Innisfree Hotels strives to make a BIG impact in the communities where we do business. So when board members for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida approached founder and CEO Julian MacQueen to request Innisfree’s support in 2013, we were more than a LITTLE excited to help.

Innisfree’s Director of Development Rich Chism serves as a Big Brother for the organization, which pairs mentors (BIGS) with children in need (LITTLES). There is an ongoing need for male volunteers to match with children waiting for a mentor.

Most of the children served by BBBS live in single-parent households, according to the nonprofit’s Director of Marketing & Development, Natalie Chism. Some live with grandparents or other family members, and some with foster families.

“Each child’s circumstance is different, but there is one thing they all share in common – the need for a positive adult role model,” Chism says.

In order to accomplish that mission, BBBS hosts its annual ‘The BIG Gala’ in January of each year. Innisfree is a proud sponsor of the fundraising event, which is held at the Hilton Pensacola Beach – an Innisfree hotel. The venue allows the silent auction to be held outside the ballroom, creating a grand entrance to immerse guests in a new theme each year.

“This amazing event celebrates the many accomplishments of the mentors, children and staff of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Our sponsors are made up of an incredible group of local individuals and businesses that give their time and money to promote the good works of Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Chism says.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters matching process and services are critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and poor life choices. The cost of changing a child’s life is nothing compared to the cost of sending a child through the criminal justice system. For every 100 youth kept out of a juvenile facility, Escambia and Santa Rosa county taxpayers save three to six million dollars per year, Chism reports.

Big Brothers Big Sisters matches mentors with at-risk children. On average, it costs $1,000 to support one match for one year – roughly $2.74 per day. The cost of match services includes orientation, background screening, assessment, matching, case management, travel, activities, volunteer recruitment and match support.

The annual BIG Gala is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida’s largest fundraising event of the year, helping the organization raise awareness for its primary needs. Every dollar raised stays local, supporting the agency and matching services for children.

The goals of the event include raising funds and awareness of the organization’s need for volunteers, sharing the impact of mentoring relationships in the community and educating the public on the various ways they can get involved.

In addition to attending The BIG Gala, consider giving of your time or talents.

“We always need volunteers who want to be matched with a child, but we know timing is always important in someone’s life,” Chism says.

If you can’t commit to becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, you can still join a group called FRIENDS. These are people who help with events, tutor children and make new connections in the community – who only meet in person three or four times a year. You may also choose to make a monetary donation online.

For more information or to learn how you can get involved, please reach out to Natalie Chism at

– Ashley Kahn Salley

Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels