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FARMINGTON — After 10 years of working at Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Juan County, Christine Garcia has stepped down as the nonprofit organization's CEO.

Leaving the agency is "bittersweet," she said, but the opportunity to become business owners with her husband, Rodolfo Garcia, is an adventure the couple is excited to pursue.

Because of sensitive contract negotiations, Garcia said she could not provide the name or nature of the business the couple plans to launch. The Garcias plan to stay in the area, she said.

"For Rodolfo and I, buying a business has been a dream of ours for years," Garcia said. "I have loved this job and loved the mission of this organization. I have worked with amazing people and organizations, creating positive outcomes for the children in the community. I leave wanting to encourage local people, businesses and others to volunteer for this great organization. Especially with the local economy in a downturn, families need support more than ever."

Since 2005, Garcia has worked at the nonprofit agency that matches adult role models with children in the community to improve the quality of their lives. Garcia started as a development director and took the helm as CEO two years later, she said. Before working at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Garcia was campaign director at San Juan United Way for five years.

Neilson Francisco, Big Brothers Big Sisters' program director, has been named interim CEO as the nonprofit's board of directors searches for a new executive director.

Norm Tucker, board vice president, said Garcia has helped the local agency grow in its ability to help area children through its one-on-one mentorship program and fundraising efforts. Garcia also oversaw the agency's move to its larger downtown office at 308 N. Locke Ave. last year.

"Chris is amazing. She's a huge asset to the community, and she's done an amazing job as our CEO," Tucker said. "I know the board really appreciates the effort and hard work she's done and the success she's had, and we wish her well. We're going to miss her."

Annual fundraising events that Garcia has spearheaded include the Mayors’ Ball, Bowl for Kids’ Sake and the Discovery Festival, Tucker said.

"Chris was the first one to put on the Mayor's Ball and Discovery Festival," Tucker said. "The Discovery Festival, we're very proud of. That will probably be her legacy — the continuation of that. It will continue to be the cornerstone of our organization."

Launched in 2014, the Discovery Festival draws about 2,500 area schoolchildren to the McGee Park Convention Center, where representatives from local companies and organizations operate booths and exhibits geared toward spurring excitement about careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields. The event also acts as a fundraiser to pay for scholarships awarded to students who attend the festival. The agency's mentoring program also benefits from money the event raises.

"That was (Garcia's) brainchild, and we hope to continue to do it," Tucker said. "Not only is it a fundraiser for us, it enlightens our kids and shows them how STEM can be a fun and a rewarding career."

Tucker said he has been a mentor or "big" — the children are called "littles" — for about seven years. Volunteering to mentor a child who lacks the support of a positive role model is an experience that offers incalculable rewards, both for the mentor and child, he said.

"We really need more mentors," he said. "We have a lot of kids that need them. As a 'big,' I can say that it is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's going to be very difficult to replace Chris, but we're looking for mentors, too. That's the core of what we do."

Francisco said the agency served 193 kids last year. But despite 110 active matches between mentors and kids, the agency has a waiting list of 70 children who have yet to be matched with an adult mentor.

To learn more about becoming a mentor or to find help for a child who needs one, call 505-326-1508 or go to littlesneedbigs.org. People interested in applying for the CEO position can send a cover letter and résumé to apply@bbbssjc.org.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

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