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10th Big Day at Lake held this week

When Cornelius businessman Dave Yochum came up with Big Day at the Lake, his idea was to give some underprivileged children a day of swimming and boating on Lake Norman.

This year, Big Day at the Lake will hold its 10th event, having grown to become one of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte’s most popular events for the children it serves and one of the organization’s biggest fundraisers.

This year’s Big Day at the Lake will be held July 19, with the “littles” (children) and their “bigs” (the volunteers serving as big brothers or big sisters) spending the morning on the lake. They all gather for a picnic at the Duke’s EnergyExplorium in Huntersville.

“I didn’t know it would be as successful as it is,” said Yochum, publisher of Cornelius Today and Business Today. “I really thought it was strictly about helping kids first and foremost, helping kids who wouldn’t otherwise get out on the lake.

“Helping just one kid is what I call ‘successful;’ helping 200 this year, yeah that’s successful, too.”

According to Yochum, approximately 40 children took part in the inaugural Big Day at the Lake in 2005.

“It’s an opportunity for to do something most of these children don’t have the chance to do, so the popularity doesn’t surprise me,” said Karen Calder, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte.

“Our bigs and littles look forward to this every year. I’m personally a big sister – my little sister and I were matched in January – so this will be our first time together at Big Day at the Lake. She’s so excited about it … because it’s not something she gets to do on a regular basis.”

Big Day at the Lake has also become one of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ biggest fundraising events. According to Yochum, more than $520,000 has been raised over the past nine years, including a record $75,000 last year. The event is on pace to exceed that total this year. Funds are raised through sponsorships and donations.

“It’s actually grown into one of our top fundraisers,” said Calder, who has been with Big Brothers Big Sisters for four years. “Dave and the committee that he’s put together have done an incredible job about getting the word out about our program and engaging the community to get their support.

“Even though Big Day at the Lake is just a one-day event, they garner support for the continuation of the event throughout the year.”

Yochum said that planning for this year’s Big Day at the Lake began last September – rounding up financial and in-kind sponsors, organizing the volunteers and boat hosts, even hosting fundraisers such as last month’s celebrity bartending event at Alton’s Kitchen & Cocktails in Cornelius.

“We take August off,” Yochum said. “We have the annual kickoff in January or February, and that takes a lot of planning. But we have a fantastic organizing committee that does a lot of the work.”

It’s that organization that Yochum said will keep Big Day at the Lake going for years into the future.

“I didn’t have a grand, long-term plan,” Yochum said. “I just had a fundamental understanding that people are good-natured and generous without any help. Big Day at the Lake is just a reminder that this is one way they can help, and it resonated with people here.”