Big Night Fundraiser Attracts Staubachs, Guests and Feathered Friends

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

How would you plan a big night? Would it include gourmet Tapas with craft beer and wine? How about music – maybe a live band? You must have a S’mores bar outside complete with marshmallow roasting fire pit. What about a bird show?

That was Big Thought Big Night at Trinity River Audubon Center. Our version of a big night highlighted Marianne and Roger Staubach, 250 guests, and four feathered friends.

Big Thought’s inaugural Big Night raised $126,535 to help close the educational opportunity gap for under-resourced children in Dallas. The casual-attired event, with TRAC’s 120-acre nature preserve as a backdrop, featured live music by Paradise In the Sun, a stocked bar loaded with craft beer and wine, delish finger foods that tasted as good as it looked, a S’mores bar overlooking the beautifully tranquil landscape.

Guests included Marianne and Roger Staubach, the evening’s Honorary Chairs; Melora and Bill Leiser, the Event Chairs; Big Thought President and CEO Gigi Antoni and her husband Dana Mullen. Also in attendance were Big Night Co-Chairs Alison and DeWitt Corrigan, Trish Parks, Giles Davidson, Emeka Anyanwu, and Irene Hosford.

We had many Big Thought Board Members in attendance including: Bill Albers, Phylecia Bare, Eric Brewer, Jennifer Chandler, Shaun Dowling, Melissa McNeil, Jeanette Johnson, Rina Parikh, Dan Patino, Pat Porter, Carol Riddick, Byron Sanders, Ketric Sanford, Kay McCallum, Terri and Steve Simoni, Joe Stout, Holly Tucker, and Larry Whitt.

Other notable attendees: Emily and David Corrigan, Maggie Corrigan, Haily Summerford, and many others.

The Window to the Wild bird show was certainly the hit of the evening. Window to the Wild co-founders Lindsey and Simon McNeny introduced us to four fine-feathered friends – a great horned owl, a black vulture, a Harris hawk and a screech owl. They flew for treats, perched on pedestals, and even landed atop one guest wearing a towering hat resembling a tree stump.

“Big Night was so wonderful,” said Melora Leiser, Big Night Chair and Big Thought Board Member. “Many people told me that they had a magical time. Roger and Marianne both said they hadn’t had that much fun at a fundraiser in a long time!”

The evening also included dancing, mingling, an Owl Prowl nighttime stroll, raffle giveaways, a student art exhibit themed to Where the Wild Things Are, naturally, and an inspirational call-and-repeat from DaVerse Lounge mentor Alejandro Pérez Jr.

“We all had a wonderful time on Friday at Big Thought Big Night,” said Deniz Usbug, Marketing Manager, IPS Advisors.

“Thank you again for the opportunity to learn more about Big Thought. The Big Thought team did a great job and every last detail was so well attended to from the food to the music.”

We would like to express deep gratitude to our sponsors Kroger, QuikTrip, Capital One, IPS Advisors, and Independent Bank for their generous support.



Big ThoughtBig Night Fundraiser Attracts Staubachs, Guests and Feathered Friends

Dallas Fed Forum Banks on Education

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The truth about education and the economy is direct, piercing – one dramatically influences the other.

To further drive home the point, there’s this: Educational achievement strongly predicts economic growth throughout the United States. Lack of education is highly correlated with unemployment and poverty.

Those are sobering facts when you consider that by the year 2020, 64 percent of jobs in the US will require education beyond high school, and 35 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet in Dallas only 13 percent of high school students graduate with the readiness to succeed in a post-secondary educational environment. This issue is essential to the economic condition and the welfare of our city and state.

But there is hope. And where there is hope, there is opportunity.

An auditorium filled with business, community and civic leaders who want to make a difference were moved by two hours of anecdotes, problems and proposed solutions during the “Educational Attainment: A Pathway to Prosperity” forum Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Speakers painted a passionate picture that helped to humanize the numbers and offered concrete, feasible answers. The call-to-action tone of the event was clearly set by a welcome from Alfreda B. Norman, Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and an inspiring address by Rob Kaplan, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Guest speakers and presenters included Florence Shapiro, Board of Trustees, Communities Foundation of Texas; Ann Stern, President, Houston Endowment; Gigi Antoni, President and CEO, Big Thought; Todd Williams, Executive Director, The Commit! Partnership; and Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO, Year Up.

