LA JOLLA — Young Jaden, 7, staked out a spot for himself in the doorway of the media lounge at the 47th annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Gourmet Dinner at the Hyatt Regency on Oct. 22.
He and his Big Brother, Chad Black, were there to sell raffle tickets when an attractive couple whisked toward them. After greeting the woman, Jaden didn’t waste a second before hitting up her husband for a donation. The man complied, pulling out a money clip and purchasing $100 worth of tickets. Then he took a minute to visit with the young man.
What Jaden didn’t realize was he was talking to T. Boone Pickens, one of the richest men in America. Pickens and wife, Madeleine, were honored guests at the gala as Big Brothers Big Sisters’ “Persons of the Year” for their many philanthropic endeavors.
The T. Boone Pickens Foundation has given more than $700 million to a wide range of philanthropic initiatives. Madeleine Pickens is an advocate for saving America’s wild horses and animal welfare issues. Together the Pickenses have invested part of their legacy into the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Military Mentoring Program, providing challenge grants to 22 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the country, including San Diego County.
More than 550 people attended the nonprofit’s major fundraiser, which featured a live auction and the organization’s Fund-a-Match auction, which gives attendees the opportunity to pledge to support a “Big” and “Little” mentoring relationship, which costs approximately $1,400 per year.
Serving as emcee was Lynn Swann, NFL Hall of Famer, sports broadcaster and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America board member. He was effervescent in his support of the organization.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters is the oldest and most successful mentoring program in the world,” he said. “We have proven and quantifiable results. It’s more important than ever to step up and help young people move forward.”
The focus of this year’s festivities was a salute to the military and the Big Brothers Big Sisters Operation Bigs program, which serves children of deployable Marines and sailors in San Diego.
Jaden is a participant in the program while his father serves in the Navy.
Despite the weak economy, more than $400,000 in net proceeds was raised. One surprise during the evening was an unexpected gift by the Pickens who decided to “round-off” the $124,000 raised during the Fund-a-Match auction by donating $76,000 for a total of $200,000.
The live auction brought in approximately $75,000 with two donors paying $10,000 each for dinner for 20 friends at a new, unnamed restaurant scheduled to open next summer by celebrity chefs Brian Malarkey and James Brennan.
“During these challenging times, we have reduced expenses without reducing program services to children,” said Paul Palmer, CEO and president of Big Brothers Big Sisters San Diego County. “In fact, with fewer resources, the agency is now serving more children than ever before. The funds raised through the Gourmet Dinner will help us recover the shortfall from decreased funding and will help us achieve serving over 1,600 children this year with life-changing programs and services.”
The event chair was Greg Anton, president and executive producer of Anton Creative Group.