Donor to help save Big Brothers Big Sisters program

An anonymous donor has come forward to allow the Lowcountry’s only community-based, one-on-one mentoring program to continue operating for now.

“We are really excited,” said program Director Qaitlin Peterson of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Carolina Youth Development Center. “We get to serve all of the youth that we absolutely love serving and we get to keep our jobs.”

Last week, Big Brothers Big Sisters, which provides mentors for at-risk children ages 6 to 16, announced it would close Aug. 7 due to a funding shortfall.

Three years ago, a major funding source decreased from $80,000 to $20,000 annually, causing financial strain. Since then, the program has struggled to secure private donations and grants, said CYDC Chief Executive Officer Barbara Kelley-Duncan.

“It was our hope that a donor would come forward and help save this critical program, which is the only one of its kind in the tri-county area,” Kelley-Duncan said.

On Thursday, a benefactor came forward with a gift that lets the program continue offering support services to the agency’s 114 existing matches and to accept new participants, Peterson said. It also allows her and the program’s two other employees to keep their jobs.

“I’m not at liberty to disclose the amount (of the donation),” she said. “And we are not even aware of who the donor is, but we are so grateful for this opportunity to stay open.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters “is an expensive model,” Kelley-Duncan said. “We do the training, the background checks; we continuously provide support services to both the families of the littles and the volunteers, and so there’s a lot of work that goes in. It’s not just match a child and then we are gone. We are with you for the duration of the match.”

Research shows that the one-to-one professionally guided mentoring model used by Big Brothers Big Sisters makes a positive impact on the lives of youth, according to the program. After 18 months of spending time with their Bigs, Littles are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 52 percent less likely to skip school and are more confident of their performance in their schoolwork, according to a study.

“We talked to a lot of the families (about closing),” Peterson said. “Having to tell them, especially the parents who had middle-schooler children and high-schoolers, that there were no other options for them was very difficult. It’s been hard having those conversations with parents. It’s so much easier to have the conversation of, ‘We’re open and we’re going to stay open.’ ”

The program is not yet out of the woods, officials said.

“While this generous offer allows us to continue the program for the immediate future, we need the support of the community as we develop a long-term funding plan to ensure the long-term sustainability of this valuable community program,” said David Santos, chair of the CYDC Board of Directors.

Since 1979, Big Brothers Big Sisters has served more than 8,000 children across the Lowcountry. Children who participate in the programs are less likely to participate in risky behavior and more likely to attend higher education, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.