*An earlier version of this story appeared in The Budget’s May 23, 2018, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
Achievements both large and small were recognized recently during Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Ohio’s 2018 Big Celebration Awards Luncheon.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Ohio is the local chapter of the nationwide organization that facilitates meaningful mentoring matches between children ages 6-18, also known as “Littles,” and high school and adult volunteers, also known as “Bigs.”
Each year, the chapter invites the community to celebrate those relationships during a special awards luncheon highlighting the achievements of program participants and volunteers.
Among the adult volunteers recognized this year was Garaway graduate Jennifer Harding, who was presented with the 2018 Community Based Big of the Year award for her commitment to the program and her ongoing mentoring relationship with “little sister” Amber Albritton.
During the awards ceremony, Albritton shared a heartfelt speech praising the woman who has been a part of her life since kindergarten and who become more than just her mentor, but also a dear friend. “I’d like to say to Jen, I love you. I’ve been matched with you a long time, and it’s been a great honor just to be standing up here right now,” she said.
During the ceremony, Albritton was also honored for her growth over the course of the program with the 2018 achievement award. “Amber is an exceptional kid, and we’re so proud of her accomplishments,” said Olivia Scally, the local chapter’s director of development and marketing.
Scally also shared a written statement from Albritton’s “big sister.”
“I’ve known Amber for almost eight years, and to me she if family,” Harding wrote. “She means the world to me, and the fact that I get to see her grow is a such a gift to me. I got to see her grow up and be a confident and intelligent person. She is respectful to everyone around her, and if you know her, you are a lucky person. She’s always been a person who pushes for what she wants, and I know she will go far and do wonderful things.”
Another program success story was also spotlighted during the ceremony when the awards for Graduating Little of the Year and Longest Community Based Mentor were presented to graduating Dover High senior Dre Hess and “big sister” Karen Stokey, who have been matched together for the last 12 years.
“Throughout his high school career, Dre has been involved in football, baseball, track and swimming. He has also kept a job and saved up enough for a car while keeping his grades up and playing sports every season,” said Mentoring Specialist Mandy Thomas. “Karen’ has instilled in Dre a sense of hard work and determination, and she has attended almost all of his sporting events.
“Karen’s dedication to the match to Dre has made a large impact not only on him but also his family,” she continued. “Karen has always encouraged Dre to do his absolute best and keep out of trouble. Because of his family and Karen’s dedication, we’re able to watch a wonderful young man graduate and continue on to college.”
Volunteers were also honored for their commitment to the organization’s school-based mentoring program.
The award for School-Based Big of the Year was presented to graduating Dover High senior Hannah Nolley, who has mentored elementary students in her home school district for the last three years.
“Hannah, throughout the years, continues to be a very consistent, helpful, energetic and encouraging mentor. She has worked well with different children and was at all three elementary schools at Dover from her sophomore to her senior year,” Thomas said. “Hannah continues to make time for Big Brothers Big Sisters and goes above and beyond each year that she has mentored.”
Honored during the ceremony with the Longest School-Based Mentor award was graduating Strasburg senior Olivia Martin, who has been matched with “little sister” Claudia since 2015.
“When I first started this, I had no idea how much our time together would mean to me,” Martin shared during her acceptance speech. “We spent each week playing board games, talking about books and studying for weekly quizzes, which gave me the opportunity to watch her grow into a kind, caring and intelligent young person. I’m grateful that I was able to be a part of her life.”
Also honored during the program was the Strasburg-Franklin Local School District, which was presented with the School Partner of the Year Award.
Above and Beyond Awards were presented to area businesses that have gone the extra mile to ensure the success of the local chapter’s fundraising events and programs. This year, awards were presented to McInturf Realty, The Commercial & Savings Bank and Warther Woodworking.
Accepting the award on behalf of Warther’s was company owner Dan Warther, along “little brother” Cooper, who showcased a woodworking project that the company has been offering as an activity for the program’s community-based mentoring matches.
Also during the ceremony, Advocacy Awards were presented to community organizations and businesses that have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to supporting BBBS programming. Honored this year were the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, Dover Exchange Club, TMK Valley Propane and United Way of Tuscarawas County.
The final honor for 2018 was the Service Award, which to longtime supporter and volunteer Denise McConnell, who has served on the chapter’s board of directors since 2009 and helps out with numerous events throughout the year. “She’s been an active member and leader throughout her nine-year tenure,” said Beverly Pearch, president and CEO for BBBS of East Central Ohio. “We appreciate her commitment to Big Brothers Big Sisters and the impact that she has made on our board and staff.”
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters programs or to learn about opportunities for mentors and volunteers, call 330-339-6916 or visit www.bigs4kids.com. The organization currently offers school and community-based programs in Tuscarawas and Carroll counties and will also accept volunteers from surrounding counties provided they are willing to travel to one of those two counties.