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Hidden Gems: Meet Sloane Keane of Big Brothers Big Sisters

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sloane Keane.

Hi Sloane, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My story actually begins with my very first mentor, my first-grade teacher Miss Neff. When I started kindergarten, I was labeled a problem child. I kept receiving behavioral marks — I wasn’t listening, I couldn’t sit still, I was “teaching the class.” Every week, my mom would field yet another call about the havoc I was creating in the classroom. I met Miss Neff for the first time when she substituted for my kindergarten teacher. At the end of the day, she pulled my mom aside and said, “You know, I don’t think your daughter has a behavior problem. I think she’s bored.” One week later, I was moved into Miss Neff’s first grade class. The phone calls home stopped, my grades improved and I graduated high school early at age 17. Things have a way of coming full circle.

After graduation, I went to school back east and started my career in sales and advertising before moving back to California — first LA, then home to Orange County. But it was mentorship that led me to where I am today. A series of difficult events that brought me home left me also feeling disconnected. I wanted to find a way to rebuild my sense of community. Being the recipient of mentorship at a young age inspired me to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire. I had experienced firsthand how the care and observation of just one person can change the trajectory of a child’s life. If not for Miss Neff, who saw my potential and helped my family figure out how to harness it, I would be on a very different path. Through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, my Little Sister showed me how mentorship is truly a two-way street. She brought light into my life, and as I was introducing her to new experiences, I also learned myself how to look at the world in a different way. So when I was approached about leveraging my sales background to work in development for Big Brothers Big Sisters, I took a leap and left the for-profit world behind. It was the beginning of this amazing journey that has refocused my career with new purpose.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
In August 2018, I reached a crossroads. I was leading development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire, and I also had two young boys at home, both under the age of 3. I struggled daily to find balance between my two very fulfilling roles. Then, because life is never predictable, the current CEO resigned and I had a chance to step into the vacant seat. It felt like the best opportunity of my life, presented at the worst possible time. But I followed my heart and said yes, to lead an organization whose mission resonates so deeply and personally for me. This new chapter introduced a new, unexpected struggle, felt on a very personal level: For a professional known for development, how do I differentiate myself as a leader? As I started to find my footing, the pandemic hit. I spent my full second year as CEO navigating COVID. We were simultaneously making plans while activating on them to bring our mentoring program to the virtual space. While we ended the year in a solvent space, I know many others who were not as fortunate due to circumstances out of their control. I am grateful for our board, donors, volunteers and staff who made it possible for us to continue our work through the greatest struggle this organization has faced in recent history. On a more positive and personal note, the challenges of the last year have taught me to put my fear last. Whether as a mom or a leader, I have realized that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but rather keep the focus on moving forward in all that I do.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Big Brothers Big Sisters believes every child is born with potential. Yet, one-third of the nation’s youth are growing up without a mentor who can help them overcome challenges such as poverty, unstable housing, absentee parents and lack of access to educational resources. Since 1958, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire has provided youth facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships. With a mentor, youth are able to achieve milestones such as high school graduation, set postsecondary goals and strive for long-term success as they achieve their full potential. For more information visit ocbigs.org or iebigs.org. I’ll start by painting this vision — a world where, through mentoring, all youth and young adults are able to thrive. They are staying in school. They are pursuing careers. And as a result, we have a self-sufficient workforce with the potential to change the world.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters, our mission is to create and sustain mentoring relationships for young people facing adversity so this vision can be a reality. The relationships we build are one-to-one and professionally supported, allowing us to foster long-term connections between the mentor and mentee. Through these relationships, mentors strengthen resilience for youth, foster self-esteem and create pathways to the future with college and career opportunities. We currently impact more than 4,000 youth across Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, with two offices in Santa Ana and Riverside. We deliver mentorship to youth through several program models, including the traditional program that most people are familiar with, as well as corporate workplace mentoring and volunteer opportunities for teens. I am proud to have a team that never stops looking for ways to do more for the children we serve. Innovation is born from adversity, and our growing slate of program options is a testament to the many ways mentorship can make an impact through even the most challenging times. My first fall as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, we introduced our first Women in the Workplace cohort of our corporate mentoring program. We began matching female students of color with professionals from global investment management firm PIMCO.

We are now in year two of a three-year program developed to help them understand the challenges that female professionals face and develop skills to succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields and celebrate a 100 percent high school persistence rate among this group. Through the pandemic, we also launched a new program to provide emotional support and guidance to first-generation college-bound students as they navigate educational, economic and cultural barriers. If there’s one takeaway for your readers, it’s this: One person is all it takes to make a difference. By impacting one child’s life, you become part of changing our community. Right now, the need for male volunteers is significant — roughly 85 percent of the children on our waiting list are boys, many who are being raised by single mothers. But we need everyone’s voices to be advocates for mentorship. I speak from personal experience when I say that one person, one action, can change a child’s future.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
Looking back at my own journey, what felt like a lot of bad luck or timing in the moment turned into some of the best opportunities of my life. There are so many things not within our control, both good and bad. I believe what’s most important is what you do next.

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Big Brothers Big Sister of Orange County and the Inland Empire

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