Opportunity quickly became the morning’s buzzword. Antoni talked about the opportunity gap that unsteadies the educational playing field. Children living in poverty are affected by the opportunity gap almost three times as much as kids living in better resourced environments.

Chertavian, whose Year Up will expand to Dallas this fall, delivered this potent sentence: “Talent is distributed everywhere, but opportunity is not.” Year Up is all about a new opportunity. The organization takes young adults, think 18-24, who are disconnected, under-educated, and chronically under-employed but are seeking a chance to change.

Year Up works with these young adults, and in one year’s time they are equipped with the marketable skills and support that makes them ready for a professional job. Year Up partners with leading US employers that need the very talent they are grooming for success.

Shapiro emphasized the burgeoning Early College High School concept in Texas (108 campuses so far), while Stern touted the EMERGE-HISD program that prepares talented Houston ISD students from under-served communities to attend and graduate from top colleges and universities. EMERGE has an 80 percent success rate.

Antoni offered innovative opportunities for children to experience the benefits of summer learning. She focused on Dallas City of Learning and its work with LRNG, the national endeavor to close the opportunity gap by transforming how young people access and experience learning.

In its pilot summer of 2014, 45 percent of the students participating in Dallas City of Learning were economically disadvantaged. In summer 2015, that number jumped to 70 percent. Through local program partners and online experiences, students can tap into new interests, develop new skills and explore and expand existing interests.

Dallas City of Learning is an initiative that is a true public-private citywide commitment convened by both the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD, managed by Big Thought, and supported by a large network of organizations such as museums, libraries, parks, rec centers and neighborhood organizations. Big Thought sincerely thanks its DCOL donors for generous support.

Opportunity kept spirits high at the forum. Where there is opportunity, there is triumph. Investing in the opportunities that advance educational attainment for young people is putting money into our future. That’s always hopeful.




Big ThoughtDallas Fed Forum Banks on Education

Hearts and Cookies Fueled Carver’s Valentine’s Day Dance

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The sweet scent wafted through the cafeteria. It was that heady aroma of frosted cookies, Hawaiian Punch and childhood adrenalin. The backdrop: Red, lots of red, and a sea of hearts.

The third annual Valentine’s Day Dance at George Washington Carver Learning Center cranked into drive Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. The dance, part of Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School program at Carver, attracted 315 attendees, including kids from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, parents, teachers, volunteers and the thumping beats of DJ Flip.

For two hours, late afternoon to early evening, kids got to shed their uniforms and don their Sunday best. Dresses, hair bows, bow ties, vests, lacquered shoes, stockings and pin-striped slacks gave the children a new look, a new attitude and a chance to let loose with classmates.

“It builds up their social skills, their self-esteem,” says Maria Elena Ochoa, Community Liaison at George Washington Carver Learning Center. “They came in their party dress. They feel special, like a Cinderella story. The parents are proud of their children. This is where they get to show their best. When they come in, it’s magical.”

This being a Valentine’s Day Dance meant you needed a Royal Court. There was a duke and duchess for 3rd grade, a prince and princess for 4th grade, and a king and queen for 5th grade. Teachers nominated one male and one female student each based on attendance (5 absences or less), good character, grades (C average or higher in all classes), and positive behavior.

Each nominated student was then asked to write down three reasons why fellow students should vote for him or her at the dance. Teachers manned the voting booth, a colorful candy hearts themed station that drew a steady stream of kids casting ballots. The votes were tallied and it was time for the winners.

All members of the George Washington Carver Learning Center’s Carver’s Royal Family received certificates of distinction.  The winners were: Duke Jordan Smith and Duchess Kyndall Carroll; Prince Kenyon Valentine and Princess Hailey Lewis; King Stephen Lampkins and Queen Tanija Jones.

The crowd roared during the crowning. There was major excitement in the room especially since the dance contests had just stirred all of the kids into a dancing frenzy.

