Hometown Hero Dave Yochum Gives Bigs and Littles a Day at the Lake


There may be a growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots," but in a suburb of Charlotte, N.C. there's a dedicated man who's been working hard over the last six years to bridge that gap.

Summer in the city is not always a fun time for those who are struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. Many of these families have a single head of household rather than a couple to share the challenges. Big Brothers Big Sisters offers these children an opportunity to reach their potential by matching them with a mentor who can help fill the void in their lives and inspire them to achieve.

Dave Yochum, owner and editor of Business Today and Cornelius Today newspapers in Cornelius, N.C., was distressed that only those who could afford to live in the expensive waterfront neighborhoods of Lake Norman had full access to the the beautiful lake. So he did something about it.

In 2004 he created a plan to invite the "bigs" and "littles" of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte to enjoy a day of fun, including boating, fishing, tubing and swimming on the exclusive lake. These children would not ordinarily have the opportunity to partake in any of these activities.

Yochum enlisted many of his neighbors and concerned community leaders to serve as "boat hosts" and volunteers so this vision could become a reality. The "Big Day at the Lake" event culminated with a huge picnic made possible by the donations of Duke Energy for the picnic grounds and numerous local companies for the food.

"It's a real joy to see kids, who might not otherwise get out on the lake, put their toes in the water for the first time or tube behind a speedboat for the first time," says Yochum.

His passion for helping those less fortunate didn't allow him to be satisfied with simply planning an awesome event. Yochum wanted to do more for these children, so he created sponsorship opportunities to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters. This enables them to recruit more individuals to become "bigs" and further improve the children's lives.

National research has shown that positive relationships between youth and their Big Brothers and Big Sisters have a direct and measurable impact on children's lives. Little Brothers and Sisters have better odds than their peers; they're more confident, get along better with their families, are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

This was the sixth summer for Yochum's "Big Day at the Lake" and it's grown bigger each year. "This event unites the Lake Norman Community," says John Bradford, owner of Park Avenue Properties. "They embrace the opportunity to give back to those less fortunate and encourage these children to achieve their dreams." Local merchants pitch in with food, beverage and cash donations. Neighbors give generously of their time, money and merchandise for an auction. To date, this event has collected more than $365,000 to support the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Says James Tolliver, vice-president of development at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte: "I've worked with community organizations from Virginia to Georgia over the last 15 years and have never seen a grassroots effort evolve into such a phenomenal success, and I attribute that success to the dedication that Dave Yochum and his wife Tracy have to this program."

Yochum doesn't accept the many accolades that he receives and likes to say that it's the many volunteers who make it all happen. But without his vision and enthusiasm, "Big Day at the Lake" would never happen, and for this reason he is a real hometown hero.

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