Following the closure of the Big Brothers Big Sisters office in Missoula, the Flathead County chapter is trying to step in to fill the void.
That means around 84 kids will still be able to be paired with their adult mentors in the Missoula area with the financial and expert support of the nonprofit organization.
Todd Lengacher, the new executive director of BBBS Flathead County, said he and his board discussed the possibility of taking over the Missoula matches under their auspices.
“What I did just last week was get the contact info from every one of those relationships, and I hired an employee out of the Missoula office to work for me and together she and I have attempted to be in contact with every one of those — both ‘bigs’ and ‘littles’ — that were in an active relationship when the office closed,” he said. “It’s ongoing. I have no idea what the yield would be on it. We’ll take it one step at a time but we hope to have those matches reignited and work under the support of us.”
Back in May, the Missoula chapter of the national nonprofit announced it would be ceasing operations due to financial difficulties.
Scott Johnson, a board member of the Missoula office, said the organization saw its annual state and federal grant money dry up in recent years, and a $120,000 budget shortfall caused it to close after nearly 50 years in operation.
Lengacher said his organization has also seen state and federal grant money dry up, but his organization’s funding sources include more fundraisers and private donations.
“All nonprofits try to have a diverse portfolio, but yes, we certainly rely significantly on private donors,” he said. “We would be happy if anyone in Missoula wanted to reach out to us.”
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The organization pairs at-risk kids between the ages of 6-18 with adult volunteer mentors who are typically younger and well-educated.
"We know both anecdotally here in Montana as well as across the country, and as a result of several large studies, that consistent and positive mentoring relationships can have a profound impact on young people,” Lengacher said. “As fellow northwest Montana residents who are in close contact with folks in Missoula, we believe this action was imperative for the short- and long-term health of our community.”
Lengacher said all the Missoula pairs are free to continue their relationships without the support of the organization, but he hopes they will choose to be official.
“There are benefits to having it work through Big Brothers Big Sisters for lots of reasons,” he said. “We offer lots of support and resources and are constantly checking in to see if there are ways of supporting the relationship.”
Nationwide, the organization spends an average of $1,500 each year to support each match. The Flathead County chapter’s average is about $1,800 because they are smaller and can’t spread the costs over hundreds of matches like larger chapters can.
“We are committed,” he said. “We will happily absorb the costs, but we would also happily take some local support.”