After serving the community for more than 35 years, the local Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate is shutting its doors.
The board of directors for the service organization voted to shut down operations at its July 5 meeting, according to a news release Tuesday.
“It’s very heartbreaking for us to have to come to terms with this decision,” said Cecelia Cloos, president of the board of directors.
During her 10 years of work with the organization, Cloos said, two changes led to the organization shutting down: a lack of funding and declining interest among mentors.
As a volunteer organization, Cloos said BBBS received a great deal of its funding from the United Way, charity events like “Bowl for Kids’ Sake” and individual fundraising efforts. The capital was needed to fund the case manager roles for each county and for liability insurance, Cloos said.
BBBS is a national organization that pairs adult volunteers with children in need of mentorship, especially from traditionally underserved communities or those referred to the program by families, schools or social organizations.
There were certainly enough children interested in the region to warrant a program: At times, Cloos said, there were “thousands” of names referred to the agency for potential matches. She believes a recent local increase in single-parent homes led to increased interest in BBBS, a notion supported by national data. In Christian County, 39 percent of children in family households live with a single parent, according to County Health Rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Cloos said case managers tried to keep the waiting list at 100 names, in order to get to know the “Bigs” — adults — and “Littles” — children — and make appropriate matches.
Cloos credited several reasons they could not find enough adults to meet this demand.
“With the economy the way that it has been … it’s hard for employers to let their employees off work during the day to mentor,” Cloos said, also admitting activities outside the normal work day did not fare much better. “It takes a special person to be a mentor.”
Attorney Lucius Hawes and his wife, Ruth, have worked with the program for the past four or five years, Lucius said over the phone Wednesday morning. With Ruth serving on the agency’s board, the Hawes volunteered to mentor a little brother and little sister, who are actual siblings.
“I think it’s been a nice, rewarding relationship,” Lucius said.
The collapse of the BBBS does not mean the Hawes or any other Bigs will have to stop mentoring, he said.
“These relationships are like any other: If they work, they work. If they don’t, they don’t,” he said. “If they work, there’s no reason for them to end if the organization that started them ends.”
Cloos said the organization is ending with 25 matches, and she is encouraging the continuation of those bonds through mentoring programs offered in each local school district.
The mentoring service started in Christian County in the early 1970s as Buddies, Inc., the news release states. The group was officially affiliated with BBBS in 1974, and spread to serve communities in Trigg, Todd and Calloway counties. Although the affiliation with Todd County ended several years ago, Cloos said the case managers for the other three counties and Executive Director Jim Wille would lose their jobs as a result of the closure.
BBBS will stop operations July 31, and Cloos wanted to thank everyone who participated in the program.
REACH DAVE BOUCHER at 270-887-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.