Normally, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County hosts its Dream BIG Gala each year with dozens of “Bigs” and “Littles” and community members to celebrate the power of one-on-one mentoring. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Brothers Big Sisters will have to settle for the virtual universe as they throw a “Big House Party” on Sept. 17.
“We’re calling it our ‘reimagined gala’ because we could not have any type of in-person gala and we typically have this event in July,” Sandy Morales, CEO of BBBS, tells Madison365, referring to the Dream BIG Gala. “It’s our largest fundraiser that typically raises between $300,000-$330,000.”
It will still be Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County’s largest fundraiser of the year, but Morales says the fundraising goal is about half of what it normally would be. “Our goal is now $170,000. We’ve adjusted our budget to accommodate keeping our matches connected and the new matches we were able to make this year,” she says.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County’s mission is to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. BBBS was able to host a successful virtual bowling event in the spring during the pandemic and that gives them hope for the Big House Party.
“Our staff along with our board [of directors] and our Big House Party committee members decided that a virtual event was going to be the way to go, but we also wanted to make it a unique experience,” Morales says.
Along with the virtual program, there will be an extensive silent auction. “We have about $25,000 in silent auction items,” Morales says. “We’ve partnered with Food Fight [Restaurant Group] who will put together meals for the people watching the virtual event. You can either pick up these meals the day of the event or they can be delivered to you at an extra charge.”
Morales is referring to the “Party in Place” packages to enjoy during The BIG House Party. BBBS also has a partnership with Tito’s Handmade Vodka and they will have Cocktail Kits that people can order.
“We’re basically bringing the party to you. If you feel comfortable inviting a couple of friends over and hosting a gathering outside in the back yard, you can still do that,” Morales says.
There will be a short program starting at 7 p.m.
Big Brother Ercan Dzelil will be honored as the 2020 BIG of the Year. Dzelil, a Madison police officer, will be honored for the mentoring relationship he has had with Little Brother Cle, whom he has built up trust with over the years. Academic hurdles led Cle to enroll in the Wisconsin Challenge Academy, an alternate education program for at-risk youth that he would excel in. Cle graduated six months early with his Big Brother Ercan by his side.
“Ercan’s dedication and loyalty to Cle has made what I believe to be the single most important impact on the man Cle has become,” says Jessica Soto-Hernandez, Cle’s mother.
“Ercan’s Little Brother, Cle, has gone through a lot in his young life but he has persevered and he is doing really well,” Morales says. “We are excited to honor Ercan at the event.”
BBBS of Dane County Board President Cedric Ellis, who is also vice president of the CUNA Mutual Group, will also be one of the featured speakers at the event.
“He will talk about what it means to be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters and why it is so important to him,” Morales says. “Cedric will also share a bit about his background and his story and share how mentors play a large role in young people’s lives.”
For Big Brothers Big Sisters, the “Big House Party” will also be a chance to talk about mentoring during this crucial and challenging time in our history – the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will talk about how the pandemic has affected our program and share stories on how our matches have still been able to stay engaged and connected,” Morales says. “Obviously, we will have a call to action. We still need that financial support for our mentoring programs. We still have over 200 kids who are waiting to be introduced to a mentor.
“Mentoring is critical now more than ever. Kids are at home and they have a higher risk of isolation and other problems,” she adds. “A lot of families are really counting on the help of others – like our Bigs – to step in and help wherever they can … especially keeping that relationship going with their Little.”
All the funds raised at the Big House Party support BBBS programs that will help create life-long meaningful mentoring relationships.
“It’s also a great chance to support the local economy, local restaurants and all of the local workers. We’re hoping that its a big success,” Morales says. “After the year we’ve been through in 2020, we are really prepared for anything. The pandemic has made fundraising more complicated for us and fundraising is so important for our organization and our programs.
“We are really going to make this an experience for our guests,” Morales adds. “It’s really about having that experience and about the love of our mission that gets people involved in our events.”
For more information or to sign up for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Big House Party, click here.