If Friday’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA) Big Bash gala could be described in one word, that word would be: inspiration. For that is what the night was full of: inspiring words and stories given by inspiring individuals at its annual gala held to recognize those who are positive role models for the youth in the Los Angeles community.
Celebrities and industry notables gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to shine the spotlight on BBBSLA’s life-changing work that includes providing at-risk children with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships.
Hosted by award-winning actor Sean Hayes, the glamorous gala recognized three of those inspiring individuals who generously give of their time to improve the lives of children facing adversity. William H. Ahmanson, President, The Ahmanson Foundation, received the Walt Disney Man of the Year Award; Jennifer Salke, President of NBC Entertainment, was presented the Sherry Lansing Award; and The Hollywood Reporter received the Trailblazer Award.
Emmy-Award winner Katherine Heigl and star of NBC’s new drama State of Affairs introduced a video tribute comprised of stars from the network’s primetime line-up congratulating Salke on her honor. The Sherry Lansing Award recognizes contributions of women who have shown tremendous leadership at the highest level of their chosen field as well as the capacity for sharing their considerable gifts with others. Salke was presented the award by her “little sister”, Paola. With Paola by her side on stage, Salke spoke of the value behind mentorship and having people in your life who encourage you. “We all need those people to thrive. We all need advocates and we should get together and make sure we continue that,” said Salke.
Lansing, also a devoted supporter of BBBSLA and a trailblazer in her own right, told me she has seen first-hand the impact that comes from having someone show support and instill a sense of belief in you. “It’s an organization that I care deeply about. I’ve seen the results when a big sister mentors a little sister and it’s remarkable what can happen when one person cares about you. It changes your life,” said Lansing, who is the former CEO of Paramount Pictures and who when was president of production at 20th Century Fox, was the first woman in Hollywood to head a studio . “I’m very happy for the good work this organization does.”
And good work it does indeed! As one of the largest youth mentoring organizations in the country, BBBSLA provides one-to-one mentoring services and ongoing support for the volunteers, mentees, families, schools, businesses and community partners. Children in the program not only improve their school performance and avoid behavior that may lead them down dangerous paths, but also are empowered with an increase in self-esteem and aspirations.
A stand out moment of the evening came when three “littles” accompanied by their “bigs” shared their poignant stories of the profound influence the guidance of their mentors has had on them and the remarkable difference being a part of BBBSLA has made in their lives.
Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair of Disney Media Network and President of Disney/ABC TV Group, presented The Hollywood Reporter with the night’s Trailblazer Award and introduced mentees Maira Solis, Britney Abellanosa and Sonia Ortega. The Women In Entertainment Mentoring Program is a joint venture between THR and BBSLA that selects 15 girls from some of L.A.’s most underserved high schools and pairs them up with industry leaders on THR’s Power 100 Women in Entertainment list. Sweeney, herself, is in the program that not only opens eyes but also doors to a whole new world of possibility for the young girls. Its participants are now attending some of the nation’s best schools including Yale, Harvard and Berkeley. Janice Min, The Hollywood Reporter’s President and CCO accepted on behalf of the outlet.
Roy P. Disney, grand-nephew of Walt Disney and last year’s Walt Disney Man of the Year Award recipient, was the evening’s honorary chair and spoke on the significance of the award before it was presented to William Ahmanson of The Ahmanson Foundation describing it as an honor that is “recognizing men who set a standard of excellence, both on their professional and personal accomplishments and humanitarianism.” In addition to BBBSLA, The Ahmanson Foundation provides support to numerous causes and is known for its philanthropic actions.
And the importance of giving back and the rewarding way it benefits others was certainly the theme of the evening as by the end of the gala one could not help but feel joy in their hearts for those whose futures now burn so might brighter because of their “big brothers” and “big sisters”.
To learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles, visit www.BBBSLA.org