Big Brothers Big Sisters of Helena has faced difficult times, but the mood in the organization’s cave-like basement offices was optimistic Tuesday afternoon as new executive director Marie Logan chatted with a steady stream of donors and volunteers.
She’s been on the job about a week, but members of the nonprofit’s board of directors are already hopeful that Logan could take the organization in a new direction. She was selected from a pool of 60 applicants largely because of her 13 years of experience working for Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters in Prescott, Ariz., but also because of her passion and charisma, said board co-chair Tom McGree.
“She just has that something extra that people respond to,” he said.
McGree has only sat on the board for a couple of years, but said he’s seen the organization deal with a lot of changes during that short time. He said he’s hoping the future will hold more stability.
Like many nonprofits, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Helena felt the blow of the economic recession, which affected the amount of money coming in from donations, grants and fundraisers. Last summer, the organization was forced to cut back on mailing and fundraising expenses, leave two staff positions vacant and reduce the hours and pay of its remaining employees. The executive director at the time, Greg King, held his position for a year before interim director Donna Erwin took over this spring.
“It just wasn’t the right fit for him,” McGree said.
But McGree and his board co-chair Martin Lewis both said the organization is still strong — though not without some changes. Its operating budget has been cut back from up to $400,000 to between $300,000 and $350,000, Lewis said, but it’s been able to keep between $30,000 and $50,000 in cash reserves. About two-thirds of the budget is dedicated to administrative costs, he said. Big Brothers Big Sisters employs three case managers and an office administrator in addition to the executive director.
It costs about $1,000 to maintain each match between a child and the adult acting as his or her older “brother” or “sister,” Lewis said. Case managers run background checks before matches are made, but must also check in on the pairs each year. That means that if there’s not enough money, fewer children can be matched, he said. There are currently 40 children on the Helena organization’s waiting list.
For her part, Logan is ready to start organizing fundraising and volunteer-recruitment events for the fall. The organization matched about 400 kids with mentors last year, she said, and she’d like to increase that number by 3 to 5 percent in 2011. She’s hoping to track down additional sponsorships and find ways to increase pledges during the organization’s annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake fundraiser, which last year brought in about $100,000.
Logan said she’d like to add personnel and continue to train the current staff, but continually emphasized the need to find more volunteers. With the board of directors that is in place now and the support of the Helena community, she said, the organization should be able to expand its services.
Prior to working for the Prescott branch of the nonprofit, Logan volunteered as a “big sister” herself, but she said that’s not why she took her first Big Brothers Big Sisters job. The director of the organization convinced her to start working there, she said, and she found her calling.
“Nothing matters more than seeing the change in a child’s life,” she said.
When Logan began working at Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters, it was about the same size as the Helena organization, but it now serves about 1,000 kids, Lewis said. He said Prescott’s population of retirees is similar to Helena’s demographic, with the addition of state employees.
For now, Logan said she’s trying to get familiar with the community. Her two teenage daughters won’t move to Helena until later this year. At the open house, Big Brothers Big Sisters supporters told her about the winters she can expect in her new home.
She didn’t appear thrilled about below-zero temperatures, but had good things to say about her experiences in the town thus far.
“I love it here,” she said.
Allison Maier: 447-4075 or email@example.com