Volunteer Olegario “Ollie” Cantos has been a Big Brother with Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters in Los Angeles (CBBBS), one of 460 affiliates of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBS), since 2000. Mr. Cantos was recently chosen as 2004 Big Brother of the Year by the 27 member agencies of the California Collaborative of Big Brothers Big Sisters. He exemplifies CBBBS’ mission of transforming lives through one-to-one mentoring relationships between a caring adult and a child in need.
Mr. Cantos’ entire life is about service and overcoming obstacles. His motivation for becoming a Big Brother stems from experiences surrounding growing up blind and realizing firsthand the value of mentoring. He writes: “As a blind child, life was difficult at times, not because of any barriers posed by my disability itself, but more accurately because of attitudes by some kids and adults about my blindness, which limited my opportunity for well-rounded growth.” Mr. Cantos has endured the physical and emotional obstacles of his blindness, yet has pursued his goals and achieved them. He received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Loyola Marymount University and a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, and has received numerous awards and commendations for volunteer service.
Mr. Cantos understands well the positive effect a caring adult can have on the life of the child. He epitomizes the successes to which numerous mentoring studies give testimony. He is Big Brother to two boys – Seth, now 14, and Vicente, who is disabled due to a traumatic brain injury caused by a car accident when he was very young. Vicente is now 19 years old.
Over the years, the pairs have done just about every activity imaginable – from playing catch to going to the movies, from community service to just hanging out together. Mr. Cantos’ personal disability has never inhibited activity and as he does all things, Mr. Cantos engages his Littles with unbridled enthusiasm, energy, optimism and joy.
Mr. Cantos says: “More than ever, kids these days need positive role models to go to for advice, help guide them on a path to a solid future, and be a buddy to them in good times and in bad. I truly believe that, with the right level of commitment firmly in place, disability becomes immaterial. Indeed, that is exactly what has happened. It’s the quality time that’s most important.” He continues, “As far as I am concerned, these awesome buddies of mine ARE my little brothers, not just as part of the program in name only, but as brothers in every sense of the word. In a very real way, I have adopted them, and these adoptions are for life!”
Now residing in the Washington, D.C. area, Mr. Cantos continues to maintain communication with both his Little Brothers, often talking to them for hours at a time. On August 6, he stepped down as General Counsel and Director of Programs to the 90,000-member American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) where he provided advocacy and legal counsel to people with disabilities at a national level and served as the International Coordinator for Disability Mentoring Day. Just yesterday, he began service as the new Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the United States Department of Justice. President George W. Bush and Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao have recognized him for his work.