Niagara Gazette

November 11, 2013

Local group cuts ties with Big Brothers Big Sisters

By Anne Calos
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Bigger isn’t always better.

At least that was the thinking when the Board of Directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Niagara County voted to break off from the parent organization and run the agency locally.

Now called Youth Mentoring Services of Niagara County Inc., the agency still has the same mission, it just doesn’t have the same name.

President Annemarie C. Bettino emphasized that the services the agency performs will essentially remain the same — matching up adult volunteers with youth seeking mentors — but now the programs can be specifically tailored to the needs of Niagara County — not the entire country.

“The change will allow us to better serve the youth of Niagara County. For example, we have a Welcome Program for our unmatched children that allows them to participate in some activities, even though they don’t have a mentor yet. Big Brothers Big Sisters doesn’t offer that,” Bettino said.

And although she stressed that the move wasn’t entirely money-driven, it was costing the agency about $4,000 to $5,000 a year just to be affiliated with the national organization, and that figure was expected to double or triple over the next few years.

With a budget of only about $160,000 a year, Bettino said that’s a big savings, and that money can be put back into programming.

Bettino said the Board of Directors, consisting of 16 Niagara County residents, have been thinking about the split for some time, but realized the time was right this year.

Before making the move, all of the agency’s funding sources were contacted, including the United Way, the Grigg-Lewis Foundation and the Niagara County Youth Bureau, just to name a few. All promised to continue their support of the agency.

Although the number varies, right now, 87 youth, ages 7 to 15, are waiting to be matched up with mentors.

Adult mentors must be at least 18 years old, and be of good character. After applying, an extensive background check is performed, including a home visit. Although no formal background is required for mentors, they do receive some training and an orientation session at the Lockport office.

Then, the adult is matched with a youth that shares their same interests.

“We only ask that the adult devote about a half a day every other week. The program is all about building relationships. Our mentors really are champions for their children,” Bettino said.

Mentors can engage in a variety of activities with their youth. Obviously, many times the boys like to play or watch sports and the girls like “pamper days” activities or shopping, but other activities are also fine.

For example, one boys and his mentor attend home improvement classes offered at Home Depot.

Although the program is located in Lockport, there is a satellite program at the Boys and Girls Club in Niagara Falls, which is also popular.

That program is organized by Erin Weber and is staffed primarily with Niagara University interns.

Heather Cahill is in charge of intakes and home visits.

Neither think that the agency’s change will even be noticed by people who participate in the program.

Bettino has been with the agency for 23 years, and she’s certain that the change will improve the agency.

“We’ve been serving the needs of Niagara County youth for 40 years. Nobody knows better how to do that than we do. This will help us serve more children,” Bettino said.

To volunteer as a mentor, call 434-1855, or visit the office at 86 Park Ave., Lockport.