This year’s event kicked off with an address from Erwin High School student and 5-year Little AJ—who took to the podium for his first ever public speaking engagement where he shared his thoughts and perspectives around the theme of gratitude:
“My name is AJ—I’ve been matched with my Big Brother for 5 years and I’m here tonight to talk about gratitude.’m thankful for my parents—they’ve picked me up when I’ve been down and that’s also what my Big Brother Evan does. He’s also had a positive impact on the formation of my personality. He’s very joyful and a positive person. He wants me to stay positive. He always keeps me away from the negative,” said AJ, taking a minute to catch his breath as he was feeling a bit nervous in front of the crowd.
After describing how his mom and Big Brother have been so instrumental in keeping him uplifted, out of trouble and focused on his own success, AJ looked out at the dozens of much younger Little Brothers and Sisters sitting among the tables in Asheville High School’s cafeteria and addressed them directly:
“There’s something that I want to say to all the other Littles who are out here today: Our generation has an impact on what happens in the future and we have to take charge to try to change things for the better.”
AJ continued to describe his experience as a football player at Erwin High, explaining that his coach regularly emphasizes how much responsibility on each player to uplift others in the school—precisely because of the social power they have as the “alpha” males.
“He explained to us that we can make a difference just through our everyday actions. Like if we see someone sitting alone at lunch, we can go up and sit next to them and share a meal with them—do all that type of stuff. Anybody—any of you can be a leader. You can do anything you put your mind to.”
It was an uplifting message to start off the evening, and meant even more to the younger Littles coming from a cool older high-schooler who had been in the program for years. And AJ walks his talk too: holding down a 30 hour a week job at Ingles, keeping his grades up and educating himself on automobile mechanics, the young man proves the power of commitment and perseverance.
Over the rest of the evening, over 30 Littles from Buncombe and Henderson Counties were recognized for a diverse array of accomplishments, unique strengths and talents, aspirations and goals they met.
“For six years now, I’ve watched Tony grow from a little boy to a young man,” wrote Big Brother Barry in praise of his Little. “And at each annual recognition dinner I am so proud to report how Tony continues his unwavering drive to be the very best person he can be. He excels in his school grades as he prepares to enter high school. Tony has a voracious intellectual curiosity and is at home discussing a variety of subjects ranging from philosophy to religion. He also serves as an excellent big brother and a role model to his five siblings and exhibits a strong work ethic at school and at home. “Kayada has a kind heart,” wrote Big Sister Elizabeth, “She shows concern for others, loves animals and is a good friend. She especially loves dogs adn they love her too. She is also brave and likes to try new things, even when she thinks she might not like something. Kayada has a wonderful sense of humor and can make you laugh when you least expect it—she’s smart and fun to be around and we are all very lucky to have her in our community.”
This year, BBBS was especially happy to recognize the hard work and achievements of four young women who are graduating this year: Amari, Miracle, Rebecca and Kionnie. Two of these graduating Littles are planning to move on to college next year, one is considering enrolling in the National Guard and the fourth is planning on enlisting in the Navy. All four of them are committed to their futures and have optimistic outlooks on what awaits them and a LOT of energy they will be bringing to their pursuits. We honor them as they step into this new and exciting chapter of their lives!
Many touching and inspirational messages were delivered to Littles from their Big Brothers and Big Sisters, acknowledging them for everything from their theatrical pursuits, to their courage in trying new things to their sense of humor and ability to bring joy to others. In the photo gallery below, you can learn more in the captions about these amazing young folks, the gifts they carry and things they’re working on for their futures.
The evening wrapped up with a special address from one of the program’s long-time advocates and a parent of one of the graduating Littles—Pearly Hampton:
“Big Brothers Big Sisters has been so important in my life. I think you have to get to the point where you know that you’re struggling and you need help and you’re feeling alone: it’s OK to stop and say ‘I need some help’,” said Hampton.
And that’s where I was: I was lost…In my household it was me and my daughter. My best friend died, my mom had died my boyfriend left— THANK GOD!” she exclaimed comically, looking skyward, “And I was just left with myself. But you get to the point where you have to be humble enough to say: ‘I need some help’ and then that’s where Big Brothers Big Sisters came in.”
“And they have been amazing, they have been wonderful, they have been there for me and my daughter. Kelly, my daughter’s Big Sister, could not have been a better part of my family…She opened Amari up to a world that I know I wouldn’t have been able to: She took her whitewater rafting, activities with dogs…and horses—and I’m not going to do all that! I’m just not. But she opened her up to a whole new world that she would not normally have been around and I thank Kelly for that. And I’ll tell you—when you get to that point when you need somebody, y’all better go find them, because I still call them, I still cry to them, because I’m a big crybaby, and I thank God that I’m not crying right now…”
“But listen: you’re OK even if you say you need some help. It’s OK to say you need some help.”
Check out more photos and how Littles were recognized in the gallery below: