Big brother Al Bentz and his little brother Japlin Cureton, 14, held on tight and shouted with excitement while bouncing into the air above the wake from Denis Bilodeau’s 23-foot boat.
The pair were riding a tube called Big Mable across Lake Norman as they enjoyed the 13th annual Big Day At The Lake on July 22.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas matches adult volunteers with at-risk children for the one-on-one mentoring relationship that provides friendship, guidance and educational tutoring.
Bentz said the pair were matched seven years ago. At first, Japlin’s mom warned Bentz that Japlin didn’t talk much. “I walked up to him and said, ‘Do you want to have fun?’ He answered ‘yes,’” said Bentz of Mooresville. That short conversation has led to a lot of fun and much deeper talks between the two.
Martin Hurden, board chair of BBBS of Central Carolina said Bentz’s story is typical. The bigs have to earn the trust of the littles, but once that is achieved, it is beneficial for both.
“Volunteers get the phenomenal experience of giving back, one-on-one. Mentors help these children get ready for the world and many feel a huge sense of pride and accomplishment when they see them succeed,” Hurden said.
In 2004 Dave Yochum, editor of Business Today and Cornelius Today, started Big Day At The Lake to treat the participants in BBBS to a fun day on Lake Norman, serving about 24 guests.
Wanting to give the inner-city children an experience on Lake Norman that many of them wouldn’t normally have, Yochum also used the event to raise money for the local BBBS organization. This year, the total amount raised through the years exceeds $1 million.
“This year is the biggest ever. We have 170 ‘bigs’ and 170 kids, 100 boat hosts, 75 other volunteers at lunch with 600 hot dogs, 75 pizzas and 700 drinks,” Yochum said.
Big Day at the Lake 13 raised more than $100,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas in 2017. Big Day At The Lake has very little overhead because of grass-roots support the Big Day At The Lake Committee gets from the community, Yochum said..
“We get participation by local businesses across the spectrum. People feel so proud of doing something good for at-risk children, it resonates with everyone,” he said.
The three goals of Big Day At The Lake are to provide a fun day on Lake Norman for big and little matches, to raise money and to raise awareness and recruit bigs. Mentors are always needed, especially men.
N.C. Senator Jeff Tarte, former mayor of Cornelius, garnered more support securing $200,000 in discretionary money for Charlotte-based Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas. The funding was announced at a Big Day At The Lake reception on June 23. It takes about $1,500 a year to support a big-litle match.
Boat host Denis Bilodeau, a former Big Day At The Lake committee member, has been volunteering his services for 11 years.
“It’s such a special day for me and my family because we get to see a big and little really bonding and having a great day on the lake,” Bilodeau of Cornelius said.
Bilodeau was supervising closely as little brother Marquis Dewayne, 14, took his turn driving the boat. Complaining that his big brother, Brett Cutler, 24, was blocking his view, Marquis caused the boat to erupted in laughter.
The pair has been matched for about five months and have already formed a bond, picking on each other at any opportunity. Marquis had been on a boat before, but it was a first-time experience for Cutler, who enjoyed it and said he would like to try it again.
“The water was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be,” said Cutler. The two agreed that riding Big Mable was a lot of fun. “Sports and water is a recipe for fun,” said Marquis.
After a morning of water fun, the bigs, littles, and boat-host families were invited to the EnergyExplorium in Huntersville for lunch, games and waterslides to round out the day of fun.
“This is a phenomenal event, it is our biggest fundraiser combined with an event for the bigs and littles. It’s a great way to spend quality time together away from the stresses of life, in a beautiful setting, unlike what many of these children are accustomed to,” Hurden said.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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