- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - To see the true impact of the funds donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Louisiana, look at the kids that have passed through the organization as Littles and went on to lead successful lives all over the country. During the nonprofit’s Bowl For Kids’ Sake annual fundraising event May 7, a pair of Littles from the past were in attendance to support the organization that made a difference in their childhoods.

Brad Ragusa and Katie Davis came to the celebration as part of the bowling team from Waitr, a local startup participating in the event for the first time.

Their journeys into the program years ago differ greatly, but are rooted in the same principles. They were both kids who, for one reason or another, needed an adult to serve as both a role model and a friend.

Davis said she was introduced to the organization at a pivotal time in her life. When she was 7 years old, her parents were involved in an accident with a drunken driver. She said her father was killed instantly. Her mother survived, but was severely injured.

“I struggled as a child dealing with all of that. It was hard,” Davis said. “Being a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters was an outlet for me. It was a way to cope with everything that was happening. It was great for me because I was in that transitional period of my life.”

Davis said she still stays in touch with her Big. The relationship has spanned years. For Ragusa, the ties he has with his Big have lasted about three decades.

“I didn’t have that father figure at home growing up, so this was a perfect fit for time,” he said. “From an adult’s perspective, being a Big is a great way to give back to the community. You can make an impression on a kid’s life in a positive way.”

Both Davis and Ragusa agreed that for a Little in the program, you get more than just someone to confide in. They said you also get support from the Big’s family. This fact serves as the backdrop for some of their favorite childhood memories.

“It was all of the small things that I remember most - things like getting pizza or eating ice cream together,” Davis said. “It’s the simple small stuff that sticks with you.”

Ragusa said there are a lot of memories to hold on to, but one of the best involved a road trip. “We took a trip to Florida, and that was a great experience,” he said. “You always remember the positive advice and just having someone to talk to.”

A few lanes down from the duo was Vickie Wicks, an Edward Jones financial adviser in Lake Charles. Wicks was with a handful of friends and co-workers from her Edward Jones office enjoying an afternoon on the lanes. The group talked, laughed, high-fived after their turns, and basked in the fact that they were taking part in something much bigger than themselves.

Wicks and her team were also one of the new groups participating in the event. Bowl For Kids’ Sake has been around for about 30 years and is built on regional support, specifically from people like Wicks and her friends. Throughout the last few months, Wicks’ team fundraised for Big Brothers Big Sisters and ended up collecting about $1,000.

“I’ve lived in this community my whole life. The love and concern people have for one another, it truly is amazing. We’re just happy to be a part of it,” she said. “The money directly benefits children in this area. And as a group, we have a passion for trying to find ways to make an impact in our community.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters has had a substantial footprint in Southwest Louisiana for decades. The nonprofit’s history of accountability is both a gift and a curse. Members of the organization routinely praise the continued support they have had from people and businesses in the community throughout the years. Some of the teams at the event had been annual participants for more than 10 years.

Still, Big Brothers Big Sisters officials have also said a concerted effort is now being made to bring in new supporters. The goal is to create a foundation for the organization that will continue to grow for the next 20 years.

Heather Hohensee, executive director of the organization, spent the day checking on participants, making sure bowlers received prizes, and thanking them for their support. Hohensee is a part of the new wave of organization leaders who are coordinating the nonprofit’s events for the first time, and trying to build a new support base for future endeavors.

She said the energy from the community in attendance was a good sign for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ future.

“We came into this knowing how much of an important event it is for the area each year. So we wanted to make sure that we met the expectations the public has for this,” she said. “We’re creating a way to grow here as well. We have support from new people and the continued support from the ones that have been here for years. We can’t wait to build on the growth that we’ve seen.”

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Information from: American Press, https://www.americanpress.com


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