Written by Rachelle Blidner Friday, 05 August 2011 00:00
Jaylen, 10, is a good kid, the type who won’t be misled by troublemaking friends, and he resolves his conflicts by talking them out, his mother said. He loves to play outdoor football and basketball and spend the day at Splish Splash or Dave and Buster’s.
“He’s very spontaneous, and he likes to try everything and anything,” Jaylen’s mother Lamar said.
While Jaylen does not lack spirit, he is without a male mentor in his life, 32-year-old Lamar, an administrative assistant, said. Jaylen’s father lives in Virginia, and while Jaylen sees him more often during the summer, Lamar said she wants her son to have a male mentor who lives near their Uniondale home to talk to and help him gain more confidence.
In February, she signed her son up for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island (BBBSLI), a not-for-profit organization based in Levittown, which provides children with volunteer mentors. Jaylen is still waiting to be paired up with a mentor.
Jaylen is one of about 85 kids whocould not be matched up right away because of limited resources due to the harsh economic climate, said Susan Samaroo, chief operating officer of BBBSLI. She said she wishes that kids could be paired up right away, but the organization was hit hard by the economy and there are too few resources and not enough volunteers.
“We actually had to put a freeze on services, meaning that we weren’t able to provide the mentoring program to any new kids,” said Samaroo, who has worked for BBBSLI for 20 years. “I would love to see us not have a waiting list.”
She said she has seen many children in the program make transformations to become students who perform better in school and kids who are headed down a better path.
“A mentor can truly turn a child’s life around and provide them with opportunities and that special time, and it just makes them different people,” 42-year-old Samaroo said.
The program lost nearly half of its staff through layoffs and attrition and only recently began rehiring and pairing new children up with new volunteers.
Every match of a volunteer mentor, or “Big,” with a child, or “Little,” costs about $1,500 between overhead costs and the payment of case managers who screen volunteers, pair Bigs with Littles and oversee the pair’s relations for as long as it is a part of BBBSLI, Samaroo said. The nonprofit has already matched up about 250 pairs of Bigs and Littles. But when donations and government funding decreased due to the recession, the organization lost 10 members of its 24-person staff, leaving only enough case managers to oversee existing relationships. There were not enough resources, people or time to pair up new volunteers with new children.
“At that point, we weren’t really looking for volunteers because we weren’t looking to make any new matches,” Samaroo, an Oceanside resident, said.
BBBSLI’s donation center, which collects used clothing and household items, was hit hardest, Samaroo said. The center, which sells these items to thrift stores in exchange for store vouchers for families in need and to raise money for the organization, faced competition from other nonprofits and an economy in which people were holding onto clothes for longer.
In September, one of BBBSLI’s federal grants will run out, and while the number of financial contributors has remained the same, the amount they donate has decreased.
People can expect the economy to be “flat or bottomed out” for at least another year, and nonprofits must continue to become more efficient, said Pearl Kamer, PhD, chief economist for the Long Island Association.
BBBSLI is one of many not-for-profits that have suffered in this economy. Many companies that were created to help others found little help themselves when sources of donation began contributing less and these organizations were forced to vie for the same government funding.
“There is just not as much out there to be pulling from, and when you have all the nonprofits pulling from the same place, it’s a challenge,” Samaroo said.
Even though funding is limited, the public expects nonprofits to perform just as well, if not better, Kamer of Nassau County said. In a recent LIA study entitled “Long Island’s Not-for-Profit Sector: Doing More With Less During a Period of Economic Change,” author Kamer said she found that nonprofits have had to do as the title suggests—provide better service with fewer resources. To survive, many nonprofits have had to merge or collocate, but some have been forced to shut down.
“Nonprofits are still being squeezed in terms of government funding and private donations and individual donations,” Kamer said. “They have to become more efficient in everything they do.”
Long Island nonprofits generated 221,151 direct and indirect jobs and contributed more than $10 billion in direct and indirect payroll in 2010, according to Kamer’s study. With many of these organizations out of commission, the economic well-being of more than just the program’s employees and beneficiaries may be effected.
Chief Development Officer Mark Cox said BBBSLI has been injured by the economy, but not to the same extent as other nonprofits.
“Like a lot of charities, we do have a great mission and serve a great purpose. Fortunately, we have a great name,” Cox, a resident of Westbury, said.
The fact that Big Brothers Big Sisters is a well-known organization may have helped the organization raise money, yet even the national Big Brothers Big Sisters lost more than $10 million in assets between 2008 and 2010, according to its 2009 and 2010 annual reports.
Like most nonprofits, BBBSLI has had to become more creative in its fundraising efforts. Its annual fishing trip has been a unique fundraiser for years, in addition to its other fundraisers of golf outings, poker tournaments and walkathons.
Yet despite fundraising efforts, BBBSLI had to consolidate its Hauppauge office with the donation center and had to move its Southampton office to a less expensive space in the Hampton Bays School District. The organization owns its Levittown office.
What may also have kept the organization afloat is the fact that only about 10 percent of its funding comes from government sources, said 42-year-old Cox, who is in charge of fundraising. When government funding decreased, BBBSLI lost a smaller percentage of its funds than other nonprofits who relied more heavily on them.
BBBSLI is beginning its comeback by hiring new workers and lifting the freeze on new matches, but the organization remains cautious, Samaroo said.
“We are being very conservative in how we move forward at this point because the economy is still very volatile, and we don’t have a crystal ball to know what’s going to happen,” she said.
One thing is certain, and that is the need for male volunteers to be Big Brothers, Samaroo said. BBBSLI seeks to pair Bigs and Littles up based on gender, proximity and other factors, and there are many more boys hoping to be Littles than men signing up to be Bigs.
A lack of male volunteers is common in BBBS, but all volunteers make an impact, Samaroo said. People of all ages and professions can volunteer to be Bigs.
John Howard, 50, said he became a Big Brother this May after seeing an episode of the show King of Queens when two main characters become Bigs. Howard, an electroplater, said he wanted to become a Big because he and his wife do not have children.
“I figured why don’t I?” Howard of North Babylon said. “I can start doing fun things, like going fishing. Because when you don’t have any kids, you lose out on that.”
After being interviewed, undergoing a police background check and submitting three references, Howard was paired with a 12-year-old boy. The boy lives in a basement one-bedroom apartment with his mother, who has a hip injury that leaves her unable to work.
Recently, the two have spent time together, allowing the little boy to experience a father figure in his life, Howard said. They have already gone fishing and bike riding and ridden on paddleboats.
Howard, who body builds, said his meetings with his Little are more tiring than his workouts, but worth it.
“It’s a very rewarding experience,” he said. “I want to see him off to college.”