On Sunday, April 22nd, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA) broke two significant records since its founding by Walt Disney and Meredith Willson in 1955. Not only did its annual Accessories for Success Scholarship Luncheon raise an astounding $302,650 at the Beverly Wilshire that single afternoon, but it also distributed 108 college scholarships to deserving high school seniors in the BBBSLA program – the most college scholarships ever given to a graduating senior class in a given year!
Attending this special afternoon for my second year in a row, I felt enormous pride for the achievements of these ambitious, intelligent, and motivated students of the program – and enjoyed some fabulous shopping, to boot! City National Bank sponsored the event, hosted by model/actress Amber Valletta, and three incredibly generous women were the spotlight honorees.
Tracy D. Underwood, Senior Vice President of ABC Signature, and Laurie Zaks, President of Mandeville Television, received the “Excellence in Mentoring Award.” Black-ish and Grown-ish actress and activist Tara Shahidi presented this award, and BBBSLA Board Chair Laura Lizer presented the “Innovator Award” to City National Bank’s Executive Vice President of Entertainment Banking, Martha Henderson. As “Bigs,” these women are generous not only of their time, but of their hearts… They are mentors, confidants, supporters, and extended “family” to their underprivileged “Littles.”
The afternoon began with a shopping experience, consisting of an assortment of pop-up shops by local jewelry, clothing, and handbag designers. Specialty pieces ranged from $100 to $3,000, and women enjoyed sipping champaign as they shopped and socialized.
Once seated for lunch, I had the opportunity to chat with celebrity fashion stylist and TV host, Kale Hewlett. This was Hewlett’s first year involved with BBBSLA, and she just glowed when describing her experience with the organization thus far. Her role in the afternoon was a significant one, as she was the expert stylist who led a pre-event shopping spree for Littles and their Bigs at a Goodwill store. Each Big/Little pair was given $30 to put together a stylish outfit of their choosing, and these new looks were debuted during the highlight of the afternoon – the fashion show!
Each Big/Little pair who took part in the shopping trip got to step onto the runway and sport their new styles before the audience! Fashion gurus Lloyd Boston and Jenna Fredrique Aponte emceed the show and gave commentary. They posed for the cameras like Fashion Week models, and they couldn’t have looked more poised, confident, and radiant! Hewlett said that the kids were so sweet to hang out with, and the “behind the scenes” shopping spree video showed how appreciative each Little truly was.
It was also inspiring to hear from Paola Franco, Little Sister to Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios. The pair met in 2013 through BBBSLA’s Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program, which teams female leaders in the entertainment business with BBBSLA girls aspiring to pursue careers in film and television. Franco is about to graduate from Loyola Marymount University on a full ride scholarship provided by BBBSLA, and she is proud of being the first person in her family to earn a college degree. A staggering 96% of Littles in the program are graduating from high school this year, and 94% of them are pursuing higher education.
Franco said of her Big, “Jennifer has been a shoulder to lean on, my biggest cheerleader, and my honorary mother.” Franco and her relationship with Salke embody BBSLA’s mission – to provide strong, enduring, one-to-one mentoring relationships that forever impact the lives of children facing extreme adversity.
Wise beyond her years, Franco continued, “If you take one thing away from this, it is that your circumstances and challenges don’t define you.”
Although shopping bags and gorgeous new accessories were in hand as women left the beautiful luncheon, it was that valuable lesson that was the greatest gift of the day.