Deficit forces closure of Peninsula Big Brothers Big Sisters branch

PORT TOWNSEND — More than 150 North Olympic Peninsula children will have to say goodbye next Friday to the adults who have mentored them, as the Seattle-based Big Brothers Big Sisters pulls the plug on the branch program unless last-minute funds come in.

The office on Sims Way in Port Townsend will close on Nov. 20 after nearly five years of operation.

Affected will be the 150 school-based partnerships in Jefferson County and the seven school-based pairings at Roosevelt and Dry Creek Elementary schools in Port Angeles.

Community-based pairings in Jefferson County will have limited funding.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national organization that matches children, or “littles,” with adults, or “bigs,” to provide them with role models and positive influences that may be lacking in their family lives.

Port Townsend resident Mike Morrissey, 66, said the closure of the program will be a loss for the community.

He has been a Big for four years, first in Portland, now in Port Townsend. He has mentored three teen and preteen boys. His current match is 13-year-old Zac, a student at Blue Heron Middle School.

“So many kids get so much out of this –there’s nothing that can replace it,” he said. “Just the fact that there’s another adult who is interested in them gives them a better sense of themselves, a stronger ego.”

Finances

Leisl Slabaugh, branch manager for the office that serves Jefferson and Clallam counties, said the decision to close the branch was based on finances.

The branch had been operating at a deficit, and the parent organization decided it could no longer support it.

With an annual budget of $167,000, the local group’s contribution was never more than $50,000, and averaged $30,000 to $40,000, she said.

“We’re pretty certain we will be closing Big Brothers-Big Sisters, but if the community support comes forward, we will look at ways of keeping mentoring alive in the community,” Slabaugh added.

Many thousands needed

She noted that they would need $50,000 to $90,000 by next Friday to stay open, but acknowledged that was unlikely to happen.

She said the bulk of the budget, $112,000, went to salaries for the three paid staffers.

Their tasks included recruiting mentors and children, screening candidates, training them and matching adults with children.

“It’s not as simple as just putting people together,” she said. “Research shows that the more structured and professional a program is, the better the outcome.”

Some matches funded

Although the school-based programs will end, the regional office, Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Puget Sound will provide limited financing for the 50 community-based matches in Jefferson County, Slabaugh said.

School-based matches meet once a month at the students’ school, while community-based matches partake in activities outside of school.

The Port Angeles program just started this school year, taking over for a mentoring program run by the YMCA of Clallam County.

An Americorp volunteer, Samantha Garwood, was in the process of establishing more matches in Port Angeles when she got word that the program –and her job –would end.

She said there were seven matches active in Port Angeles and quite a few applications for both mentors and students at the two participating schools.

“The goal was to get established at those two schools before expanding,” she said.

According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound Web site: “By matching children with adult mentors in one-to-one relationships, we transform the life of a child (a Little), transform the life of an adult (a Big) and together transform our schools, our neighborhoods and our communities for the better.”

The organization serves 2,600 children annually in King, Pierce, Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties.

Puget Sound region

It recently held an auction called “The Big Event” that raised $590,000 of a $600,000 goal “for kids in the Puget Sound region.”

Erin McCallum, board chairwoman of the Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Puget Sound said that organization is not running at a deficit, but declined to provide annual budget figures.

“We are operating in the black, but the situation is uncomfortable for the board of directors, so we had to make some cuts,” she said.

She said there have been $1 million in cuts this year, including programs, staff and not making matches.

“It was a very difficult decision,” she said. “We have chosen to suspend operations because our revenue for 2009 did not meet the budget projections.”

McCallum said the hope is that communities affected will be able to work with the organization to come up with funding.

“The long-term goal is for the community organizations to be self-sustaining,” she said.

Programs have also been curtailed in King and Pierce counties.

Bill James, chairman of the Jefferson Partnership Council, which oversees the Jefferson and Clallam program, said the local branch was not able to raise enough funds to be self-sustaining.

“We’ve been raising money and finding adult volunteers, but it just wasn’t sustainable at the level of community support,” he said. “I hate to leave the kids hanging.”

If the program had any chance to continue, “we have to become leaner and more aggressive in how we market ourselves to the community,” he said.

