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Big Brothers Big Sisters Seeks Additional Funding to Keep Programs Alive

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Ohio agency has served the youth of this area for over 30 years – youth who live predominantly in low wealth communities (92 percent received public assistance). Currently, however, the agency is experiencing the “worst of times” says Executive Director Johnny Mickler as he and his board and staff try to cope with recent funding reductions of massive proportions.

”The agency has endured over $250,000 in funding reductions in the past two to three years,” says Mickler. “These reductions have come from many funders including United Way and government entities.”

As the name implies, Big Brothers Big Sisters matches youngsters with adults who provide mentoring services in a variety of programs – long-term and short term. The youngsters the program serves are those whose families are on public assistance (92 percent), are in poverty (90 percent), are headed by single parents (71 percent) and are minority (62.6 percent).

At risk of being terminated is a relatively new program called “I Am Somebody, I Count” which works with youth of high-school age and provides leadership development training – preparing them for college and careers. The program helps them find summer jobs, brings in speakers on a regular basis and provides assistance in finding college scholarships. The drop in funding will soon force the agency to cut two staff positions and drop the program.

“We need funds to continue what I consider to be a great program,” says Mickler. Mickler, who has a wide range of experience in directing non-profit groups, has been in charge of the agency for the past three years. He first arrived in Toledo in 1997 to start the area’s Urban League chapter after running the Madison, WI Urban League chapter for the previous five years. He left the Toledo area in 2007 for his native South Carolina and returned seven years later.

Over the past several years, the “I Am Somebody, I Count” program has recruited and enrolled 80 students, brought in 30 guest speakers to counsel the kids on various careers and topics such as bullying, teen pregnancy and school violence and taken them to job fairs around the area.

To date 30 of the kids have already graduated from high school, 40 received summer employment, 15 have already been awarded college scholarships.

The greatest outcome, says Mickler, “is changing behavior in a positive direction.”

The key component of the program, says Mickler, is the leadership development training which includes pre-employment readiness training focusing on setting goals, a code of conduct, etiquette, work readiness, correct behavior, anger management, credit counseling and community issues.

The leadership development component has a year-round aspect including academic enrichment, college tours, community service projects and career readiness.

The agency had been expecting monies from the OCJS/Ohio Department of Public Safety – funds that were expected to start in October/November 2017. The funds were frozen leading to a shortfall of $30,000 for the agency causing the layoff of a caseworker and ending services for 40 youth this month. The agency had already reduced its services in youth matches with mentors from 896 to 425 due to previous funding cuts; another 100 youth will be eliminated from its programs if emergency funding is not found.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters program started in Toledo in 1937 and eventually became part of the national program. The agency is funded by various governmental bodies along with non-profit funding agencies such as United Way. In addition, the agency also holds a number of fundraising events throughout the year to supplement the monies raised from other sources.

It is not enough.

Facing drastic cut backs because of the loss of these funds, Mickler reached out to Councilwoman Yvonne Harper in June seeking help from the City of Toledo in keeping the agency’s programs up and running. Two weeks ago, City Council denied the request of $75,000 by a seven-to-five vote. Voting yes were Council members Harper, Larry Sykes, Tyrone Riley, Cecelia Adams and Pater Ujvagi.

There is a certain irony in the fact that coming soon for City Council is a vote on whether to grant some relief for developer Bruce Douglas and his $500,000 loan for his 52-unit Uptown Arts Apartments on 14th Street. Douglas says he needs the loan forgiveness in order to avoid bankruptcy. In addition to the loan he received in 2002, Douglas also received community reinvestment tax abatements for 15 years enabling him to reduce his annual tax on the property from about $50,000 per year to $5,000 per year.



Copyright © 2018 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/11/18 09:00:31 -0400.

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