By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Big Brothers Big Sisters Puget Sound (BBBSPS) recently held their annual fundraising event at the WOW Gallery located in the Pacific Place in downtown Seattle. The event, held on the last day of Women’s History Month, highlighted the power of mentoring, celebrated the lives and legacies of women, and the potential and empowerment of youth.
For over 64 years, BBBSPS has helped empower youth and help them realize their potential by creating and supporting one-to-one mentorship relationships. Some of their innovative youth development programs include community-based and site-based mentoring with special options for Black and African American boys, LGBTQ youth, and career and college prep. With the help of a mentor the youth can improve their self-esteem, make positive behavior choices, utilize and maximize their academic performance, and strengthen their relationships with peers and family.
According to Alonda Williams, President and CEO of BBBSPS, the organization currently serves over 1,200 kids and their families throughout King, Pierce and Kitsap Counties.
“We are the largest mentoring agency in the state,” says Williams. “We have been mentoring for more than sixty years… and we currently have about 1,000 mentors.”
Williams, who took over as CEO last fall, says that this year’s fundraising event was much different than the traditional events the organization held in recent years.
“This event has happened before but in a different way,” says Williams. “It used to be a breakfast and fundraiser. I started in the role of president in October, and I wanted to do something different. Because March is Women’s History Month I thought, what can we do that celebrates our women and young women.”
In response, Williams and her team worked with Veronica Very, the founder and visionary of Wonder of Women International (WOW) and the founder and visionary of the WOW Gallery, to co-create an exclusive experience designed to draw a more diverse and engaging audience to the event.
“What was so nice about it, it really brought together the best of both teams,” says Williams. “Veronica gave an incredible experience that just really engaged all the guests that were there and helped us raise money for our organization to help us serve our community.”
Very says that she was excited to be part of such an important event.
“She [Williams] wanted to re-imagine what her Big Brothers Big Sisters annual fundraiser could look like by holding it in our space…. and I was very excited about that,” says Very.
As part of the event, Williams commissioned the WOW Gallery to produce a painting illustrating the work and impact of BBBSPS and utilize it as a fundraising item during the event.
Inspired by a few conversations with Williams and her staff, Hiawatha Davis, an artist and co-founder/creator of WOW Gallery, created a painting that captured the essence of the event and the work of BBBSPS.
“On a call we talked about the work that we do, the families we serve, the young people and the potential that is unleashed and empowerment when they have a mentor,” says Williams “We wanted a piece that celebrated our event, that celebrated mentoring, that celebrated Big Brothers Big Sisters. Hiawatha took the conversations from meetings and used it to inspire the painting that he created for us.”
Davis, a graduate of the Burnley School of Professional Art, has been featured in Forbes, NBC and ABC affiliates and the Black News Channel. His Iconic Black Women: Ain’t I A Woman’ art exhibition was featured at the Northwest African American Museum.
“Hiawatha’s work is incredible,” says Very. “One of the things that attracted me to Hiawatha’s work is that he paints us in the high place, us being Black people. The stories that he tells of us speaks of us in the high place, it shows us in vibrant beautiful color, it shows us successful, upwardly mobile and progressive. He provides stories of our triumphs and so I was attracted to those stories.”
For BBSPS, one thing that was important to convey during the celebration is the role mentoring plays in the lives of young people. The support that is needed, the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. BBBSPS is in the business of making sure our community’s children know that they have a support system in place to help them become all that they are capable of becoming.
“I think mentoring is critical for young people,” says Very. “Whether you are a young person just budding and an emerging leader or an adult becoming and considering legacy. Mentorship is critical at every stage of life.”
“My mother used to say, “’We don’t arrive, if we are not learning, we’re not living,’” continued Very. “Mentorships provide opportunities for us to continue learning, for us to have the guide, suggestions, considerations, support, to help us to reflect and see in the mirror the me that is difficult to see, so mentorship is critical.”
According to Williams, having a mentor gives us the necessary reassurance and helps us to understand our potential particularly during rough times in one’s life and that having a mentor can literally transform a young person’s life for the better.
“Our data talks about how kids really transform by having a mentor,” says Williams. “Having that person in your corner, having someone that can help you through some of the tough life decisions, it is just transformative. We are always in need of mentors that is our most important need right now, we are always in need of mentors, my call to action is become a mentor.”