A non-profit embodying the vision that all children can achieve success in life is confident an upcoming change will benefit Livingston County even more.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Livingston County will become Mentor Livingston as of July 1st and dis-affiliating from BBBS of America. The local organization has been around for 37 years and Executive Director Shari Davis-Schoech says it all started with a handful of good hearted people that wanted to make good things happen for kids who were perhaps struggling but also specifically to keep kids out of the court system. Davis-Schoech says they will still operate as a non-profit and there will be no interruption in matches or potential matches but “bigs” and “littles” will now become mentors and mentees. She says they will also continue to hold their signature events like the bowl-a-thon and an evening with the stars - they just can’t use the same names after disaffiliation.

Conversations at the board and staff level about making a change started about two years ago after BBBSA came up with a new national strategic plan that included only maintaining chapters that met certain financial and staffing thresholds. The local chapter must also pay dues to BBBSA and those types of things are said to be increasing. Davis-Schoech says many chapters decided to go out on their own because they still wanted to serve kids – they just don’t do it under the BBBS name anymore. In communicating with those that disaffiliated, Davis-Schoech says there was much community support and the transition was basically seamless, which is the hope for Mentor Livingston. She feels the county wants what they are providing and feels they also do a good job of listening – noting before they started the process they talked to community leaders, officials and donors who all expressed tremendous support.

The local non-profit has developed various programs like Lunch Buddies in which “bigs” go into school and have lunch with their assigned child or “little” a couple of times per month. Big Futures is an after school program in which mostly high school students work one on one in group setting with kids and do things like homework before going out to do activities or play – promoting relationships and leadership. Rockin’ Readers was developed in response to literacy concerns in the county and aims to increase literacy skills. A grant from OLHSA has also allowed older youth in a job-shadowing situation. Davis-Schoech says all of those programs helped drive the decision to become Mentor Livingston, instead of staying with the BBBS of America model – which only supports a yearlong match otherwise the local group would be considered out of compliance. She says putting a timeframe on things really hinders them because if they don’t do it, then they’re out of compliance with BBBSA – an organization she loves and has devoted a lot of their life to. Davis-Schoech stressed that she appreciates their standards and required procedures, which they are not changing – saying they’ll still be the same agency but with a different name moving forward to make good things happen for kids. Another factor in the decision was that national rules only allow matches for one year, which hinders things.

In Livingston County, Davis-Schoech says one of her mentor rich resources are schools and there are a lot of great kids out there. She says they have great relationships with the local schools and do good work through their mentors – adding they are actually unique in that they have staff at their various school based programs. Davis-Schoech says she doesn’t have a lot of places to pull mentors from, noting many potential mentors work outside of the county because it’s a bedroom community and the schools have been great to find mentors. She says they have always strived to pay attention to what the community wants and what the kids need, making adjustments in service delivery model along the way and that’s what they’ll continue to do. She says whatever Livingston County needs is what they really want to a take a good look at, adding community members and organizations have been incredibly supportive. Davis-Schoech feels good things are happening – including a fundraising initiative underway now through the end of June to support mentoring programs in Livingston County in which every dollar raised will be matched. An online link is provided.

Davis-Schoech says they’re excited and hope the move they’re making will allow them to serve even more kids than they currently do because there is no shortage of children who need some extra support from a caring older person - whether that mentor is a middle or high school student or an adult. (JM)