Solana Beach Big Brothers Big Sisters board member brings largest fundraiser to life


For the second year, Solana Beach’s Tom van Betten helped bring Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County’s largest fundraiser to life.

The 54th annual Gourmet Dinner Oct. 20 at Hyatt Regency at La Jolla Aventine was another success, raising nearly $800,000 for the nonprofit organization.

“This was the biggest and best year ever,” said van Betten, Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County board member and Gourmet Dinner chair.

A longtime supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County, van Betten has served on the organization’s Board of Directors since 2011. Prior to the board, he volunteered on the organization’s Gourmet Dinner Committee.

This was his second consecutive year as board chair of the Gourmet Dinner. From selling tables to soliciting auction items, he had his hand in just about everything in the sold-out event. About 700 people attended the event.

“People had a great time,” said van Betten, who has lived in either Del Mar or Solana Beach since 2001.

Although van Betten has worked on other boards, this is his first time serving on the board of a nonprofit organization. It was an easy decision to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County, he said, because it is an effective organization that makes change in the community.

“I really believe that it works,” he said. “One-on-one mentoring works.”

For more than 100 years nationally and 55 years locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters has created and supported mentoring relationships, matching adult volunteers known as “Bigs” with children called “Littles.”

Locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County serves children ages 7-21 through six distinct programs. These include Amachi, a program for children with an incarcerated parent; High School Bigs, after school one-to-one mentoring programs; Community Mentoring, the traditional one-to-one mentoring program; Operation Bigs, a program serving children with active military parents; Big Futures, education and career support; and Healthy Futures, a health and wellness mentoring program.

“Every year we’re pushing it and achieving more,” van Betten said. “It’s been really fun to be part of such a well-organized, well-run nonprofit.”

Since coming on board, van Betten, who has worked in commercial real estate for 25 years, has served on the board development and fundraising committees. He was also instrumental in negotiating the lease when Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County moved its headquarters to City Heights in 2014 and donated his commission to the organization.

Van Betten currently serves as managing director of commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield’s Tenant Representation division. He is also co-owner of the Saddle Bar in Solana Beach, where he has held another fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County.

“A lot of our revenue is driven by events,” van Betten said. “We are run almost exclusively by donations.”

This year’s Gourmet Dinner, Van Betten said, raised nearly $800,000 and netted $650,000, which is a $200,000 increase from 2015 and a $100,000 increase from 2014.

Funds raised help support the programs, which research has found help Littles become more confident of their performance in schoolwork and get along better with their families. According to a study that looked at more than 950 boys and girls from eight Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the country, researchers also found that after 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, Little Brothers and Little Sisters, compared to children not in the program, were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, 52 percent less likely to skip school, 37 percent less likely to skip a class, and 33 percent less likely to hit someone.

In addition to donations, the organization is always looking for volunteers, and in particular, men.

In fact, boys make up 70 percent of Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County’s waiting list, but just 30 percent of incoming volunteers are men.

“It really isn’t the kids that we’re having trouble finding, it’s the Big Brothers and the Big Sisters,” van Betten said.

Except for the High School Big School-Based Program, volunteers must be at least 18 years old, have a valid social security number and be available to volunteer in the San Diego area for at least one year.

Interested volunteers are encouraged to attend volunteer info sessions. The next sessions are 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8 at Price Charities Building in San Diego and 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15 at Frank Motors Conference Room in National City. Visit to register.

“The Big also really gets something out of it,” van Betten said. “They really feel good about what they’ve been able to share.”