Rhonda Staley-Brooks was 16 when she wrote in her journal that she wanted to own a day care center.
“I liked kids, but I didn’t like them enough to be a teacher,” she says. “I wanted to be the boss. About as close as I could get is what happened to me.”
Today, Staley-Brooks is the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Sacramento, a position she has held since 2001, when she was 29. She began working for the agency while at Sac State - after responding to a help-wanted ad on the University’s student job line. This year, she celebrates 20 years with the organization, which matches adult volunteers, known as “Bigs,” with children (the “Littles”) in need of positive role models.
Her alma mater honored Staley-Brooks with a 2013 Distinguished Service Award at this year’s Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner at Sacramento State’s Alumni Center. And under her leadership, Big Brothers Big Sisters received the 2012 Community Partnership Award from Sacramento State’s College of Education.
Staley-Brooks arrived at Sacramento State as a sophomore in 1992 - she had attended Woodbury University for a year - and declared a major in Business/Management and a minor in Child Development. After being unable to pass the required Accounting II class, she changed her major to Child Development and graduated in 1995 without a minor.
“I could not pass that class to save my life,” says Staley-Brooks, “which is so funny, because now I do the financials for the organization.”
While at Sacramento State, she lived in campus housing, pledged the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, worked three part-time jobs (including one as a casework assistant at Big Brothers Big Sisters) and met her future husband, fellow student Bruce Brooks, who now works as an electrician. The couple has 12-year-old twins, DeWayne and DaVon.
After earning her degree, Staley-Brooks continued her advancement at Big Brothers Big Sisters, first as a case manager, then as program director. She served as co-executive director before being named president and CEO in November 2001.
Among her successes, she says, was keeping the nonprofit afloat during the recession, when she had to lay off more than half of her staff and moved the rest into smaller quarters.
“Our boat was sinking, but we were able to stabilize our budget, and from 2000 to today, we had only one year of deficit. That is my biggest accomplishment,” she says.
She has come up with creative ways to attract potential “Bigs,” including the day she persuaded her predecessor, former CEO Dann Ingrim, to sit atop a billboard until 100 men volunteered. The campaign ultimately garnered 187 Big Brothers. (Boys seeking mentors always outnumber the girls.) And when the national office launched its efforts to streamline the pairing of “Bigs” and “Littles,” Staley-Brooks successfully led her staff through the pilot program.
Staley-Brooks is proud to be a Sac State alumna and has fond memories of her time at the University.
“Being able to finish (my degree) on time, live on campus, join a sorority, get a boyfriend who became my husband, and get a job ... Sac State gave me a lot,” she says. - Dixie Reid