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Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO in Santa Fe retiring

September 17, 2018

When Andrea Fisher Maril, CEO of the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, stepped into the job in 1999, the nonprofit served about 150 children and teens in Santa Fe, pairing these at-risk “Littles” with adult volunteers, or “Bigs,” who offered mentorship as well as friendship.

Her annual budget back then was just over $240,000.

Nearly two decades later, as Maril, 70, prepares to retire at the end of the month, Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region has burgeoned into a 10-county operation, with a more than sevenfold increase in both its revenue stream — $1.7 million in 2017 — and the number of children served.

Last year, the chapter matched 1,158 kids ages 6-18, many from single-parent households and most from low-income families, with adult mentors. The mission of the more than century-old national organization is to help troubled youth develop positive relationships with adults.

The result, the nonprofit says: greater confidence, fewer risky behaviors and a higher rate of success in school and in life.

“This has been, next to my kids, the most meaningful thing of my life,” Maril said of her work with the organization.

During her tenure, Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region has served nearly 14,000 kids in all.

And her influence has reached beyond far beyond Santa Fe and New Mexico.

Maril helped pilot a Hispanic mentoring model from 2003-06, and from 2008-12, she helped create a mentoring initiative that addressed the specific needs of Native American youth. She also helped pilot a new model for service delivery that is used by all Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies.

Watching the growth and change has been exciting, Maril said, reflecting on her years with the organization. She’s grown with it.

“If I had to walk into the agency then as it is now,” she said, “I would’ve been terrified.”

Geno Zamora, president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mountain Region board, said he believes the organization will continue to grow on the foundation Maril has built.

“When I think of Andrea, I smile and well up because she cares so much and tries so hard to give every child a chance in New Mexico,” said Zamora, an attorney who has worked for the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe Public Schools.

“Both locally and nationally, she has been a fighter for diversity and making sure everyone is served in our communities,” he added.

Following a nationwide search that Maril said drew more than 400 applicants, the board chose Denver native David Sherman, who has experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters, to replace her. Sherman began working with the nonprofit Aug. 1. Maril has been working alongside him to ensure a smooth transition.

“I think he’s going to do a super job,” Maril said. “It makes it a whole lot easier for me to let it go.”

A native of Preston, Iowa, Maril earned her master’s degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Iowa and her doctorate in sociology from Oklahoma State University. She worked in social services and taught before entering the nonprofit world.

While she liked teaching, Maril said, she wanted to get involved in something that put thoughts into practice.

She came to Santa Fe from Stillwater, Okla., where she had worked with another branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Her work here, she said, “allowed me in some ways to discover myself. I see myself as a bigger individual than I even thought I would, in a way I never could have imagined.”

While the primary focus of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to develop positive bonds between kids and adults, Maril said it also serves as a way to overcome differences.

“You can build bridges across communities they wouldn’t be doing otherwise,” she said. “Kids get the chance to see a different option and form a connection. …Volunteers get to see a new world.”

The biggest challenge for her over the last 18 years, Maril said, was adjusting to the chapter’s increase in size and funding.

“In the beginning it was like a family,” she said. “It was challenging later when I had to make it more of a business.”

The chapter’s founder, Sam Baca, said he never imagined the little nonprofit he started in 1979 would grow to such an extent, reaching from Taos to Las Cruces. He credits Maril’s leadership.

Her skills as an administrator helped cultivate a top-notch staff and create a robust program, he said.

“When she took over is when the program went to a whole other level,” said Baca, who has been involved in several other local nonprofits, such as St. Elizabeth Shelter and the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute. “It’s really gratifying to see how the program has grown over the years from our humble beginning.”

The progress will continue, Zamora said.

“The future is building on all the successes of Andrea’s years and raising the bar higher,” he said. “The goal for David and this board is to continue the significant growth in the number of children served.”

As for Maril’s future, “It’s time to let things unfold,” she said. “I’ve been told I live in my head too much.”

She plans to travel to China in late October and wants to devote more time to gardening. She hopes for more frequent visits to see her two daughters, her son and her four grandchildren.

Beyond that, she’s ready to see what retirement has in store.

“It can be both a scary and exciting time,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

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