Big Brothers Big Sisters receives $58,000

CELINA — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer, Auglaize, and Van Wert counties was recently awarded $58,200 through a new Ohio Department of Education program.

The Community Connectors is a new school mentorship program meant to bring together families, community organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses, and others to help motivate and inspire Ohio students. The program awarded $6.8 million in its first year this year to be shared among 82 community partnerships.

Out of 192 applications, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer, Auglaize, and Van Wert counties was one of the chosen organizations to receive funding.

“Overall the agency is very excited to receive these kinds of funds because it will open the doors for other programs, for us to be in more schools, and serve more kids,” Abby Balster, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer, Auglaize, and Van Wert counties, said. “That’s our main priority, serving the kids and serving as many kids as we can with quality programing.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer, Auglaize, and Van Wert counties was the lead applicant on the grant in which it received the $58,200 in funding. The grant required three partner agencies: a non-profit, a school, and a business or career center. The organization partnered with Agape Ministries in St. Marys, Celina City Schools, and Tri-Star Career Compact Center.

“We’re in the process of partnering with all the schools in Mercer, Auglaize, and Van Wert counties to be able to use the grant money on any one-on-one match that we make,” Balster said. “We’re excited about being able to use some of the funds in Van Wert County because we do have a lot of unmatched Littles in Van Wert and we’re hoping to use some of the dollars to market that we are in Van Wert. Right now we probably have about 10 Littles on our waiting list to be matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister from the Van Wert area, so that’s definitely an area we want to outreach to with some of these grant dollars.”

The grant will also help pay for the after-school program at St. Henry.

“The money will also be used for our lunch club programs, which are taking off like wild fire,” Balster said. “Schools really seem to like that, where an adult mentor comes in during the child’s lunch hour. This specific grant will pay for the lunch club program at Parkway Schools and Fort Recovery Schools.”

Typically the organization has to look locally for funds to cover expenses.

“It will probably be about 30 percent of our budget for the next year,” Balster said. “This is a large chunk for our agency. It is a sizable grant.

“It was a sigh of relief when we actually received the confirmation email,” Balster said.

The organization does have a training program on July 30 to discuss specifics of what the grant can be used for and how to record and track the outcomes of the program.

The Community Connectors program is a creation, proposed by Gov. John Kasich in his 2014 State of the State address, to help give more Ohio students access to role models.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive to the Community Connectors grant opportunity. The grant application process initiated new relationships and conversations in communities across the state on how to inspire and help more young people to reach their goals,” said Dr. Richard A. Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement. “Our boys and girls need an adult, a mentor they can trust, who can help them reach their potential and show them their future.”

According to the Community Connectors website, the grant targets students in grades 5-12 in low-performing or high-poverty schools and seeks to make long-term impact in communities.

“It was originally suppose to be a three-year grant and now it’s a one-year grant,” Balster said. “Hopefully, it will be renewable next year.”


Thanks to The Times Bulletin for the great article.