The Big Brothers Big Sisters program has been revived in Haines, starting with a presentation Thursday, Oct. 10, for prospective adult volunteers and others interested in the program. The presentation starts 7:30 p.m. at the public library.
Burl Sheldon will lead the presentation. Sheldon, who launched the program here in 2003 and led it seven years, has been hired at 30 hours per week as community director. An office for the program will be established in the coming weeks.
Sarah Elliott, who has recently managed a reduced local program, will continue with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a statewide match support specialist, providing support remotely to BBBS matches around the state. Sheldon will take over about 17 matches Elliott has managed in recent years.
Elimination of a federal grant in 2012 reduced the local program to maintaining matches – not making new ones. The program has been revived with a $1 million state capital grant aimed at improving student test scores.
“Mentoring for Educational Success” will work with school districts toward a goal of achieving a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. The program will provide mentors to students having challenges in the elementary school, targeting students whose assessment test scores show need for improvement.
According to a BBBS press release, “The initiative will provide measurable, positive impact in Haines and in other districts across the state. Big Brothers Big Sisters is now recruiting volunteers as well as working with the community and school district to recruit youth.”
“The emphasis will be on the school program, but that doesn’t preclude a community program,” said Andrea Robb, finance director for Big Brothers Big Sisters statewide.
Sheldon said time off from the program allowed him to complete personal projects and he wants to operate a thriving program, including holding group activities. The number of local matches reached 50 in 2006. “It would be great to see the program operate in the range of 35 to 40 matches. That would be realistic,” he said.
Besides making and fostering new matches, Sheldon’s job will include local fundraising. “We had a strong donor base and the fact that the program lost (federal) funding upset some people… Haines has been very supportive of the program in the past. People tend to think of it as a volunteer service. In reality, it’s a professional service that takes money to run.”
Sheldon said he would be contacting the program’s former donors as well as recruiting community advisor council members.
Robb said the state grant would provide three years’ operation of the school program.
It was unclear this week if funding for a local program would evaporate after the state grant is depleted. Taber Rehbaum, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters statewide, said in the press release that the organization is “working on securing continuing funding.” Sarah Elliott said the state organization’s decision to revive the Haines program is a tribute to the program’s success here.
“Sitka and Haines were (the statewide organization’s) top priorities. We’re pretty fortunate to have a few more years’ (funding) considering what’s going on with the federal government right now,” she said.
Sheldon can be reached at 907-220-7130 or email@example.com.