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No more Big Brothers, Big Sisters

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Big Brothers Big Sisters is suspending its services in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows as of next month, a decision the organization blames on recent cuts to charitable grants by the provincial government.

Twenty-six families in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be affected by the decision.

“It is with regret that we cannot continue to provide mentoring services to the Ridge-Meadows area” said Edwin Palsma, president of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Abbotsford, Mission, Ridge Meadows chapter.

“What we have learned over the past year is that many agencies across the country are experiencing similar challenges and that really tough decisions have to be made.”

That chapter, as well as many others across the province, has seen its annual provincial gaming grant fall from $230,000 last year to nothing this year.

As a result, the Big Brothers Big Sisters can’t afford to pay the mentor coordinator responsible for the area, and the two chapters serving the Fraser Valley will begin sharing services as a cost-saving measure as of next month. Two full-time staff have already been cut in Chilliwack, and the majority of staff will be moved to the agency’s Abbotsford office.

However, the restructured organization won’t include Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

“It’s been regrettable that we have to take this step,” said Shirley Wilson, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters Upper Fraser Valley.

Megan Morrison works as a nurse at Ridge Meadows Hospital and has volunteered as a Big Sister for the past five years. She’s angry at the provincial government for cutting funding to the program, as well Big Brother Big Sisters for pulling the plug on the local program so soon.

“Everyone is really upset and really outraged by this,” she said. “A lot of these kids come from single-parent families. They need a mentor.

“A lot of families will be devastated by this.”

She hopes local businesses and individual donors will come forward to help fund the youth mentorship program, which has operated locally since the 1980s.

Wilson said she hopes to have services returned to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, but notes that secure annual funding will need to be found before that can happen.

The future prospects for having gaming grant money restored aren’t bright, however. The organization is only eligible for a maximum of $100,000 in grant funding for 2012.

“We don’t know if we’ll get any money at all,” said Wilson.

To make matters worse, corporate and individual donations are down as a result of an economic downturn in recent years, putting further pressure on the organization.

The gaming grant money is earmarked to help pay for mentor coordinating services, and funds supervisors who evaluate and monitor the relationships between volunteers and children.

“These people are professionals, they have degrees,” Wilson said. “The program is designed with the safety of volunteers and children in mind. It wouldn’t be acceptable [to run the program without supervisors], and who would want the risk, quite frankly.”

The 10 children in the organization’s year-long school-mentor program won’t be effected by the changes. However, that program will cease to operate after this year.

Wilson said the two Fraser Valley chapters may have to amalgamate if the economic situation doesn’t improve.

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