Youth get first lake experience

By Carrie C. Causey

MOUNTAIN ISLAND – A Lake Norman tradition expanded to include Mountain Island Lake so youth have more opportunities to enjoy boating and swimming.
Big Day at the Lake, a grassroots initiative to pair Big Brothers Big Sisters of Charlotte participants with boat owners to offer a lake day they wouldn’t normally have, took place mid-July, culminating with a picnic at Duke Energy’s EnergyExplorium in Huntersville.
“I really liked tubing. It was really fun,” said Daniela, a fi rst-time youth participant. “The breeze was in my face and we got splashed in the water.”
The event, which is the brainchild of Cornelius resident David Yochum, celebrated its 10th year in Lake Norman this year and its second at Mountain Island, thanks to the efforts of Ali Bartley.
Bartley, formerly of Cornelius, wanted to expand the program upon moving to Mountain Island. The first year they had two pairs participate, and this year they had eight.
Among the activities, were to go on a boat ride, go on the sandbar, swim and play football.
“It’s an easy way to give back,” Bartley said. “They love the water. They can come and enjoy it in a safe environment.”
For many, this was their fi rst time on the lake and proved to be an emotional experience.
“Tubing was scary at fi rst, but then I did it again and enjoyed it,” Zykeia said, with her big Brandy Whitaker teasing her about a little mishap that sent them underwater.
“I learned to drive the boat. It was easy.” Zykeia said she enjoyed tubing the most, though Whitaker said she had fun watching Zykeia drive the boat.
“It was a small group and they were nice and welcoming and very friendly,” Whitaker said of their boat partners.
Over the course of the day, 200 members of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte participated in Big Day at the Lake and, thanks to sponsorships and donors, $75,000 was raised for the organization.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters is for at-risk kids, I don’t know what’s important than children, especially those who don’t have access to the lake,” Yochum said. “It’s a day No. 1 that’s fun for the kids, No. 2 recruits bigs and mentors and No. 3 raises money for a worthy nonprofi t that resonates with people.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is the country’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, matching adult volunteers and children ages 6-18. This year’s fundraising efforts garnered $75,000 for the organization.
The event gives the matches a chance to spend more time together while meeting community members. This was the third time for David Neeley and his little, Jordan.
“This creates a mutual experience for us to talk about,” Neeley said. “It’s a conversation starter about what he liked, what he didn’t like and his personality can come out. … This is an awesome event.”
In addition to all of the volunteers and businesses giving time and resources, emergency crews also took part.
“That’s what it’s all about – everybody coming together who wouldn’t otherwise,” Yochum said. “It’s a community builder.”

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