Sparkling trees fund special relationships through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County
By REBECCA OLSON
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
November 29, 2011 · Updated 1:19 PM
When Amy Conner, 17, came to Jones Accounting to visit her Big Sister, Kathy Jones, they both lit up and fell into familiar conversation reserved for close friends.
Jones has been mentoring Conner through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County since Conner was 8 years old and both said they’ve become inseparable parts of each others’ lives.
The 13th annual Festival of Trees, the organization’s major fundraiser, supports these life-altering matches. Bid on trees decorated so spectacularly that they’re kept top secret until the event, which will be Friday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Oak Harbor.
Silent and live auctions feature trees, wreaths, vacation packages and even a puppy donated by Best Friends Veterinary Center. Also enjoy dinner, dancing and community at this formal event.
Jones and Conner usually volunteer at the event.
“It’s a kick-off to the Christmas holiday season. It’s very elegant,” Jones said.
Conner added that she enjoys the great food and beautiful trees. “I love it,” she said.
Some Bigs and Littles tell the tear-jerking stories of their times together at the event. Jones and Conner have certainly enjoyed countless experiences together.
“You become part of their lives and that’s really cool,” Conner said, adding that Jones is her second family.
“I think when you sign up to be a Big, you don’t realize the impact the Little is going to have on your life -- I know I didn’t,” Jones said, smiling at Conner. “I didn’t realize how much you’d grow to love her -- and the laughs!”
Grinning, Conner described their adventure together in Seattle when Jones took Conner to see “The Nutcracker” and the Space Needle.
Another time, Jones and Conner spent the night at the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle. Conner enjoyed swimming in the rooftop pool and jumping on the beds, she said, laughing.
Spending Christmas with the Jones was one of Conner’s favorite memories, Conner said. Not to mention singing in the car, cooking and just hanging out.
“We have fun all the time,” Conner exclaimed.
Jones has even taken Conner to look at colleges in Seattle as high school graduation nears for Conner.
“It’s been really a blessing to watch her grow up,” Jones said.
When Conner and Jones were matched, Conner lived with her mother, a full-time student who worked part-time. The organization is geared toward children of single parents.
“We don’t take the place of parents. We support parents in their roles,” Jones said.
Before BBBS, there was no mentoring agency in the community.
As a co-founder of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County, Jones worked to tailor the organization to Oak Harbor’s military community, since generally, one parent is gone with the military and the other is working.
“Littles are less likely to be involved in drugs, alcohol and tobacco,” Jones said, adding that the program helps children do better in school.
Conner earned the youth of the year award from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Boys and Girls Club, is involved in the First United Methodist Church and is a photography intern at Captured Moments.
“It gives that extra support to the family to help the child be successful and make the right choices,” Jones said.
BBBS served more than 200 children this year, which is the organization’s 13th year, according to Peggy Dyer, executive director.
Along with matches like Jones’ and Conner’s, the organization also holds programs at the schools in the three school districts on Whidbey Island.
Conner advised high school students to become Bigs for younger students through the school-wide programs.
“If you start at that age then you’re just that much more prepared and you get to know people in the community,” Conner said.
About the community-wide BBBS program, Jones said she wants “for parents to think of this as an extra blessing in their child’s life. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Another means of supporting BBBS is the Teddy Bear Breakfast on Saturday, Dec. 3. Enjoy a child-friendly show with Santa, Frosty the Snowman and Buddy the elf. Children are encouraged to bring a new stuffed animal to donate to a child in a crisis situation.
For information and tickets visit www.bbbsislandcounty.org or call 279-0644.
Kick off the holiday season
Festival of Trees:
When: Friday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Oak Harbor Elks Lodge, 155 Northeast Ernst St.
Tickets: $75 per adult; group deals available.
Teddy Bear Breakfast:
What: Enjoy pancakes with Frosty the Snowman and Buddy the elf.
When: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Where: Oak Harbor Elks Lodge.
Tickets: $6 for under 12 years old; $10 for 13 and older.
Community Open House:
What: View the decorated trees before they go to their new owners.
When: Sunday, Dec. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m.
Where: Oak Harbor Elks Lodge.
Admission: by donation.
For information and all tickets, visit www.bbbsislandcounty.org.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Rebecca Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5052.