children who have a mentor are:

• Less likely to skip school.

• More likely to volunteer in their community.

• Less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

• More likely to participate in extracurricular activities and sports.

• More likely to graduate high school.

It was outcomes like these that drove Chen to apply with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a volunteer mentor. Having a somewhat troubled childhood of her own, Chen has overcome much adversity in her life, which has given her a passion for giving back to others by serving in a variety of volunteer capacities.

She joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2016 and waited nearly two years before her mentee match was made. But waiting two years for the perfect match didn’t stop her from giving back, volunteering with both Arizonian’s for Children and Southwest Human Development until her match was made.

In January 2018, Chen received news of her Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee match. She was delighted to learn she had been matched with a 12-year-old girl, whom she would mentor over the next year and a half. While they shared similar childhood experiences, Chen had a unique opportunity to see her family and human development studies play out right in front of her.

“It was very interesting and rewarding to see this little girl go through life transitions that I’ve been studying, like puberty and becoming a teenager,” Chen said. 

Sofia committed to spending time with her mentee to make the most out of the mentoring process. Beyond the outings organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chen committed to spending time with her mentee every Saturday for at least two to four hours. And she recalls some of the little things that made her realize that her mentee really cared about the bond they had built.

“Occasionally I would prepare a picnic for my mentee, exposing her to some food from my home country, like Taiwanese pancakes. I told her the Mandarin name for the food only once or twice, and weeks later she would ask me when we could have more of the pancakes, referring to them in the native language,” Chen said. “Those are the little things that made me happy.”

Her desire to serve others, like that of her mentee, has also translated to great success for Chen within ASU’s Sanford School.

“Sofia Chen is passionate about helping children and families — she shows this through her work with the Child Development Lab, her involvement in BBBS, and her work in the PEACPositive Environments for Adolescents and Children lab designing interventions to support parenting for children exposed to trauma,” PEAC lab Assistant Professor Sarah Lindstrom Johnson said.

Upon graduating from ASU this May, Chen will continue her studies after being accepted to the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. She has also decided to defer her graduate school start until 2020 so she may move to Denver and spend a year working in the community. She hopes to continue her service to youth and families with locally based Shiloh House. She also intends to stay in contact with her Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee for years to come.

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