October 23, 2012

Big Brothers Big Sisters set for return

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Big Brothers Big Sisters programming will soon be provided in central Maine again now that a Rockland-based affiliate has been approved to serve Kennebec and Somerset counties, group officials said Monday.

click image to enlarge

Bob Verrill stands in the empty Augusta offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kennebec Valley in Augusta. Verrill, the interim executive director, said although the mentoring program has closed in Augusta, the midcoast chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters is applying to take over operations in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine has received permission from the national organization to expand to the territory previously served by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kennebec Valley, which closed its Augusta office this summer following struggles with its finances and organization.

The Kennebec Valley agency supported school-based mentoring programs in Augusta and Skowhegan and about 70 matches between at-risk children and their mentors. Leaders of the Midcoast agency hope to expand the number of matches to 100 and restart the school-based programs as soon as January.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America required the Midcoast agency to submit a multi-year strategic business plan to demonstrate its financial sustainability. The organization began working on the proposal during the summer with the help of staff and board members from Kennebec Valley.

The final plan was submitted Sept. 24 and approved Oct. 10.

Alex Gaeth, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine, said the planning and approval process can take 12 to 18 months. The process took about six months when Midcoast applied to expand into Penobscot County last year and essentially started from scratch.

"Based on that experience and the fact that that area is now serving 112 youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the (central Maine) community had a lot of confidence in our plan," Gaeth said. "So we were able to expedite it, which is good for the 74 or so matches that exist right now."

The United Way agencies of Kennebec Valley and Mid Maine agreed to support the expansion at the same level of funding, about $50,000 total. Bank of America committed $15,000, Gaeth said, and Kennebec Savings Bank promised $30,000 over three years.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kennebec Valley had a budget of about $180,000 a year. About two-thirds came from annual golf and bowling fundraisers that will continue.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine has offices in Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot and Waldo counties. Before taking on Kennebec and Somerset counties, it had six employees and a $360,000 budget supporting 560 matches.

Gaeth said he is looking for donated office space somewhere in the Kennebec Valley region, and the agency is reviewing applications for at least two employees to serve the area.

Once the employees are hired, they will contact schools, mentors and children's families.

"Our next step with them is to reach out to them again with this good news, and those that would like to, we'd begin to support them and have them join our agency," Gaeth said.

He said school-based programs could start in January but definitely will be in place by next fall.

Bill McKenna, a board member of the former Kennebec Valley agency who is remaining involved, said he's happy to see the mentoring program continue in the area.

"I heard stories through the grapevine that matches made through Kennebec Valley continued because the relationship was there between a little and a big," he said, using the organization's terms for children and their mentors. "They just continued on, so when Alex's team steps in, they'll just refresh."

Susan McMillan -- 621-5645


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