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The annual Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona benefit gala returns to Tucson next month.

Domnique Barnes was wracked with grief after she lost her aunt five years ago, sending her mother to search for an outlet for the then 12-year-old. 

The Barnes family turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona, which pairs at-risk youth with adults who serve as surrogate siblings.

Fast forward a half-decade, and Barnes, now a senior at Rincon High School, is on the cusp of becoming one of the first members of her family to graduate high school. 

Barnes said none of it would be possible were it not for the bond she built with her “big sister,” Nichole, who she refers to as a role model. 

“I am very grateful for Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Barnes said. “I always say this because I genuinely mean it. The program means a lot to me because it helped me connect with Nichole. Without her, I feel like I wouldn’t be in the place I am today.”

Barnes plans on attending college, though she hasn’t decided where. Her efforts have earned her the BBBS 2019 Voice of Potential, given out to an outstanding “little” who has been enrolled in the program for more than two years, and who’s enthusiastic about the BBBS mission. 

Barnes will receive training in public speaking, a $500 scholarship and a new laptop computer as part of her award. She will receive those gifts at the nonprofit’s annual gala, held at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Saturday, Oct. 5. 

There are countless others who share similar stories to Barnes, with 600 little brothers and sisters currently enrolled in the program.

Few within the program’s leadership know Barnes’ experience better than longtime board member and former little, Adam Churchill. 

Churchill, who grew up in Canada, joined his local BBBS chapter as a child in the early ’80s, when he was 8 years old. 

That bond between Churchill and his big brother, Stephen, lasts to this day. The pair still reconnects in Tucson. 

Churchill, who moved to Southern Arizona to take a job with Bombardier Aerospace in 2005, decided to join the local chapter’s board after moving to town. 

The value of having organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters is crucial in helping youth overcome the obstacles that come from unstable home environments, Churchill said. 

He’s thankful to Stephen and everyone who helped him navigate the tricky aspects of adolescence and is thrilled to help the next generation of kids experience the same support. 

“I’m just truly thankful and grateful for that relationship, because it definitely set me up for who I am today and some of the challenges that I’ve been able to overcome throughout my life,” Churchill said. “It’s definitely a big credit to my big brother and my mom.” 

It’s that connection and purpose that’s behind BBBS, according to CEO Maria Logan, with volunteers and staff spending more than 26,000 hours with their little brothers and sisters. 

Logan said the nonprofit serves a vital niche in town, as it allows at-risk youth like Churchill and Barnes to connect and share their experiences with someone who truly cares about their wellbeing. 

She’s thrilled that BBBS of Southern Arizona is able to help so many clients, with an eye on building their numbers in the future, given their current waitlist of 200 children and 100 high school-aged Tucsonans. 

“Our vision is that all children and youth achieve their full potential,” Logan said. “Our mission is to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and the promise of youth. Our program is a one-to-one mentoring program for children facing adversity in Southern Arizona.”

Logan said the experience of working with BBBS, either as a big or a little brother or sister, is a symbiotic one for all involved. 

She hopes that everyone in the community realizes that the local chapter, which dates back to 1963, is there for anyone in need of assistance, and that they’ll support the organization’s mission in whatever way they can. 

“I’ve been the CEO in Tucson for seven years. I’ve been with Big Brothers Big Sisters across the country for over 20 years,” Logan said. “What I enjoy most about my job is seeing the joy on the kids’ faces when they meet their bigs, and when I talk to them and they tell me about how their big is making such a difference in their lives.

“And when I meet adults that were former littles in our program, and they tell me that the relationship was transformational for them. I just know that the work that we’re doing literally changes lives in such a positive and impactful way.”

The 2019 BBBS of Southern Arizona Big Gala, Shaken Not Stirred, takes place Saturday, Oct. 5 at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive, starting at 5 p.m. more information and tickets can be found online at e-activist.com/page/43027/event/1.

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