Growing Up Big Award

Winners of the Brianna Kruzel Growing Up Big Award from 2015-2022

Past Winners

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota is accepting nominations for a deserving participant, either a former Little or former High School Big, who demonstrates service to the community, character, and integrity.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota established the BriAnna Kruzel Growing Up Big Award to honor BriAnna Kruzel, a former Little Sister and High School Big Sister, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in September 2013.  The award highlights our former Littles and High School Bigs who are now adults and doing great things in their communities. Thank you to Vince and Lori Mohs for sponsoring this award.

BriAnna’s experience with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program was quite unique. When her father was deployed in Iraq, BriAnna began as a Little in the program. Years later, BriAnna decided to become a High School Big  as a way to provide the same experience to another child. BriAnna was matched with a Little  whose father was deployed overseas, which helped them form an instant bond. BriAnna was able to relate to her Little and provide advice and support. BriAnna was a dedicated friend and mentor for over two years. She was selected as the 2013 High School Big Sister of the Year for her outstanding commitment to the program and her Little. She was also honored by the St. Cloud Optimist Club with the "Youth Appreciation Award" for her work with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Previous Award Winners

2022: Brittany BoltjesBrittany Boltjes accepts the 2022 Growing Up Big Award from Tami Kruzel

Brittany began her journey in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as a Little Sister. At the time, she was experiencing a lot of challenges and changes in her life. Her parents were getting a divorce, which meant a new school, new home, and new family dynamics. Her Big Sister helped take her mind off her struggles and gave her an outlet to have fun and be a kid.

As soon as she was old enough, Brittany decided to become a Big Sister herself. She became a High School Big Sister, and her experience as a mentor helped influence her towards a career path in social work. She currently works as a School-Based Mental Health Therapist.

Brittany earned her master’s degree during the pandemic while becoming a new mom. She has volunteered at the Stearns County Jail co-facilitating a support group for female inmates, guided activities at Opportunity Matters for group home residents with disabilities, and packaged food for Feed My Starving Children.

Brittany says "as a social worker, it is my ethical duty to serve and better my community through community service. My hope is to begin volunteering more both professionally, and personally with my family, so my son grows up knowing the importance of giving back to our community."

2021: Shelby Johnson

Shelby Johnson won the 2021 Growing Up Big AwardShelby was a High School Big Sister for two years, and her time as a mentor has impacted the way she treats people and how she lives her life.

When she first met her Little Sister, Shelby knew she would have to be invested in the relationship and really lean into the role of being a ‘Big Sister.’ She didn’t realize the impact her Little would have on her life. After meeting with her Little for the first time, Shelby was excited knowing they had two years together in the program. Her Little taught her to be vulnerable, and to care for people in a deep and meaningful way.

After graduating from high school, Shelby and her Little kept in touch, and her Little remains a big part of her life today. Shelby – who has suffered with chronic migranes and other health issues for many years – is a labor and delivery nurse in the Twin Cities, with plans to return to school to become a midwife. She says that being a part of BBBS was where she learned to be professional yet vulnerable in a caring relationship. Being with her Little helped her understand how to care for people in a more delicate way – to accept them how they are, and cater to what they need at that moment in time.

2020: Isaih Handy

Isaih Handy won the 2020 Growing Up Big AwardBig Brothers Big Sisters has been a part of Isaih’s life for as long as he can remember. He grew up in a single-parent household, and his mom worked long hours at multiple jobs. He joined the program as a Little at a young age, and one constant in his life was having a mentor with a loving family, active lifestyle, positive personality, and great character to help him see that there are good people in the world, and people that will help.

Isaih had several Big Brothers during his time with the program, including Matt. After being matched several times, it would have been easy for Isaih to be frustrated that the matches weren’t working out, but he grew to trust BBBS staff and realized that they were working to find the best Big possible for him – someone who would be there to support him no matter what.

That knowledge has helped Isaih as he has grown up and started a life of his own. He is more patient and understand with everyone he meets because he knows that everyone comes from different walks of life, but they deserve the resources and the opportunity to create a better life- much like the opportunity BBBS gave him.

2019: Vince Mohs

Vince Mohs poses with Tami and Randy Kruzel after receiving the 2019 Growing Up Big AwardVince Mohs has been a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters for more than 40 years – and it has shaped a large part of his life.

