Established in 2009, the Excellence in Mentoring Awards gives Iowa MENTOR certified programs the opportunity to recognize outstanding long-time youth mentors.

Individuals selected have served as a mentor a minimum of two years and exemplify both the spirit and positive benefits of mentoring. Mentors are selected based on their advocacy and leadership in mentoring, innovation, impact, commitment to their mentee, the match relationship, and the program itself. 

Many recipients possess a compelling mentoring story that illustrates the Excellence in Mentoring Award is the most prestigious honor that a youth mentor in Iowa can receive.

Nominations for the Excellence in Mentoring Awards are open year-round.

2024 Excellence in Mentoring Awardees

A group of people standing on a staircase

John Ferguson, Hamburg, TeamMates

John (Johnnie) Ferguson served as a mentor with TeamMates for over fourteen years. He was well known for building lasting relationships with his mentees, showing his dedication and passion for mentoring and the positive impact it has on young people. John mentored five young men during his time with TeamMates.

John was matched with his most recent mentee, Martin, in 2018. They built a fantastic relationship through the dedication, consistency, and genuine interest John showed him. John believed his mentoring relationships to be more than just the time they spend together; it was a 24/7 commitment. It is about meaningful and lasting conversations. When John dealt with a hospitalization in 2019, he refused to miss his meetings with his mentee Martin. Through technology and parental support, they continued to meet during the hospitalization. John’s commitment to show up, even when faced with unforeseen circumstances, was unmatched.

Due to Johnnie’s consistent and proactive interactions, Martin has developed a greater sense of worth. Because of Johnnie, Martin broadened his horizons. He was encouraged to try new things (like golf) and stuck it out when he encountered obstacles. Martin is now exploring possible careers and has a more open perspective, seeing possible opportunities beyond what rural Iowa has to offer. Martin shared that “Life without Johnnie would just be life. It would be plain. He has encouraged me to try new things and make it through tough times.”

Unfortunately, those tough times are now. John passed away on February 1, 2024. It was once stated that Johnnie knew how to pick ‘em, as in picking his mentees. It could be argued that instead he knew how to mentor them. John left a lasting impression on his mentees, as demonstrated by Jared, his first mentee, and RJ, his second mentee, who have requested to continue John’s legacy by mentoring Martin through his high school years.

John served not only as a mentor but as treasurer of the board, furthering his commitment to the sustainability of the TeamMates mentoring program. He left a lasting impact on his mentees, Jared Williamson, RJ Harris, Nicholas Massey, Derrick West, and Martin Rodriguez, as well as with the TeamMates – Hamburg Chapter.

Yvonne Lyons, Bettendorf, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mississippi Valley

Yvonne Lyons initially inquired about being a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Mississippi Valley 14 years ago, focused on making a positive impact and building a relationship with a mentee by utilizing her strengths of reliability, empathy, and patience.  She has been in three matches and has been a mentor to her current Little, Carissa, for over seven years.  She and Carissa began their match in our school-based program where they met at school during Carissa’s lunch and recess time. Yvonne understood the importance of helping make Carissa feel comfortable, being patient and taking the time to get to know each other. After one year, they transitioned to the community-based program with the excitement of experiencing new things together in the community.

Yvonne has been a supportive advocate for BBBS for over 14 years. She is incredibly engaged with the agency. She has served as a member on various committees for BBBS’s match and fundraising events, helping promote the agency and mentoring in the community. She is a frequent supporter of fundraisers and consistently volunteers her time and money to the agency, often involving her Little, thus giving her a chance to learn the importance of volunteering for and supporting what you’re passionate about. 

Yvonne is a member of the BBBS ‘Bigs Only’ Facebook group. Over the years she has consistently shared experiences with her Littles to other Bigs, providing activity ideas, community events and resources. She supports BBBS in consistently attending ongoing match activities with her Little as well as quarterly match events and annual match anniversary celebrations. Lastly, Yvonne models what it is to make being a mentor part of everyday life. Yvonne frequently shares ideas during match support for group activities the agency could facilitate. When her match support specialist discusses ideas for upcoming events or activities, she will often share a contact she has that could help the agency make an impactful activity for our youth.

