Concord resident Ben Cornejo was excited to be at his second Big Day at the Lake with his Big Brother, Chris Fijman.
The 12-year-old had been looking forward to “riding a doughnut, no inner tube,” he said.
“On the way over here he kept saying doughnut, and I had to tell him, no, we aren’t going to be eating doughnuts, we’re going to ride on an inner tube,” Fijman said.
The two were at Dave Yochum’s house in Cornelius for breakfast and the blessing of the fleet to kick off Big Day at the Lake 11 on July 18.
Yochum founded the event 11 years ago in an effort to share Lake Norman with children who might not have any other chance to experience the fun a big lake can offer.
This year, the Big Day at the Lake Committee raised almost $90,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte.
Fundraising is one of three goals, the others being to provide a fun day on the lake for the children and to encourage adults to volunteer as mentors, or “Bigs.”
Fijman said he and Ben had been matched for three years and that he felt it would be a lifelong friendship.
Big Brothers Big Sisters requires only that you make a one-year commitment. “After one year, you will have this great relationship and you will be friends forever,” Fijman said.
Fijman said his older brother had a Big Brother when he was younger.
“I saw the positive effect on his life and I wanted to give back to the community somehow. This seemed like the right thing to do,” Fijman said.
Cornelius resident Dr. Michael Miltich, aka “Dr. Mike,” and his wife, Ann, volunteered as a host boat for Charlotte resident Maury Thomas, 12, and her Big Sister, Kaliyah Jackson, 21.
Maury had never been on a big lake and was nervous not knowing what to expect. “I’ve been swimming in pools, but never in water this big,” she said.
Miltich assured her it would be a safe, fun trip as they boarded the boat. They started their three-hour tour by riding up to the dam and taking in the sites.
Once Miltich found the right cove, he stopped and helped the two get onto the inner tube attached to the boat, with Jackson assuring Maury it would be fun, as the boat began to take out the slack.
As soon as they began to move, Maury started to scream. After a short ride, with her screaming all the way, Miltich stopped to make sure she was all right. Maury said she was enjoying the ride.
Miltich instructed them on the hand signals for slow down, speed up and stop.
As soon as he started again, Maury gave the thumbs up – “speed up” – as she continued to scream. After a long ride with a few bounces, the pair gave the signal to stop.
While resting, the group boarded the Cornelius Fire Boat 4 for a short tour before heading out for another inner tube ride. When the boat crossed a large wake, the inner tube pitched Maury off the side, then flipped over on top of Jackson so that she was hidden.
Maury was alone in deep water and wasn’t comfortable.
Miltich maneuvered the boat so Maury could grab the rope and be pulled aboard.
“That was fun, then scary, then I was rescued,” said Maury.
The two agreed it was an experience they would remember for a lifetime. Maury said she might try tubing again “when I am 20.”
In all, 105 boat hosts had 206 children and their Bigs out on Lake Norman, as well as Mountain Island Lake, added three years ago, Yochum said.
In addition to the boat rides and water fun, participants were treated to a picnic lunch with pizza and hot dogs at the Duke Energy’s Energy Explorium in Huntersville. Eighty volunteers helped at the picnic, which an estimated 600 people attended, Yochum said.
There also were inflatable bounce houses and obstacle courses for the children to play.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
▪ For information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, visit www.bbbscharlotte.org/site/c.7gLMK5MKLgIUF/b.6422621/k.EE39/Home_Page.htm, or the agency’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bbbsgc.