A perfect late June evening provided just the right backdrop for Blooming Bids for Kids, the second annual garden party for the benefit of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard. With the equinox just four days gone by, summer was in the air in the sculpture garden at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury on June 25.
But the festive mood had more to do with the success and the promise of the organization that matches adults in the community with children who need positive adult relationships in their lives. The initial commitment is for one year, and Bigs, as the adult mentors are colloquially known, are expected to spend four to six hours with their Littles per month. The time together can range from unusual outings to doing routine errands together.
“We have a seven-year-old girl who’d never been to a farm before, and she’d never been to the Flying Horses,” said Betsy Hauck, the organization’s case manager on the Island. “She got to pet a sheep, and her Big was just as excited about it as she was. This young lady lives with an aunt, uncle, and grandma, who all work two jobs. I give her aunt and uncle tons of credit for recognizing that this child had a need.”
For Bigs, on the other hand, the benefits aren’t as tangible, according to Ms. Hauck, at least not at first. “They go into it thinking they are going to do some good, but often end up in a lasting friendship,” she said. “Or Bigs might be looking for something they missed, like the father of daughters who never had a son to do boy things with, like playing catch.”
At the June 25 event several Bigs/Littles spoke of their relationships. Jannette Vanderhoop of Aquinnah became a Big this winter, after becomng a Little herself when she was eight years old. “I still consider myself a Little. It’s been 21 years, but I’m in still in touch with my big every couple of weeks.”
Lizzie Jacobs, a Little, recounted how her Big, Gayle Mone, had become a Big after the death of her son, Ryan, in 1998. Ms. Mone later said, “All of a sudden there was a big hole in my life, and I realized that I had more to give as a nurturer. I reached out, and it was very healing.” Lizzie just graduated from the high school and is on her way to Wheelock College in Boston.
Sue Canham (Big) took the microphone with Taylor Higgins, her Little, and described a bit about their relationship. Then Taylor spoke volumes in just a few words before her emotions took over: “having Sue in my life has changed my life for the best.”
Bea Whiting of West Tisbury has been a Big Sister to Ashley Plante, also of West Tisbury since 2007.”I wanted to do something, to give back to a community I love.” Ms. Whiting said about her decision to become a Big: “It’s definitely a commitment, dealing with a child who needs stability, and Ashley’s been really patient with me when I’ve been away for a month or so during the winter.”
The event organizer for the June 25 benefit was Dee Dice, owner of Eden, the garden center on State Road in Vineyard Haven. Ms. Dice is a former president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard and an honorary board member. Current board members are Connie Alexander, Nancy Gardella, Brenda Lehman, and Vera Thornton. Money was raised by auctioning pots, planters, and a variety of other containers filled with plants and flowers. Along with a selection of other items, the planters were displayed on tables around the inside perimeter of a large tent in the sculpture garden. They ranged from the simply beautiful to the completely fanciful.
Most of the donors were gardeners, amateur and professional, and landscapers. Imagination was encouraged — and exercised. Students in the art department at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, for example, collected funky old shoes at the Thrift Shop, painted them fancifully, and then filled them with flowers — a great idea.
Five items were sold off in a live auction run by Gerry Yukevich — author, actor, auctioneer, and — oh yes — doctor. Offered were a garden design and consultation by Evangeline & Co.; a tour of Polly Hill Arboretum, lunch at State Road, family membership and gift certificate from Polly Hill Arboretum; three hours of painting or design by author, illustrator, and muralist Margot Datz: a garden party featuring a teak bench and a serenade by Island A Cappella; and a large flower-filled pot painted by Allen Whiting.
Buckley Catering and Bernie Comrie provided the appetizers, which were plentiful and delicious, and beverages came from several providers. An eclectic group of musicians, young and old, provided pleasing background sounds.
The trappings and trimmings made for a very pleasant evening, but at the heart of the matter were the relationships — being honored, being rekindled, being conceived.
In the ten days since the event, several Islanders have applied to be Bigs, among them Tony Omer of West Tisbury. “I’ve been thinking about it for several years, because a friend had been a Big and I admired that,” Mr. Omer said. “I think it will be an interesting, productive way to be involved in the community.”
Always on the lookout for new Bigs, this year Big Brothers/Sisters will start up a new program called School-Based Plus on the Island. The idea is to work with the schools to enlist Bigs to mentor Littles in the schools, where there is more structure, something that some prospective Bigs need to get their feet wet.
Though individuals are at the heart of Big Brothers Big Sisters, businesses pitch in too. On Sunday, July 4, 405 runners took off from the Tisbury School in the annual Murdick’s Fudge 5-mile Run the Chop road race, a benefit for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Just more than $7,000 was raised, all of which went to Big Brothers Big Sisters. The race was preceded by a fun run around the school for very young runners. “It’s a great event, a great way to kick off our summer,” said Mike McCourt, Murdick’s general manager. “But the fun run, that’s the best part.”
Other business sponsors are Eden Market & Garden Center, Landscope, Martha’s Vineyard Multisport, Inc., Mone Insurance Agency, Inc., South Mountain Company Foundation, Chappy Ferry, Martha’s Vineyard Insurance Agency, and Cronig’s Market.
For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard, contact Betsy Hauck at 508-696-5497. Or visit the website of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay at www.bbbsmb.org.