Parents put up fight for Bigs

Youth mentoring program to shut its doors locally this month after grant cuts

Local parents are banding together to help fight to keep Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

The youth mentoring program plans to shut its doors locally this month after the provincial government cut gaming grants the non-profit society depends on.

Patricia Anderson,  a single mother from Maple Ridge, said Big Sisters has had a positive affect on her youngest daughter, Jennifer, a “little.”

“Her big sister’s name is Libby, and they get along awesome,” Anderson said. “They go out once a week, sometimes more.”

Jennifer’s parents had a messy split. Since, Libby has been a constant in her life.

“My kids have been to hell and back with what’s gone on,” says Anderson. “But with Libby, [Jennifer] has someone she can open up to.”

Anderson has teamed up with a half dozen other parents and volunteers to help fight to keep the program’s services operating locally.

“My daughter has a big sister she’s losing over this,” says Anderson. “For kids of single parents, and there are kids who are a lot worse off than mine, this is going to do a lot of damage.”

The group has a petition to stop the closure of the local office and  distributed it to businesses, schools, and other service organizations.

Anderson hopes the appeal will convince the Abbotsford-Mission-Ridge Meadows chapter to change its mind. She feels the decision to close the office was too quick and without enough consultation.

“They didn’t give us any options,” she says. “They need to get the word out there, and they haven’t done that.”

David Sheach, executive director of the Abbotsford-Mission-Ridge Meadows chapter, said the decision came down to money,  a lack of it.

Changes to the province’s gaming grants mean the local chapter is receiving $130,000 less than the year before, and that money is coming 11 months later than usual.

The money they depend on every year is being delayed by 11 months,  from February to December, meaning they have to go almost two years without grant funding.

Meanwhile, fundraising dollars have dwindled as donors have dried up during the economic downturn.

“There isn’t a set dollar amount that we need,” says Sheach. “We need to be in a position where we have a sustainable amount of money to operate.”

Professional staff are required to screen potential volunteers and monitor relationships.

“We need that staff, but we can’t afford to pay them,” Sheach says.

Of the close to 30 local pairs, 10 will be transferred to Abbotsford office.

The Abbotsford-Mission-Ridge Meadows chapter has already cut one of its fundraising staff, said Sheach, while the Upper Fraser Valley branch has eliminated two mentor coordinator positions. Both chapters have started sharing services, and Sheach said they may have to amalgamate

There are currently 15 chapters of Big Brothers and Big Sisters across the province.

Many of them are also looking at scaling back services and amalgamating, Sheach said.