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Kids, mentors enjoy ‘Big Day’ at lake

Plenty of boats cruised Lake Norman on Saturday morning – not an unusual day at the lake for most.

But for about 170 Charlotte-area kids and their mentors, it was a special opportunity to try new activities and strengthen bonds with one another.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte’s ninth annual Big Day at the Lake for pairs of “bigs” and “littles” began with a morning of boating, swimming and tubing. It ended with a picnic and activities including music, an inflatable water slide and water balloons at the Duke Energy EnergyExplorium in Huntersville.

Thirteen-year-old Kilanté White had never been tubing before. He and his “big brother,” Ash Hollar, have been matched through the program for about a year and a half, and it was their first time participating in Big Day at the Lake.

This was the fourth Big Day for 17-year-old Jenisea Phoenix and her “big sister,” Tanisha Davis. Phoenix discovered that she isn’t a fan of tubing, but she was enjoying the day with her mentor.

“She likes to push me in the water,” Phoenix said, as she and Davis laughed.

Phoenix and Davis have been matched for five years. They do a variety of activities together – like shopping, touring museums and going out to eat – at places that, Davis said, Phoenix probably wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.

Davis said she’s enjoyed watching her “little sister” grow up in the time they’ve known each other. The program has given each of them the opportunity to be a positive influence on one another, she said.

“I feel like I definitely have helped her see beyond her world,” Davis said. “She’s just really a calm-natured kid, so it’s good to be around somebody that’s cool, calm and collected…. It’s a care-free age.”

At least 80 boat owners from the Lake Norman community hosted kids and mentors on their boats for the morning.

Frank and Lynn Manis have been Big Day boat hosts for six years, and they keep in touch with many of the pairs they’ve hosted.

Lynn Manis said they like getting to expose the kids to experiences that are “out of the ordinary for them.” Over the years, their daughter, Erin, 20, has even taught three children how to swim.

“It is an amazing opportunity to show the lake to children that might not have the opportunity to do that on a regular basis. It’s extremely rewarding,” Lynn Manis said. “I think it’s a great organization. I just admire the bigs…. I don’t know many people that give the way they do, and it’s just unconditional.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters supports about 1,000 child-mentor matches in the Charlotte area.

The event has grown over the years, with record numbers of big-little pairs and boat hosts this year, organizers say. Last year, there were 145 pairs and about 75 boats.

Big Day is one of the largest events the organization hosts during the year, said Greater Charlotte CEO Karen Calder, and it’s meaningful “because it’s another way that our bigs and littles can strengthen their relationships.

“As simple as it is, a picnic at the lake and an opportunity to go on a boat – you never know what it’s going to ignite in a child. And that’s really what our program is all about,” Calder said.

Ellis: 704-358-5298
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