Youth mentoring opportunities on the Big Island are being diminished with the closing of Big Brothers Big Sisters Hawaii Island programs at the end of the month.
The program, which matches children facing adversity with older role models in one-to-one relationships, is closing its East and West Hawaii offices because of a budget crunch, East Hawaii Regional Director Vanessa Carlson said Thursday. All three professional staff on the island are being laid off.
Carlson said the closure is especially difficult because the Big Island nonprofit was beginning several new programs, including expanding its school-based mentoring program into community programs that would pair children with county employees.
“It came as quite a shock,” Carlson said. “We knew the numbers were tight but we thought we had more time.”
She said the Big Island staff was informed Jan. 31 after the statewide board of directors in Honolulu voted to close the program. The state office verified the upcoming closure, but Chief Programs Officer Tyler Kurashige declined comment until President/CEO Dennis Brown returns next week.
West Hawaii Regional Director Kimberly Kaho‘onei could not be reached by press-time Thursday, but she told the County Council last year that the program, which was established in 2012, made a difference for 400 children and youth on the island. Carlson said the program serves about 90 to 100 “Littles and Bigs” annually.
The council last year gave the program a $8,050 nonprofit grant in aid, and the program also received funds from the Regal Foundation and Hawaii Island United Way, Carlson said. She said the local offices are just about through their budget, so there’s no risk that the Hawaii Island money will be sent to Oahu.
“Through it all, we provided quality direct human services to our Littles and Bigs we are so very privileged to have worked with. It’s too late for us, but I hope that each of you realize that you have the power to impact the little guys,” Carlson posted publicly to her Facebook page. “So when you reach into your pockets to give, don’t just think about giving to the big name nonprofits with the hot topic cause. Think about the little guys like BBBSHI that had to fight harder and often received less, yet do meaningful work in your communities.”
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, who, as chairwoman of the council Finance Committee participates in the annual process of divvying up grants to the island’s many nonprofits, said she was sorry to hear of the closing of the program.
“County nonprofit grants are intended to provide nonprofit organizations funding that assist them in providing community service programs, with the ultimate goal of becoming financially self-sufficient,” David said. “It’s very unfortunate when any county nonprofit grant recipient is unable to continue its program, especially when it directly impacts our keiki.”
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program can make a difference, said Jonathan Holmes, a planner in the county Planning Department, where he’s worked almost 20 years. Holmes described his experiences with a Big Brother in Honolulu when he, at 12-years-old, along with three younger brothers, moved to Waikiki from the mainland with their mother after her divorce.
With his harried mom working full time, Holmes found that the Big Brother helped get the boys out of their apartment and to the parks and beaches, where they could burn off energy. The program helped ease the transition “from snow country to the beaches of Hawaii,” he said.
“It was enough to get us grounded,” Holmes said. “Without it, we might have been a little more rascally than we were.”