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November 02, 2018 03:45 PM

Pam Iorio, 59, thought she’d be part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for only a short time when she was asked to step in and help the organization in 2014. Now, more than four years later, the former Tampa, Florida, mayor is president and CEO of the mentoring organization.

“I fell in love with the mission and ended up making a longer term commitment to BBBSA,” says Iorio, who is one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World. “I love it and I get to work with the most important people across the country.”

Pam Iorio (left) with "little" in Tampa, Florida
Courtesy Pam Iorio/Tampa Bay Times

The non-profit organization matches a mentor — a “big” — with a mentee, known as a “little.” Since joining, Iorio has helped to rebrand the organization and has traveled the U.S., meeting bigs and little from across the country. This, she says, is her favorite part.

“It’s very emotional for me to meet a big and a little and to hear them talk about their relationship,” Iorio, a mom of two, says. “Just recently one said to me that their big brother was the first person in his life who had high expectations for him. That’s the sort of thing that I hear all the time.

For full coverage of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday

 

“A young person will say, ‘If it wasn’t for my big brother or big sister, I would not be doing this. I wouldn’t be applying for college, I wouldn’t have my first job, I wouldn’t be doing well in school.’ They do better in school, they have higher aspirations, greater self esteem. It’s remarkable.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America , which has nearly 300 agencies across the country, matches children from adverse situations with adult volunteers who then serve as mentors and friends. Iorio says a colleague approached her in 2014 to step in as the organization went through leadership changes.

Pam Iorio with High School "Bigs" from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida
Courtesy Pam Iorio/ Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Iorio served as the mayor of Tampa from 2003 to 2011.

“She knew me and knew of my background and so I think she felt confident that I would be a good fit for the organization,” Iorio says of her colleague. “Now I just happen to be privileged to be part of such a great organization.

“It’s about the special nature of our matches. It’s unlike anything else I have ever experienced.”

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