Since Yvonne was first matched with Carissa seven years ago, they committed to meeting at least twice per month. She exemplifies the importance of meeting a child where they’re at, always taking the time and patience to allow Carissa to guide the match relationship and their activities together, with Yvonne providing gentle suggestions here and there.

This past Christmas, Carissa took the time to make Yvonne a very artistic holiday gift she made by hand, with Yvonne’s name and “Best Big” on the front. Carissa included a card that read, “Thank you for making the last 7 years some of the best years of my life. I’m so grateful for the memories and experiences we’ve shared and I’m excited for more to come. Thanks for being the best Big.”

Nicki Mullins, Ankeny, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa

Nicki has been serving as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa for over three years. Her dedication to the program is evident in her work, and the relationship she has built with her mentee. Nicki is a strong advocate for the mentor program and takes opportunities to share about the impact mentoring has on young people’s lives, encouraging her peers and community to become mentors.

Nicki and her mentee, Reina, have been together for over three years. They have built a strong relationship through consistency, trust, and fun. Nicki prioritizes the time they spend together saying, “It’s less about the outing, and more about the conversation and staying present with each other.” Throughout their time together, Nicki has encouraged Reina to explore outside of her comfort zone, learning to navigate areas where she might not have had the confidence to do so before.

Reina has shared she likes Nicki as her Big Sister because “she understands me.” She also rated their relationship a 10/10 because Nicki understands her, they have lots of fun, and they have lots of similar interests like scary movies, painting, and Spanish. Reina’s guardian said, “The match has had a positive impact on Reina because it’s opened her up to new ideas and new experiences.”

In addition to her role as a mentor, Nicki also works to support broadening the reach of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa by helping to build relationships with her employer and other organizations in her community. Nicki brought the idea to create a match activity that would allow mentors and mentees tour the PBS station and work together on a STEAM activity kit. Through creative ideas like this, Nicki is helping to create new and engaging activities to broaden the experience of mentees within the program.

Indira Velazquez, West Des Moines, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa

Indira Velazquez has been serving as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa's Community Based Mentoring program for over two years. Her commitment to the mentoring program is unwavering; she is the ideal mentor and makes it her mission to share her passion for mentoring youth with the Big Brothers Big Sisters community.

When Indira initially met her mentee, America, she was very quiet. With Indira’s patience, encouragement, and consistency, her mentee began to find her voice. Indira provides a safe space for America to pursue her interest in art and music, allowing her to feel confident to do things out of her comfort zone. Indira encouraged America to participate in Girls on the Run, a program designed to inspire girls to embrace their inner strength and build community. They have also attended Hy-Vee’s Indy car event together.

When America talks about her time spent with Indira, she will share about activities they have done but always ends with “I’m totally okay just spending time together.” Over the years spent together, Indira has encouraged America to participate in activities that she might never have tried without the consistency of their mentor relationship and the trust that Indira has built.

In addition to her work as a mentor, Indira also is a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa Impact Board. This board focuses on planning match activities, mentor engagement, and recruiting. Indira has been an integral part of planning mentor networking events, leveraging her community connections to encourage a local restaurant to provide snacks for the mentor networking events. Indira shares her devotion to the mentoring community by engaging with other mentors in the program, encouraging them to participate in the events and build relationships with their peers. Indira is exactly what mentoring needs, she shows up consistently for her mentee and her fellow mentors making sure everyone feels welcome, supported, and appreciated.

Indira has been a consistent source of support for her mentee, America, having encouraged her to explore her strengths and see her true potential. Throughout her mentor relationship, Indira has also fostered a supportive relationship with America’s mother, Rebecca, who is extremely grateful for their relationship and the positive impact that Indira has had on America.

Indira offers advice to other mentors, explaining how important it is to “treat mentees as equals and remember they are just little people.”