HUNTERSVILLE – Drizzly weather didn’t dampen the spirits for the youth or volunteers participating July 19 in the 10th annual Big Day at the Lake.
Thanks to volunteer boat hosts, more than 200 members of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte spent the morning boating and playing on Lake Norman and Mountain Island Lake before meeting at Duke Energy’s EnergyExplorium for a picnic and continued festivities.
“I really liked tubing. It was really fun,” said Daniela, a first-time youth participant. “The breeze was in my face and we got splashed in the water. It was so fun. I’ve been to the lake before but never went kayaking or tubing before. I would definitely do it again. I met a couple new people. It’s good to try something new.”
Big Day at the Lake is a grassroots effort started by Cornelius resident David Yochum along with a volunteer committee.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters is for at-risk kids, I don’t know what’s important than children, especially those who don’t have access to the lake,” Yochum said. “It’s a day No. 1 that’s fun for the kids, No. 2 recruits bigs and mentors and No. 3 raises money for a worthy nonprofit that resonates with people.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is the country's largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, matching adult volunteers and children ages 6-18. This year’s fundraising efforts garnered $75,000 for the organization.
In addition to all of the volunteers and businesses giving time and resources, emergency crews also took part, including Cornelius police, Denver Fire Department and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Lake Enforcement Unit.
The event gives the matches a chance to spend more time together while meeting community members.
This was the third time for David Neeley and his little, Jordan.
“This creates a mutual experience for us to talk about,” Neeley said. “It’s a conversation starter about what he liked, what he didn’t like and his personality can come out. ... This is an awesome event.”
Kwesi was very excited to talk about his time going tubing and driving the boat for the second year.
“This year we went on a raft and got pulled very fast,” Kwesi said with a grin. “Me and my friend, Maurice, flew back and were splashed in the face.”
His big, Anthony Holzhauer, wanted to join Big Brothers Big Sisters because he was in a similar program when he was a kid and wanted to give back. Events like Big Day at the Lake help them interact.
“This helps develop social skills and a lot of kids don’t have boats, but they can see these lifestyles and what they can achieve with positive choices," Holzhauer said.
But the boat hosts get just as much out of it.
“We love doing it,” said Vickie Payne of Cornelius, who has hosted youth on their boat for the past five years. “We saw pictures and the kids looked so happy and thought if we can make someone happy, why not? Each year we have different youth and we meet them and some of them we’ve kept of with.”
The picnic offered an opportunity for volunteers, boat hosts, matches and children to all come together at the end to socialize.
“That’s what it’s all about – everybody coming together who wouldn’t otherwise,” Yochum said. “It’s a community builder.”
Editor’s note: Last names of youth participants withheld at the request of Big Brothers Big Sisters.