‘With heavy hearts’: Big Brother Big Sisters Cowichan Valley announces closure

'With heavy hearts': Big Brother Big Sisters Cowichan Valley announces closure

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Cowichan Valley (BBBSCV) says insufficient operating funds are to blame as it announces its closure, which should happen in the coming months.

The shutdown means its mentoring programs that pair young people with a role model will be dissolved, though the “effective date is yet to be determined,” it says.

“With heavy hearts, we determined that dissolution was the best course of action,” said Shaun Mann, chair of the board of directors, in a statement Wednesday.

“The board carefully considered all factors, including future developments, and concluded that BBBSCV could not sustain stable operations.”

The non-profit, based in Duncan, has been around for decades.

It says its goal is to help “young people who face adversity and are in need of an additional consistent and supportive Developmental Relationship.” Its 2022 annual report noted 171 children were supported that year, with 54 mentor volunteers.

Watch the report below:

Heather O’Donnell, who was on the list to become a Big Sister, says the closure is disappointing.

“Very sad. It’s just unfortunate the things that are most important and needed in life are being thrown away,” she told CHEK News.

“It’s no fault of their own, obviously it’s funding issues.”

Established in the early ’70s, BBBSCV says fundraising activities “are not yielding sufficient funds to meet the operating costs of the agency.” It adds that government and private grants have also dwindled, becoming “fewer and much harder” to achieve.

“Without strong, stable alternative revenue streams to support core programming, this leaves the agency not being able to meet the demands of increasing operating costs (staff wages, rent, insurance, etc.),” it says in a news release.

O’Donnell wishes the public was made aware of the closure well in advance.

“Perhaps the public could have had a rally or whatever it is we do to get funding,” she said. “I just wish the government would give money for important programs like this.”

Another Cowichan-based society closing its doors

But many other non-profits are facing similar challenges, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters Cowichan.

Just recently, Cowichan Family Life Association, also in Duncan, announced it was closing its physical location and shifting to virtual services.

“I don’t have the capacity to see everybody every single day,” said executive director Madeline Macleod, citing a rise in clients but a decrease in funding.

A 2024 report by Vantage Point, State of B.C.’s Non-Profit Sector, found such societies were “grappling with skyrocketing demand for services and supports from clients and communities.”

The report, released on June 6, added that “Non-profits in B.C. continue to combat soaring expenses as costs rise and revenue streams remain fixed.”

BBBSCV says it’s coordinating with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada to minimize the disruption to the families and children who rely on its services, with staff now “working diligently” to find potential support for mentoring matches.

The non-profit has been a long-time partner of the Cowichan Valley School District and says in-school mentoring and group programming wraps up on June 27.

“BBBSCV expresses gratitude to partners, including School District 79, counsellors, teachers, and administrators. We also acknowledge the many years of dedication from Volunteers, Staff, Board of Directors, School District 79, and program participants,” said Mann, stressing the importance of youth mentoring.

“While BBBSCV’s local chapter will dissolve, the importance of mentoring youth remains paramount for the Cowichan Valley. We are grateful to all who invested their time, energy and financial resources over the past 50+ years,” he said.

People have shared their experiences with the non-profit, including Keyla, who said, “Big Brothers Big Sisters believed in my abilities, encouraged my passions, and gave me a platform to voice my opinions.”

Regional mayors Staples, Douglas, McGonigle and Stone released a joint statement, expressing “deep gratitude” and thanking BBBSCV for its years of service.

“In an era where many feel disconnected, the loss of these vital programs is a significant blow to our community’s ability to support our youth effectively,” they said.

The mayors say they’re “deeply saddened” by the closure.

Amid a “critical” service gap, they say they’re working with local organizations to find alternative solutions for those impacted.

“We encourage everyone to continue to connect with young people, provide positive examples, and support other local youth-serving organizations…” added Mann.

READ ALSO: Mentorship program on central Vancouver Island needs more Big Brother volunteers

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