Sunny skies and radiant smiles were in abundance at the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters’ holiday party held Dec. 15 at the Americana at Brand on the Green in Glendale.Nearly 300 sponsors, volunteers and mentees (Little Brothers/Little Sisters) and their families attended the outdoor event, organized by members of CBBBS’s two-year-old Junior Partners Program, a network of young professionals who support the nonprofit mentoring organization founded locally in 1925.“This has been the best holiday party so far with more donors, more participation, more kids, more gifts — everything is better,” said Ken Martinet, CBBBS’ president/CEO. “It stunned people when they came to see the enthusiasm and togetherness here.”Volunteer Janet Mays, 29, a member of the Good Shepherd Church young adults group in Beverly Hills who answered an email invite to volunteer at the holiday party, said it was fun watching the children enter through the welcome line of boisterously clapping young adults. “It’s nice to see the children’s little bright smiles. Some, you can tell, are kind of shy about it, but I think they like it,” said Mays.Ken Klimaszewski, 26, who attends Good Shepherd Church and St. Victor Church in West Hollywood, came early to help set up and manage the “creative chaos” at the gingerbread-making tables.“I’m here today because I want to give back,” said Klimaszewski. “This is the Christmas season. I feel really blessed, spoiled actually with all the blessings that God has given me in my life. I’m really happy to be here, it’s heart-warming.”Anne Marie Coronel, 37, a Junior Partner holiday party organizer attending with Mikayla, 10, her “Little,” said being a “Big” has been a blessing in her life. “They placed me with Mikayla about two years ago, and she has been a wonderful match. She teaches me a lot,” said Coronel. CBBBS mentors meet one-on-one with their mentee at least twice a month. Many children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters are in single-parent and low-income families or households where a parent is incarcerated.“Just watching the dedication of all the people who put this together and their passion for it kind of spread to us,” said orthodontist Marie Mansour, who, along with her Glendale-based pediatric dentist sister, Natalie, met Coronel while they were students at Marymount High School in Westwood.“I think the idea of mentoring is amazing,” added Mansour. “Bringing attention to this cause, maybe we can get more mentors helping these kids. It would be awesome.”Lew Horne, a CBBBS board member awaiting his eight-year-old “Little” to arrive with his family, told The Tidings that he and his mentee have already been to a couple of ball games and engaged in some meaningful conversations.“He’s gone from wanting to be a professional basketball player to wanting to be a businessman since I’ve been his ‘Big,’ so I guess maybe there’s been a little change in perspective, although if he grows a little more, maybe I’m wrong,” chuckled Horne. He noted that longtime CBBBS supporter Rick Caruso, real estate developer and major donor of the USC Caruso Catholic Center, had done an extraordinary job of helping put on the holiday party by “opening up [the Americana’s] doors for the special event.Santa-hatted L.A. Superior Court Judge William Barry, 64, waiting in line with his “Little,” Daniel, 16, for their portrait “sitting,” said that the mentorship that began seven years ago has evolved over the years.“When they’re little, you’re really much more of a mentor, but, as they get older, you’re still a mentor, but you become kind of a friend and you get to know their family and it’s really terrific. I’d encourage everybody to do it,” said Barry, sharing that Daniel is now driving him to events, including the holiday party.Jon Eivers, 27, attending with his “Big” of nearly ten years, Louis Alvarado, 44, said the mentor relationship which began when he was eight has grown into something very special.“The relationship is a lot stronger than I anticipated, actually,” said Eivers. “He’s been a really good role model. Even after the program, he became my godfather. It really worked out well.”“I didn’t have a father growing up,” commented Alvarado, who has mentored three “Littles” over the years. “I think there was something inside of me that yearned for that. “I figured I could become a Big Brother and go back and do some of the things I missed doing when I was 8, 10 and 13. And, thanks to Jon, who put up with some of my crazy ideas, we went fishing, camping and to places like Pikes Peak in Colorado. I’m grateful for him to share and do some of those things with me.”“I think this is absolutely amazing,” said Andrea Babino, the mother of four children who were among 15 families selected to receive sponsor-donated presents customized for their special needs. “We’re never been here at this mall,” said Babino. “It’s really beautiful. The children are excited and standing in line and getting their face painted and making gingerbread houses. This is really a blessing.”For more information on Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters, which currently has 300 children seeking mentors on its wait list, call (213) 251-9800.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1221/cbbbs/{/gallery}