Boston Partners honors Big Cheese Reader Darren Donovan; Boston Music Award winner Will Dailey performs

May 8, 2020Boston Partners in Education, a Boston-based nonprofit that matches volunteer mentors with Boston Public Schools (BPS) students for in-classroom support, raised over $475,000 from donors and sponsors at its first-ever Virtual Big Cheese Reads Gala. This year would have marked the 16th consecutive year for the in-person Gala, before the COVID-19 pandemic nearly cancelled the annual event altogether. Instead, the Gala was given a new life online, utilizing a platform from partners at Traction on Demand that relied on Zoom.

“The theme of our Gala this year was “connecting the city to the classroom,” which is something that becomes more difficult – and even more critical – in the current environment,” said Erin McGrath, Executive Director of Boston Partners in Education. “It was important to us that we find a reason to celebrate right now, while also finding a way to bring everyone together in support of public education.”

The virtual event drew nearly 200 people from all over the US and Canada on May 7. Funds were raised through sponsorships (77%), individual contributions (21%), auction proceeds (2%), and represent 40% of the organization’s annual fundraising goal. Over $365,000 in sponsorships were pledged leading up to the virtual event. Since the beginning of the public health crisis, nearly $125,000 was raised for the event, with $35,000 contributed during the Gala.

“I think the virtual event was a testament to the power of that connection, not only for students, but for Boston Partners in Education as well,” said McGrath. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we had a series of difficult decisions to make – trying to reschedule an in-person event or pivoting to an asking campaign were also on the table. In the end, moving to a virtual format, while challenging, was the best choice for maintaining our connections with our community.”

The event also helped launch Boston Partners’ Boston Uplifts Our Youth (#buoyBPS) video campaign – a citywide movement aiming to provide messages of hope and encouragement to Boston Public Schools students. The evening was highlighted by the campaign’s launch video, which included an inspiring message from prominent Boston leaders who have already signed on to the campaign, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, BPS Superintendent, Dr. Brenda Cassellius, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross. Click here to watch the campaign video.

To stitch together the virtual event, seven-time Boston Music Award-winning musician Will Dailey performed songs from his latest record, Golden Walker. The Virtual Gala marked the latest stop on Dailey’s “Isolation Tour,” a series of home concerts to raise funds for Boston communities affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

“The great human pay-off of being in a live concert, engaging in one moment together or just seeing a face right in front of you – this is what we’re trying to do with mentorship, too” said Dailey. “Just like the connection you create with an audience at a live concert, the connection built between a student and a mentor, face-to-face, can’t be replaced.” 

Darren Donovan, Managing Principal of the Boston Hub at KPMG, LLP, was the Virtual Gala’s honoree and delivered the evening’s keynote speech. A former member of Boston Partners’ Board of Directors and an annual Big Cheese Reader, Donovan called his time spent with BPS students, “the highlight of my day, week, and year.” Donovan described how the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated many of the challenges BPS students face, including the socio-emotional hardships associated with distance learning. He concluded the keynote with a call for increased support for youth mentoring programs, calling them “more essential now than ever.”

Boston 25 News anchor Vanessa Welch (who is also a Big Cheese Reader) provided the Virtual Gala’s introduction. Click here to watch the message from Vanessa Welch.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures, Boston Partners in Education had reached over 2,400 students in 52 Boston Public Schools with the help of over 500 volunteer mentors this year. Boston Partners is continuing to work with the Boston Public Schools to find ways to match students through virtual mentoring programs for the remainder of the school year. Established in 1966, Boston Partners in Education mobilizes community members to serve as weekly volunteer academic mentors to K-12 students in the Boston Public Schools.