A childless sales manager from Hermosa Beach whose guidance helped a lonely Lennox teenager rise to become last year’s Los Angeles County Youth Volunteer of the Year was named Thursday as the 1997 National Big Sister of the Year.
Cindy Wagner, 41, was chosen for the honor by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America from among more than 100 nominees nationwide, organization officials said. She and the National Big Brother of the Year, Oklahoma City attorney Mark Clayborne, were singled out, officials said, for their skills as mentors, their dedication to community service and their contributions as fund-raisers for their local agencies.
Wagner, a national sales manager for Moray California, a San Francisco-based clothing manufacturer, is a longtime volunteer whose community involvement dates as far back as college, when she donated her time to a quadriplegic classmate who needed help doing homework and taking notes.
Since then, she has contributed her skills and efforts to innumerable good works, from sandbagging before floods to water distribution after earthquakes to counseling alcoholic teenagers. Three and a half years ago, she joined Big Sisters of L.A.
“I had been divorced for about a year,” Wagner said, recalling her sadness at the thought that she might have missed the chance to have a child of her own. She had enjoyed her work as a teenage counselor, but wanted “some one-on-one stuff,” she said.
The organization matched her up with a 12-year-old girl from a tough, gang-infested neighborhood who in a fit of confusion had thumbed through the Yellow Pages and called Big Sisters, hoping to find a way out of her depression.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” the girl, who is now 16, recalled. “All I could see was what was outside my window, and what I saw was all hatred. What I saw was all violence.
“I knew there was some type of love out there, but when all you see is negative, you don’t know what to think. Cindy taught me the other side of life.”
The teenager, who, citing Big Sisters’ policy, asked that her name remain unpublished, said Wagner began including her in her charity work, showing her the richness in helping her community. Together, the two put together Easter baskets for homeless children, volunteered at the L.A. Marathon and Heal the Bay, and helped build a Rose Bowl float.
Last year, the teenager was honored as the top youth volunteer in Los Angeles County. “The peak was watching her speak in front of 1,500 people [at the Beverly Hilton] when she received her award,” Wagner said.
Wagner has also deepened her involvement with Big Sisters of L.A., chairing the annual “Bowl for Kids’ Sake” fund-raiser--and doubling its annual revenues in a scant four years. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America spokeswoman Viola Bostic said: “She’s an extraordinary volunteer.”