Nothing gets kids going like dancing, agrees Brooke Scott. Her children, Kayla Scott, 7, and Travis Ridge, 10, were at the dance. They are Thriving Minds kids who have been active for three years. Kayla takes dance classes while Travis goes for basketball. Scott says that both teach valuable teamwork.

But about the dance, Scott had nothing but praise: “The dance is pretty cool,” she says. “All the kids like coming. Kids like to dance, so they love it.”

Big Thought and Thriving Minds thanks local sponsors Mercy Street, Serve West Dallas, ARK, Readers 2 Leaders, Park Cities Presbyterian Church, Southern Methodist University, Capital Bank, Girls Scouts of North Texas, Jargon Group, Boys Scouts of America, Junior Players, Watermark Church, Lakewest Family YMCA, and West Dallas Community Centers for their generous support.


Big ThoughtHearts and Cookies Fueled Carver’s Valentine’s Day Dance

Federal Reserve Bank Forum Provides Pathway for Prosperity

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The numbers speak volumes: By 2020, 64 percent of jobs in the United States will require education beyond high school, and 35 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet in Dallas, only 13 percent of high school students graduate with the readiness to triumph in a post-secondary educational environment.

And as 80 percent of K-12 students in Texas stay within their local communities after they graduate high school, these educational barriers are affecting not only the students and their families, but also the entire neighborhoods they call home.

The time is right for a call to action. Business, community and civic leaders are invited to attend “Educational Attainment: A Pathway to Prosperity,” a breakfast forum hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to be held Feb. 23, 2016 from 7:15 to 9:45 am at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 2200 N. Pearl Street.

Speakers for the event include Alfreda B. Norman, Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Rob Kaplan, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Florence Shapiro, Board of Trustees, Communities Foundation of Texas; Ann Stern, President, Houston Endowment; Gigi Antoni, President and CEO, Big Thought; Todd Williams, Executive Director, Commit! Partnership; and Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO, Year Up.

Topics include “Student Success and Leadership,” “Out of School Time: Access to Quality Learning Opportunities Outside the Classroom,” “Collective Impact: Aligning for Success,” and “Introducing Year Up!”

There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. To register, please click here. We hope to see you on the morning of February 23, 2016.

Big ThoughtFederal Reserve Bank Forum Provides Pathway for Prosperity

Angels Provide Christmas Gifts for Village Oaks Kids

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

There are angels among us. This time every year we get a chance to straighten and polish our crooked, tarnished halos simply by picking a child’s name off a Christmas tree.

That angelic paper cutout is then transformed into a gift that brings real joy to a kid with not enough during the holidays.

The Angel Tree is a nationally recognized symbol of Christmas charity. For more than four decades, the Angel Tree has been a signpost to illustrate the genuine spirit of giving inherent in that beloved day.

Here at Big Thought we put up our first Angel Tree earlier this month and immediately embraced the beauty of benevolence. The tree was dotted with 47 angels, each angel representing a child in our Thriving Minds After-School program at Village Oaks.

The idea for the Angel Tree to benefit the children of Village Oaks came from James Adams, Big Thought’s Programs Manager, who had participated in the Angel Tree tradition before.

“The desire was to have a tree with angels on it,” says Adams. “Every time you take an angel, a present appeared under the tree. It’s the magic of Christmas. I wanted these kids to experience that magic.”

So on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, the Village Oaks kids enjoyed their angels. The Village Oaks Community Center was abuzz with kids ages 5-14, with adult volunteers, and with members of the Big Thought team.

Volunteers Allison and DeWitt Corrigan, principals in Big Thought’s Young Professionals chapter, gave of their time and money to man the Christmas stockings table. They had a captive bunch busily glittering the stockings and then stuffing them with candy. Glitter was everywhere – on the table, on the floor, on hands and even faces. Clean up was, well, not a breeze.

