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Catonsville YMCA takes over Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentor programs

Catonsville YMCA takes over Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentor programs
The Catonsville Y. (Jon Bleiweis/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Y in Central Maryland has taken over operations of the defunct Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake.

In a June 6 letter from the area Big Brothers board chairman, Steve Lambertson, and president and CEO, Kera Ritter, supporters were told the organization, which has operated Baltimore-area programs for more than 60 years, had been struggling financially.

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They wrote that having the Y step in was "the best possible outcome," as it would allow the program to continue without interruption.

"Change is hard, but in our case necessary if we want to continue to serve our youth," they wrote.

Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs adult volunteers with children, with the goal of developing positive relationships and role models for young people. The relationships focus on regular one-on-one activities, such as hanging out, helping with homework or taking part in scheduled events.

Nationally, more than 2 million children have been served by the nonprofit in the past 10 years. There are about 25 "matches" of children and adults in the Catonsville and Arbutus area.

In a statement, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America president and CEO Pam Iorio said the organization is "committed to creating and growing one-to-one mentoring relationships in Baltimore."

"We will work with the Y to ensure the current Big-Little matches continue uninterrupted," she said. "We are looking forward to working with the Y as they further the Big Brothers Big Sisters mission and expand mentoring opportunities in Baltimore."

Derryck Fletcher, the Y's vice president of youth and family partnerships, said the Y was approached to absorb Big Brothers Big Sisters into its programming. He said the Y was a good fit because of the youth development services it already provides for children, including mentoring.

As the local affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Y now oversees the 650 pairs of children and potential role models throughout the state, all of which will continue without interruption.

Fletcher said there has been a significant increase in volunteer and child interest since the announcement that the Y was taking over operations, but due to a lack of funding, no new matches are being created outside of Baltimore City.

The majority of the funding the Y received that rolled over from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake is restricted to specific locations, he said.

"While we would love to be able to make new matches because folks have expressed interest in mentoring or being mentored, additional funding is needed," he said.

The annual cost for the Y to maintain a match is $2,000, Fletcher said, which accounts for vetting and training of potential volunteers as well as all of the researching the child and his or her family and introducing them to the program.

Fletcher said the Y is working internally to find new funding sources, including individual and corporate donors, that will allow for new matches to be made.

"As soon as we get funding, we'll be ready," he said.

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He believes the Y will be able to sustain the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, as the Y already has several back-office functions and operations, such as accountants

New and existing mentors in the program get a free individual Y membership, while the children receive free family memberships to all Y of Central Maryland locations, as long as the match remains in good standing, Fletcher said.

They are able to utilize the Y's centers to meet to work out, play games or go for a swim. The Y will also offer events once a month for matches to take advantage of together.

"Because of the joint venture with the Y, it really deepens the amount of opportunity that is available to them," he said.

Fifteen of 21 employees from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Chesapeake, mostly program staff, were hired to do their same roles at the Y, Fletcher said.

The Y did not make a mentor available for comment after multiple requests.



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