Vince’s dad passed away when he was just 10, so his mom signed him up for BBBS and he was matched with Gary Marsden. Like Vince’s father, Gary was a successful businessman, and Gary challenged Vince to be the best version of himself.
School wasn’t easy for Vince – he was more of a hands-on learner – so he went to St. Cloud Technical & Community College for sales and marketing, then went to work for Gary at Marco. Gary wasn’t easy on Vince - he constantly pushed him – and Vince eventually took over as manager of the futniture division, and was often the No. 1 salesperson.

When Parkinson’s Disease pushed Vince out of his career in 2013, Gary challenged Vince to find meaning in his new normal, so he chose to give back to BBBS. He has twice served on the board of directors and several committees, he helped plan and run the yearly Magic Moments Gala, and he has twice been a Big Brother.

Gary and Vince remain a constant in each other’s lives, and Gary continues to push Vince to be the best version of himself - no matter what.

2018: Ixayana Gonzales

Ixayana Gonzales poses with Tami and Randy Kruzel after receiving the 2018 Growing Up Big AwardLife has not always been easy for Ixayana Gonzales, but having a great support system – including her Big Sister, Melissa, helped her overcome challenges and understand that things will get better.

Melissa pushed Ixayana to go to college – and helped her understand her options for life after high school. Not wanting to disappoint her Big Sister, Ixayana explored those options and received numerous scholarships to help pay for her education.

Melissa also taught Ixayana to not be afraid to ask for help. Ixayana watched Melissa overcome major obstacles, and that was motivation for Ixayana to continue to fight when life got tough. She learned that even when things get hard, happily ever after does exist if you keep pushing.

Being a part of BBBS kept Ixayana on track to follow her dreams and goals, and now she mentors students to go to college by setting up tours and presentations in Spanish for Latino families. Her love for helping people pushed her to be a social worker so that she could make a career out of her passion.

2017: Karl JohnsonKarl Johnson accepts the 2017 Growing Up Big Award from Tami Kruzel

Being a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters and finding mentors in his own life helped Karl Johnson not only deal with the challenges that come with growing up, but also in finding himself and learning to accept who he is as a person.

As an adoptee from Korea, Karl knows firsthand how hard it can be to find and accept oneself as a teenager and young adult. As a mentor with BBBS, he was able to help his Littles grow into the best version of themselves. Not only did Karl help his mentees find themselves when they were matched, he also grew as a person, and developed a better sense of accountability and self-esteem.

Karl knows that everyone needs someone to believe in them, and whether it was during his time as a Big, a high school soccer coach, or a youth group leader, Karl was that person for so many young people. Along the way, he also learned more about his identity and personhood, and came to appreciate who he was as well.


2016: Vince ThielVince Thiel accepts the 2016 Growing Up Big Award from Ann Matvick

Vince Theil’s childhood was full of love – but not stability. He was raised by a single mom who was struggling financially. He bounced around to the houses of various friends and family members who tried to help out, but he ended up on his own at age 16.

He had a Big Brother during that time, and has fond memories of the match, but really came to know and appreciate BBBS as an adult. When he started a family of his own, Vince promised himself that his children would have a stable home – and they did. He has also been matched several times, and has helped several boys grow into young men, and made sure they had a stable male figure in their lives.

For Vince, knowing he had a hand in helping these young men grow into productive, responsible adults is priceless. His family knows how important BBBS is to Vince, and his daughter also became a Big Sister – another proud point for Vince.

2015: Ryan GomanRyan Goman won the 2015 Growing Up Big Award

Growing up, Ryan Goman didn't have a father figure in his life. Tom, his Big Brother through BBBS, changed that.

Ryan was raised by a single mother, and his grandfather and two uncles passed away when he was young. Tom helped Ryan overcome these obstacles, and served as a positive influence during tough times in Ryan’s life.

Not only did Tom talk through some difficult life situations with Ryan, he was also just a good friend. The two went to BBBS activities together, and later Tom pushed Ryan to go to college. Thanks to Tom’s advocacy, Ryan was the first in his family to graduate from college. He earned a degree in social work, so that he could pursue a career helping other families who need a positive influence.