Requirements imposed by national organization forces board to cease operations at local office

MECOSTA COUNTY — A national organization that pairs adult mentors with children facing adversity is closing its doors in Mecosta and Osceola counties. The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mecosta and Osceola Counties recently announced it will cease operations effective Oct. 22. “Due to the increasing requirements from the national council, it has become evident that this organization will be unable to meet the upcoming requirements,” according to a statement released by the board of the local organization. “Although we understand and support the future regulatory requirements of the national organization, we find that our growing organization will be unable to reach those goals to maintain business in the future.” The national organization is requiring all BBBS offices to set higher education requirements for local employees. Due to a lack of funding, the Mecosta-Osceola board felt it would not be able to pay for employees who are more educated, and made the decision to cease operations. The board contacted the national leadership to try to work around some of those requirements, but was unsuccessful, said board vice president Erik Little. “With the amount of funds we’ve been able to raise, we’re not going to be able to pay for those types of people. It’s not that our people are bad, but the amount of college education they would have to have is significantly higher,” Little said. “There are certain educational requirements that are coming up that are necessary for the executive director, the match specialist and anybody working in the office that we’re not going to be able to meet. “There’s actually quite a bit of stuff that is being required. The biggest stumbling block is the educational requirement, which is a huge requirement for the amount of money that we can afford to pay compared to the amount of education people will be required to have.” The local office, located at 125 E. Bellevue St., currently is closed and the board is finalizing its financial obligations, which it expects to complete by Oct. 22. Executive Director John Calabrese and the staff at the Big Rapids office were put on administrative leave after the board decided to cease operations. Calabrese was hired as executive director at the local organization in January 2011. Relationships between “bigs” and “littles” in the program will formally be closed next month. The local organization is notifying program participants of the organization’s closure through written notices, which are being mailed this week. If bigs and littles wish to continue their relationships, it will become the responsibility of the parents and volunteers involved. Currently there are 12 children in the program. Participants also have the option to continue their involvement in the program through the Mid-Michigan Big Brothers Big Sisters office in Clare. That office services Clare, Roscommon and Gladwin counties, and has about 85 children in its program. “(Those in the program) will have to come here to get that support,” said Carol Gage, executive director of the Clare office, who could not comment further on the details of the transition. “The (Mecosta County) community has been very good to BBBS and I want to make sure they do the things they need to do to make sure they thank the community before we do anything. We have not made any final decisions on what we’re doing. Everything is very fluid on this side, so I’m a little hesitant to say anything.” Big Brothers Big Sisters tries to match a big with a little that will be compatible based on similar interests. Bigs are expected to spend one to two hours a week with their little for at least six months. Mentors act as role models to children to help them discover their full potential. The organization’s philosophy revolves around a belief that sharing, caring and listening to a child’s concerns can make a positive difference. It also understands that the increasingly complex demands of today’s society can be addressed with sensitivity and simplicity through a mentor relationship. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the oldest and largest youth mentoring program in the country. The organization depends on donations to help recruit volunteers and reach children. Funding is used to conduct volunteer background checks, purchase insurance to protect children, volunteers and the agency, and for professional support that helps build and sustain long-lasting, meaningful relationships. The local organization received about a third of its annual funding — nearly $30,000 — through Mecosta-Osceola United Way, said executive director Betty Seelye. She was “shocked” when she heard the BBBS office was closing. “I’m very sad to hear the news that Big Brothers Big Sisters won’t be making an impact on this community anymore,” Seelye said. “We’ll have to decide where those dollars go now. What people don’t realize is the small agencies like that don’t get state of federal funding even though they do a whole lot. The United Way was one of the agencies they could count on for funding.”
Board members of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mecosta and Osceola Counties are:
  • Tracy Morningstar – president
  • Erik Little – vice president
  • Dawn Pulley
  • Brad Taylor
  • Lisa Pope
  • Rich Sheldon
  • Larry Lintemuth
  • Angie Mishler
  • Jonathan Salinas