Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay hosted the 23rd annual Art of Helping Children Gala on Saturday, September 11, 2021, at Hilton Tampa Downtown, recognizing the historic 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a program dedicated to patriotism and giving thanks to our nation’s heroes. Among those honored were representatives from the military, law enforcement, healthcare, and frontline workers, as well as the volunteer mentors, children, and parents that make the agency’s mentoring programs possible.
The program was highlighted by an inspirational keynote address by retired Vice Admiral Sean Pybus, who served 34 years as a Naval Officer and Navy Seal and included three tours of duty with US Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The Admiral spoke of the mentors who helped guide his life and career, and the importance of mentorship in building the national heroes of the future.
The 300 attendees also enjoyed videos of Littles talking about their first-responder Bigs, an update on the agency’s successes in the past year, and an inspiring story about a single mother from St. Petersburg who has enrolled all four of her children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. The red, white and blue-themed décor was the perfect backdrop for an emotional rendition of the national anthem, performed flawlessly by 12-year-old Lily Robles.
Tampa Bay Rays President Brian Auld, a former Board Chair for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, encouraged the attendees to invest in the mentoring programs through “Bid From the Heart” donations. The evening also included several live auction items, including a Mediterranean vacation, dinner for 12 with Chef Jeff Philbin, and an autographed drumhead from the band Sister Hazel. Hundreds of items were also available through the annual silent auction.
In all, the evening generated approximately $440,000 to help fund the more than 2,400 Big and Little matches the agency expects to create and support in 2021. As the Admiral noted in his speech, “It’s an investment that can not go wrong.”