Sweet stories of ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ at scrumptious fundraiser

Sen. Gayle Harrell and Judi Miller. PHOTO BY JOSHUA KODIS

Debbie Hawley, Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO, welcomed guests to the 15th annual Chocolate, Champagne and Chefs fundraiser at the Quail Valley River Club, which this year honored Bradley Lorimier, a longtime BBBS supporter, mentor and former board chairman.

“So tonight is a celebration of the successes that have occurred with the help of our many Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers and the dedicated relationships between the ‘Bigs’ and the ‘Littles,’” said event emcee Anna Valencia Tillery.

Bigs are mentors who interact in meaningful ways with Littles – children – leading to overall improvements in grades, test scores, attendance and conduct.

After a gourmet dinner, but before guests indulged in the sumptuous desserts, Hawley and Michael Lucci, current board chair, paid tribute to Lorimier.

“Brad Lorimier has touched all of us in so many ways over so many years,” said Hawley, noting that she could always call on him for support, financially and emotionally.

“As a longtime board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters, I have seen Brad in action,” said state Sen. Gayle Harrell.

In addition to his service on the board and with BBBS fundraisers, she said Lorimier started the tradition of providing Littles with shiny new bicycles and helmets. Later in the evening, attorney John Moore – last year’s honoree with wife Lee – served as auctioneer over the live auction, and the appeal for bicycle funding.

“Most of all, maybe you don’t know, but he’s been a Big to three Littles over the years. And that to me is the most special thing you can do,” said Harrell.

“So when I give you this recognition from the Florida Senate, I want to say thank you for everything you have done. You are truly the ultimate defender of potential, the builder of potential, in our community,” said Harrell.

Lorimier explained that Judi Miller, who served as BBBS CEO almost three decades, inspired him to get involved, and recounted how rewarding the experience had been.

“We’ve had a major, positive impact on literally thousands of kids in this community. These kids typically are underprivileged, under-loved. Many of them are headed the wrong way, they’re going to end up without any direction,” said Lorimier, adding that reaching children early can change the trajectory of their lives.

“I would highly recommend to any of you, if you have any interest at all, be a Big. Maybe an hour, hour and a half a week, it could change a kid’s life and it’s really important,” said Lorimier.

He said recognition and appreciation should also be extended to staff at this and other agencies for their efforts during the pandemic, adding that philanthropy had lessened during that time.

“And so I would ask you all to dig deep tonight. This organization needs and deserves your financial support,” said Lorimier.

“The kids we serve don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. They don’t have clothes sometimes to wear. They come to school and often fall asleep because they haven’t been able to sleep in their home because of all of the things that are going on there,” said Hawley, reiterating the need.

Tillery said this BBBS chapter received a 2022 Gold Standard Award from the American level of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“So it goes to show that the work that’s being done here is indeed in full effect. And those dollars and that dedication are being maximized,” said Tillery, before introducing the dessert chefs and their mouth-watering sweets.

This year’s creative chefs: Tim Blouin, Grand Harbor Golf Club; Brenda Maerkle, Quail Valley River Club; Shari Pierce, A Kitchen of Her Own; Matthew Piscitelli, Flavored Fork Catering; and Scott Varricchio, Citrus Grill.

For more information, visit BBBSBigs.org.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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