Maggie Romigh is not only a mentor, but a mentor of mentors.
She has sacrificed financially to work as a community coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico, but said she has been rewarded in countless other ways.
“When I first came to New Mexico, one of the choices I made was that I was going to do what was important to me, rather than focus on making money,” Romigh said.
After earning her master’s degree from Highlands University, Romigh began teaching there, but began losing her hearing. While taking some time off to get fitted for hearing aids, she was offered a job as executive director of the Las Vegas Arts Council.
“About a year later, I was offered a job with Big Brothers Big Sisters. It was something so close to my heart because my own childhood was difficult. It really felt right for me to be working for an organization that provides mentors for children. There are people who influenced me as a child, and if not for them, I would not be here today. I wouldn’t exist,” Romigh said.
“Knowing those mentors made such a difference in my life made me feel that was the right choice for me.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help children reach their potential through one-to-one relationships with mentors.
Vince Howell, a Big Brothers Big Sisters board member and volunteer, said Romigh is passionate about the kids.
“She wants more things to be done for local kids, and is always coming up with new ideas. She’s been going into the high schools to encourage students to become mentors. We have a five-member board, and we all love her. Her passion really keeps us going,” Howell said.
Program specialist Felicia Martinez said Romigh is always thinking about the kids.
“With Maggie, a lunch is never just a lunch. She ends up talking with everyone she meets about volunteering. It shows that Big Brothers Big Sisters is always on her mind. Many in this community respect and like her a lot. I feel very grateful to know her and feel lucky that we have such a great partnership,” Martinez said.
When talking about the great need for volunteers Romigh doesn’t hold back her tears.
“One of the saddest things I see are little boys who have been on the waiting list for a year or two.
Romigh said while manning a booth at the People’s Faire, she was talking with a man about possibly becoming a Big Brother.
“He was telling me how busy he was when this little boy walked up and said, ‘I want a Big Brother.’ I told him to bring in his mother, so we could get the paperwork going. He said he had done that over a year ago. When the little boy walked away, the man I was talking to said, ‘Maybe I can find time to do this.”
Romigh said teachers and coaches put their energy into kids in many wonderful ways.
“But they don’t get that one-to-one experience, and that one-to-one experience is where the magic is,” Romigh said.
A Georgia native, she came from modest beginnings as a sharecropper’s daughter. She called herself somewhat of a vagabond, moving from place to place, never really feeling she was home.
Her father’s ancestors were part Cherokee and tried to pass as white when the Cherokee Nation was forced to march 1,000 miles on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma in 1838.
“Because of that, ours was a very closed family, they didn’t talk much or tell stories about their past because they were hiding that for generations. I feel like we lost a lot because of that,” Romigh said.
Romigh’s father never completed high school, but eventually got his GED and went to college. The father and daughter even studied together as college classmates. He would later become a Methodist minister.
“I came to Highlands University late in life to go to graduate school. I didn’t get my bachelor's degree until I was in my early 40s. I came from a working class family who didn’t have money for education and didn’t really prize education that much. But all I wanted my whole life was to go to school, so I did a year here and a year there. I only planned on being here in Las Vegas for two years, but here it is almost a decade later and I’m still here. I fell in love with the place and the people and just stayed,” Romigh said.
Until settling down in Las Vegas, Romigh said her life was unsettled. Her mother left her and her father when she was 3; growing up, she felt different and ostracized from her family.
“To have created this wonderful family here is just amazing to me,” Romigh said.
“I’m not the kind of person that makes friends easily, but I have become so integrated in this community, it’s amazing. I’m involved in so many organizations — it amazes me that I walk into a restaurant and get hugs from at least 20 people I know. I’ve made, not just a home here, but a family,” Romigh said.