In the wake of Monadnock United Way’s announcement last week that it would cease funding multiple area organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire has laid off one local program coordinator and decided to close its office on Marlboro Street in Keene.
After learning about the funding cuts, Big Brothers Big Sisters knew it would have to make some changes, according to CEO Stacy Kramer. Roughly $100,000 of its statewide budget of about $1 million has been earmarked for Monadnock Region expenditures. Last year, Monadnock United Way provided $30,000 of that, or about 30 percent of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ revenue for local programs.
The layoff and the office closure both went into effect last week, Kramer said. As for the organization’s community- and site-based mentoring programs in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire, Kramer said they are focused on continuing to support those matches between big and little siblings.
“The priority is to keep both [programs] going as they are and make adjustments as raised ... and we’ll be reassessing at the end of the school year,” Kramer said. “We’re still interviewing for matches; we don’t want volunteers thinking we don’t need them.”
Community-based matches are the ones most commonly associated with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, where adults, known as “Bigs,” are paired with youths, or “Littles,” and spend their time together doing things like playing sports or visiting a library, Kramer said.
Meanwhile, site-based “Bigs” visit their “Littles” at school or during after-school programs. Big Brothers Big Sisters has a presence in 11 area schools, including Wheelock, Fuller and Franklin elementary schools in Keene; Keene Middle School; and schools in Peterborough, Dublin, Troy and Winchester.
Though Kramer said the site-based program will continue, she noted that Big Brothers Big Sisters may have to withdraw from some of the schools.
Monadnock United Way is a nonprofit organization that worked with more than three dozen partners in the Monadnock Region in 2019, including Big Brothers Big Sisters. United Way relies on its annual fundraising campaign to make contributions to these programs.
The campaign has seen a decline over the last decade, hitting a low of $1.3 million for this year, according to a letter posted to the organization’s website by President Liz LaRose. Agencies whose funding has been cut will receive support through the end of April, meaning they’ll get a third of the money they were expecting this year. For Big Brothers Big Sisters, that works out to $10,000.
“This was absolutely a difficult decision for us to make, for our board to make, for our staff to make,” LaRose said. “We exist to support the community, we are a community foundation, and any time we have to reduce funding or support, it’s difficult for us to do that. We have to recognize that the resources just aren’t there right now, but we’re going to do everything we can to turn that around.”
Monadnock United Way is refocusing its funding on a smaller number of programs, including Southwestern Community Services’ WIC dental program, six early childhood education centers and a number of collective programs. (For a complete list of programs still being funded, visit the Monadnock United Way online at muw.org/2020-investments.)
Kramer emphasized that she understands the difficult position that Monadnock United Way is in, and said the organization’s funding over the years allowed Big Brothers Big Sisters to provide mentorship to “hundreds and hundreds” of children.
“I feel awful about the decision they had to make,” she said.
This is the second time funding from Monadnock United Way to Big Brothers Big Sisters has been cut in recent memory. The organization experienced a $40,000 decrease — from $70,000 to $30,000 — a few years ago, Kramer added.
Closing the Marlboro Street office and laying off the program coordinator were difficult decisions that Kramer said took a great deal of consideration.
The duties previously covered by the full-time coordinator, who worked with the organization for more than 15 years, will be picked up by other staff members, and much of this work will now have to be performed remotely. This means that, instead of face-to-face follow-up meetings with matches, such meetings will be done over the phone.
The office, which has been occupied by the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters for the last eight years, has no other full-time staff.
Kramer said she believes it’s important for the organization to maintain a visible presence, but the overhead costs of keeping the space open are too much. Instead, Big Brothers Big Sisters will look at possible office-sharing opportunities.
Kramer also said the organization, which is committed to keeping its services free, will look for additional opportunities for fundraising, such as establishing partnerships that come with a revenue stream.
“Unlike other nonprofits, we have no membership fee,” Kramer said. “So we’re trying to really look at ... how can we build in revenue?”
She said this could take the form of partnering with local businesses that could provide mentorship opportunities while contributing to the cost of the program. She also noted that the U.S. Department of Justice funds a program called “Bigs with Badges,” which helps connect children with mentors who are law enforcement officers.
In the interim, Kramer said the organization will continue to hold fundraising events, though the next one won’t be until fall.
As Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire works to get back on its feet, Kramer said the biggest form of support will come from individual donations. Anyone interested in making a contribution to Big Brothers Big Sister of New Hampshire can do so by visiting the organization’s website, bbbsnh.org.
She also said anyone who may be interested in donating a space that could serve as a local office for Big Brothers Big Sisters can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.