But it’s worth it, because the children had a spectacular time. They also decorated Christmas cookies, and then sat down one by one to open presents. Nine-year-old Eimani, 5-year-old Josiah, 8-year-old Michael, 10-year-old De’Nyrion, 9-year-old Elijah, 6-year-old Sandel, 4-year-old Mariah and 14-year-old Corey, to name a few, ripped through colorful wrapping paper to reveal headphones, toy cars, coloring books, puzzles, an origami kit and even a Holy Bible.

We took pictures. We laughed. We hugged. We tried to keep order among the festive chaos. But mostly we relished the opportunity to be angels for angels. Take a look around; angels are everywhere.

We appreciate the continued support of the Rees-Jones Foundation and the Hillcrest Foundation, as well as our collaborating partnership with Behind Every Door.

Big ThoughtAngels Provide Christmas Gifts for Village Oaks Kids

Dallas ISD, City of Dallas and Big Thought Unite for Summer Learning

By Gigi Antoni, President and CEO

Summer is our huge opportunity to do something really important for every child in Dallas. It is the time of year to provide children with rich learning experiences outside of the classroom. We have the resources right here in our city. We have the power to transform young lives.

Research has shown since the ‘70s that summer is a time for learning loss, a time when children go hungry, a time when children are the victims of crime, and a time when there is significant erosion of social-emotional learning. This is particularly true in Dallas because one out of three children live in poverty. The impact on the achievement gap is that children not engaged in summer learning fall behind as much as two months each summer, and that loss is cumulative. Without intervention, a student could lag behind as much as two grade levels by the time they reach the sixth grade.

But Dallas has a track record of coming together as a community. Our city has diligently rallied to improve early childhood education, combat homelessness, raise the quality of public school education and provide rich arts learning. As we come together to prioritize supports and interventions that keep our children on a path for success, we can’t afford to ignore the importance of summer learning.

Dallas ISD and the City of Dallas, including the mayor’s office, have made a commitment to addressing this critical need in summer. The district has long been working on summer learning through their 7-year relationship with the Wallace Foundation as a partner for Big Thought’s Thriving Minds Summer Camp program – one of five initiatives selected as a national demonstration site for summer learning. The district brought together the philanthropic community, the business community, and the nonprofit community as allies in the need for summer learning.

Two years ago, Mayor Mike Rawlings started an effort in Dallas to combat the summer slide and give students a tangible pathway to a career. What started out as a small pilot and one of five national vanguard cities as part of the Cities of Learning endeavor (now LRNG) supported by the MacArthur Foundation, has now grown into a citywide initiative engaging more than 34,000 youth and projected to increase to 100,000 youth in three years – Dallas City of Learning.

Dallas City of Learning is a public-private citywide commitment to ensure all students have access to summer learning opportunities as we collectively combat summer learning loss and the growing opportunity gap that disproportionally affects low-income youth. Thanks to a new digital platform powered by LRNG, we can connect youth to in-person and online educational experiences provided by hundreds of partners both nationally and locally, while deploying technology and programs to our most underserved neighborhoods and raising the quality of instruction in summer.

Dallas City of Learning, which is managed by Big Thought, will be a system with shared benefits, fueled by school-based summer learning led by Dallas ISD and community-based summer learning led by the city of Dallas and hundreds of community partners. It will be scalable, featuring integrated and blended learning, with a powerful shared online searchable database. The target is K-12, giving children in all grade levels a combination of high-quality summer programs merging academics and enrichment as well as providing programs and events designed for students to discover their talents, connect with their peers, and prepare for jobs.

The community will have access to data that helps us understand what neighborhoods are being served and where the gaps are. When you combine all of our resources, not to mention our enthusiastic motivation, it’s clear that all of these factors are coming together and leveraging each other so that we can serve more students.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa unveiled their plan to a room full of friends and supporters Dec. 14 during a private luncheon hosted by long-time supporter, Deedie Rose. The event introduced their strong relationships with the city, the school district, the business and nonprofit communities. The luncheon gave us all a forum to discuss the benefits and challenges of making sure Dallas students keep learning during summer.

Summer is important. We are ready to double-down on summer as a community. We are prepared to give every child in Dallas the opportunity to blossom educationally and socially.

Big ThoughtDallas ISD, City of Dallas and Big Thought Unite for Summer Learning