Photos courtesy of Amadou Kromah

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, which helps children realize their potential and build their futures, raised more than $306,000 during its annual gala. Nearly 600 supporters enjoyed the socially distanced fundraising dinner under a warm autumn sky at Breese Stevens Field.

The Dream BIG event, held on Sept. 23, included a cocktail hour, silent auction, live program, and entertainment from local artists. Virtual attendees as far away as Texas also took part in the festivities. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes presented the 2021 BIG of the Year Award to Krista Powers who’s a BIG sister to Mia.

“Thank you, Krista, for your work, for your compassion, your tireless dedication and the humanity that you have put in Mia’s life,” Barnes said. 

Since 1966, BBBS Dane County has operated under the belief that inherent in every child is the ability to succeed and thrive in life. The organization makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 6 through 18, across the county. The intent is to develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County CEO Sandy Morales (right) celebrates Dane County Bigs and Littles
with Juan José Lopéz (center) and Areli Estrada (left) at this year’s Dream BIG Gala at Breese Stevens Field.

Last year, the COVID-19 outbreak forced the charity organization temporarily halted the matching efforts and forced the annual gala to be held virtually. Sandy Morales, CEO of BBBS Dane County addressed the effects the coronavirus crisis has had on recruiting volunteers. It also shed light on underlying inequalities and added challenges for vulnerable populations across the community.

“When we reflect upon the last 18 months, I think we can all agree that no one is unaffected,” Morales said. “We all bear the scars. But I think we can also agree that the toll has not necessarily been equal. There are inequities in our community that have compounded the impact of this pandemic, whether because of racism, income inequality, job security, access to quality education substandard housing, rising costs of health care, a fraught criminal justice system, and much more.

“While our littles and their families are strong and resilient and motivated, many of them are also disproportionately affected by these inequities, and thus disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We’ve seen in our broader community, but specifically with the littles we serve, an increase in mental health concerns, the challenges of financial insecurity, a widening of the achievement gap, and the social emotional wear that comes with isolation,” she added.

Building a strong community is critical in times of crisis. That’s when mentors and positive role models are needed more than ever, Morales said.

“Community happens when a big steps forward, willing to invest their time and energy,” she said. “Community happens when a little believes that their support system extends beyond their family. It takes a leap to trust someone new. What happens when we braid all these things together, all these efforts together, we get a sum that is much greater than the parts alone. We create a safety net so strong and so powerful that no one slips through the bottom of it.”

Kids who participate in the youth organization’s mentoring programs experience tremendous benefit; are less likely to pursue risky behaviors like substance abuse; are more likely to succeed in school; and consistently report higher levels of self-esteem. Kids with Bigs also find solace in a person that they can confide in.  

Those interested in investing in a child’s future can visit