Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina congratulates Joey Popp of Hendersonville, who this week was named Big Brother of the Year for North Carolina.
Popp was selected for his dedication to his Little Brother Andre, with whom he has been matched for nearly three years.
“It seems like much longer because of the many amazing experiences they have enjoyed,” said Jamye Davis, assistant director of BBBS of WNC. “They have been swimming, hiking, tried lobster, been to see plays at the local theater, been to local college basketball games, made peace signs and marched in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace March.”
Popp serves as chairman of the BBBS Henderson County Advisory Council and is also on the Board of Directors for BBBS of WNC. He has initiated new ideas and strategies that have strengthened the fundraising efforts and programs in Henderson County.
He has made significant personal gifts, has sold his prize hydrangea flowers at the farmer’s market to benefit the program, and worked significantly to dramatically increase the auction component of “A Taste of the Vineyard,” one of the branch’s annual fundraising events.
Popp organized a wine dinner at a local restaurant that raised $1,200. He recruits teams for Bowl for Kids’ Sake, an annual fundraiser for the branch held this year at Tarheel Lanes on March 7.
Last year Popp organized a yoga fundraiser at a fitness center and spearheaded a Major Gift Matching Challenge. Through all of this, he has brought the branch office back to financial stability and greatly increased BBBS’ presence in the community.
In a recent essay to BBBS of NC, Andre said his Big Brother has had a dramatic impact on his life.
“If I never had Joey for a Big Brother, then I would be a lot less active than I am right now,” Andre wrote. “I wouldn’t get to go to any of these cool places and see the things I get to see. He helps me with homework when I need it, and we’ve been to the library to work on my reading.
“I got to teach my Big Brother a science word when he was helping me with my homework. It was ‘inertia.’ One thing that I’ve learned from Joey is that new things are not that bad, like sushi.”
“Andre was failing science class and now, because of Joey, this has improved,” said Cora Robinson, his great-great aunt and caregiver. “All of Andre’s grades have improved, and he has started to understand how important school is. Andre has blossomed into a vibrant boy.”
Popp accompanies Andre to church functions, invites Andre to community events, and helps show Andre the world around him.
“Because of Joey, Andre has a lot of goals for his future,” Robinson said. “Andre has learned to set and reach goals and that nothing is out of his reach. Joey has helped Andre understand his potential and that he can do anything he wants to do.”
One big highlight of Andre and Popp’s relationship has been Andre’s being selected as a “Kickoff Kid” with the Carolina Panthers. Popp signed him up with the Panthers Kids Club, and Andre was randomly selected. He and his Big Brother went to the Panthers-Green Bay Packers game in December 2017, where Andre got to pick up the tee after the second half kickoff.
“It was a thrill for him to run out on the field in front of 75,000 fans cheering him on,” Popp said.
A freelance journalist who covers the Carolinas, Popp has been in TV news for years (learn more about his career at joeypopp.com). He and his wife didn’t know anyone in Hendersonville when they moved to town in 2014. He wanted to get involved in the community and accepted an invitation to emcee A Taste of the Vineyard. From there, he decided to become a “Big” and was matched with Andre after passing background checks and undergoing volunteer training.
“When I got involved with this, I had no idea it would be so life-changing,” Popp said. “I have a child who looks at me like, yes, you are my big brother and I am your little brother. What a gift. I sometimes feel I get more out of this experience than he does. Then he’ll say ‘what an awesome day.’
“I realize perhaps I am making a difference in this young life. I’m determined to see him succeed. It warms my heart to think I may have had some impact on him.”
The national Big Brother/Big Sister of the Year awards will be announced at the BBBS National Conference Awards Gala on June 25.
Joey Popp and his Little Brother Andre talk about what BBBS means to them in this video.