Editor's note:This is the eighth in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.
BY BRETT RIGGS
When Tammy Davis started with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in 1997, the agency served 16 children on a $40,000 budget.
Sixteen years later, and Davis, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties, says the agency now reaches about 1,000 children on a budget of approximately $200,000.
The tremendous growth in children served and funding available shows both the need for youth mentoring, as well as the support for the agency.
About 600 of the youth touched by BBBS are served through the one-to-one community and school-based mentoring programs, which receive money each year from the Finney County United Way. The programs are expecting to receive $30,000 in United Way funding in 2014, down from $35,000 in 2013.
While the United Way funding is a relatively small portion of the BBBS budget, Davis said there's no doubt United Way has been integral in BBBS' success.
Whether it's through direct funding for the mentoring programs or providing the leverage BBBS needed to secure grants that have been used to grow the agency's program offerings, United Way has been a key partner, Davis said.
"Because of their stability and their standing in the community, they've been extremely important to us," Davis said about United Way.
Through the one-to-one community mentoring program, carefully screened and trained mentors, or "bigs," are matched with children ages 5 to 17, or "littles," based on common interests and the needs of the child.
Children in the mentoring programs typically are referred by families, neighbors, schools and other agencies. The vast majority of them face some kind of risk factor.
According to BBBS' 2012 community report, 84 percent of children in the program came from single-parent homes without contact with the absent parent, 82 percent were at or below the poverty level, 85 percent were racial/ethnic minorities, 16 percent lived without either parent in foster care or with another family member, 41 percent had a language barrier or are in a family where there is a language barrier, and 10 percent were abused or neglected.
"We work with kids' social, emotional and academic problems to change their lives forever for the better," Davis said about the mission of the BBBS programs.
Volunteer mentors must be at least 16 years old and willing to spend at least one hour each week with their little brother or sister.
While that quality time often involves "bigs" and "littles" spending time sharing mutual interests and simply enjoying each other's company, Davis said BBBS encourages mentors to go one step further with their little brothers and sisters.
"We encourage our volunteers to volunteer with other agencies and take their child along so the child learns to give back," Davis said.
But the most important thing a mentor can do for a child?
"Show up — because that kid may not have that anywhere else," Davis said. "To have that person outside the family say 'you're important enough to me that I show up every week and hang out for an hour,' that affects the child's confidence."
In the school-based mentoring program, adult mentors come to schools and work with children one-on-one, helping them with school work, talking with them about problems they may be encountering in school and simply listening and being a friend, Davis said.
"We help the children in this community to grow into successful adults who not only support themselves and their families, but give back to the community," Davis said.
While the mission remains the same, one thing new for BBBS in 2013 is the agency has a new home, at the USD 457 Alternative Education Center in J.D. Adams Hall, 1312 N. Seventh St. The agency moved from its previous home on Main Street to JDA in August.
Considering the longstanding and close partnership between USD 457 and BBBS, Davis said, it made sense to move the agency to JDA.
"Being able to be in the school and the district is amazing," Davis said. "This was a perfect fit for us to be able to come here."
The local United Way is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign goal. The goal for 2014 is $560,000, which is $10,000 more than last year.
The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 campaign include:
Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council — Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains — CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital — Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission — Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.