‘Bigs’ feel loss

For James it’s a personal loss, as he has been a “Big” for a year and a half.

“This program is a win-win situation for the kids and the Bigs,” he said.

The match between Morrissey and Zac is a community-based match, although Morrissey has had school-based matches.

When he and Zac meet up, their schedule is flexible.

“There’s always ice cream — it’s an important part of our relationship,” he said.

Last summer the pair sailed on the training sailing ship, the Adventuress, based in Port Townsend.

Zac enjoyed it so much that Morrissey was able to secure a scholarship for him to attend a five-day trip to the San Juans aboard the ship.

Morrissey said the impact on the community of the loss of the program is hard to judge, but it will have an impact on the “Littles.”

“These kids will have a little bit less in their lives,” he said. “It’s one more rejection for them.”

Slabaugh said the branch office is exploring other options to keep some form of mentoring alive in the communities.

“We would love for all of the relationships to continue,” she said.

________

Features Editor Marcie Miller can be reached at 360-417-3550 or marcie.miller@peninsuladailynews.com

More in Life

Katie Lee of Port Angeles examines a table of perennial plants during Saturday’s annual plant sale and raffle at the floral barn at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. The sale, hosted by the Port Angeles Garden Club, was a fundraiser for club projects and scholarships, and it featured a wide variety of plants for the upcoming growing season and beyond. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Plant sale at Clallam County Fairgrounds

Katie Lee of Port Angeles examines a table of perennial plants during… Continue reading

The 2024 Community Service Awards winners gather before Thursday's awards ceremony at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. This year's recipients were, seated from left, Steph Ellyas and Lyn Fiveash, and standing from left, Gordon Taylor, Don Zanon, Carol Labbe and Betsy Reed Schultz. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Six honored for community service efforts

Volunteers provide energy for trails, respite care

Photo by Karen Griffiths

Cutline: A fundraiser for WAG and Open starts Today at 11 a.m. with an English and jumping fun show, followed tomorrow with a Western Games show at Kari Payne’s 4-L arena off Blue Mountain Road, 95 S. McCrorie Rd. Port Angeles.  Fox-Bell Farm owner Shelby Vaughan, and her assistants Sophie Feik and Kaia Lestage (holding Marley) will be there to host. Shown is Tatar Trots, 10. a horse Shelby got from OPEN five years ago when he was a feral, unhandled stallion and, now, after castrating and training,  he’s a docile horse who enjoys teaching kids how to ride.

 

(Rescue dog Rocky laying down if he’s shown in photo)
HORSEPLAY: Rescue program gives horses new life

SHELBY VAUGHAN WAS born into the rescue mindset. She grew up on… Continue reading

A GROWING CONCERN: For garden chores, keep the spring in your step

SO THE DREAM Playground build is going wonderfully. Thank you for those… Continue reading

ISSUES OF FAITH: Be a gracious and hospitable host

NOTICE OUR ROAD traffic is getting busier? Yep. We are beginning our… Continue reading

The Rev. Larry Schellink will present “Love God and Tie up your Camel” at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Schellink is the guest speaker at Unity in the Olympics, 2917 E. Myrtle Ave.
Weekend program scheduled for Unity in the Olympics

The Rev. Larry Schellink will present “Love God and… Continue reading

Unitarian speaker slated in Port Angeles

Phoenix Biggs will present “Singing of Honor… Continue reading

Jaiden Dokken, at Jeanette Best Gallery in Port Townsend, is Northwind Art’s new exhibits coordinator. (Northwind Art)
Poet laureate takes on new role with Northwind Art

Artist, poet and educator Jaiden Dokken is Northwind Art’s… Continue reading

Author John Vaillant stands in front of the iconic tower at Port Angeles City Pier. (Elijah Sussman/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Author visits Peninsula for Writer in Residence program

Vaillant awarded Shaughnessy Cohen Prize

A GROWING CONCERN: Volunteers a dream for playground

YOU, MY LOYAL readers, have been excellent the couple of times I… Continue reading

Unity in Port Townsend planning for Sunday services

Joanna Gabriel will present the lesson at 11 a.m.… Continue reading