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Big Brothers Big Sisters staff poses for a picture on Friday at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley, Minn.

Ali Haupt,

Actor Hill Harper, right, chats with CEO Gloria C. Lewis at the Big Brothers Big Sisters gala on Friday at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley, Minn.

Ali Haupt,

Marvelous mentors

  • Article by: CHRISTY DeSMITH
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 29, 2008 - 11:21 PM

Natty suits, white linen tablecloths and decadent mascarpone desserts -- these are a few of the finer trimmings we found at the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Greater Twin Cities annual meeting. The three-course meal and program was held recently at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley Friday.

On one hand, it was an opportunity for young mentees to experience their first professional, business-style luncheon. But it was also a tool with which BBBS board members and employees recruited more mentors. Many invited siblings, colleagues and other guests.

So the proceedings were formal, but they certainly weren't stuffy. Sheletta Brundidge, the local blogger and media personality who emceed the affair, added a touch of levity. She openly fawned over the beautiful tweed ensemble worn by local BBBS president Gloria C. Lewis: "I can't believe you can get those kinds of suits at TJ Maxx," announced Brundidge.

"Is it really from TJ Maxx?" we asked Lewis later. "No," she said flatly.

Keynote speaker Hill Harper is a wiry Hollywood actor starring in the CBS drama "CSI: NY." But he moonlights as a motivational speaker and author as well as an advocate for BBBS. On this day, his address underscored the importance of "spending time with young people."

Afterward, at a reception in the adjoining sunroom, attendees lined up to meet this dynamo. Harper posed for photos. He signed autographs. He even closed the deal with at least one recruit, Tracy Giesen -- he suggested she take a mentee grocery shopping or invite her for Sunday dinner. "Thank you," said Giesen, as she vigorously shook Harper's hand. "It was the inspiration I needed."

We took this opportunity to mingle with some of the "Bigs," as the mentors are called, and their youthful sidekicks. Doron Clark, an executive at Target Corp. who just announced his candidacy for Minneapolis City Council, explained why he participates: "My dad died when I was 9. I had a lot of great mentors, so I thought I'd continue that cycle."

Fortunately for Clark, he's paired with the spunkiest, most likable kid around: a 16-year-old St. Paulite named Jeffrey who has a broad, though slightly mischievous smile. (BBBS does not allow minors to give their last names.) What do he and Clark do when they're hanging out? "We play racquetball," answered Jeffrey. "I always win."

Christy DeSmith is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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