BBBS in transition mode

by nathan oster

The resignation of two key staffers and the expiration of a 21st Century Community Learning Grant that had been supporting its after-school programming have combined to deal a crippling blow to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Wyoming.

Lisa Beamer, the local agency’s chief executive officer, confirmed on Tuesday that Jen Prentiss, who had been serving as the program director in Big Horn County, had resigned, as had Kellie Asmus, the Americorps VISTA assigned to the Greybull office.

Asmus, whose last day was Friday, said she came to the conclusion that “the program wasn’t a good fit for me, and didn’t align with my future interests.” She has asked to be reassigned to a different BBBS agency in the hopes of completing her one-year commitment to VISTA, which ends in July.  She is also considering moving closer to her hometown of Cincinnati.

“I think Big Brothers Big Sisters does a lot of good things for the community — and I hope that it continues to do so,” she said.

Prentiss had an even larger role for BBBS. She has served as the program manager for more than two years, but will be leaving for good today.  She has accepted a job working for Gottsche, which has moved into a new facility in Basin. She will be running Gottsche’s wellness program, including fitness programming.

Beamer credited Prentiss for her contributions to BBBS. “We wish her the very best,” said Beamer. “Jen did such an awesome job for us and for Big Horn County.”

Without Prentiss and Asmus, there is no one left to staff the Greybull office, which is located in the Herb Asp Community Center.  Beamer said the BBBS board, which oversees the agency, will be meeting this month and that the situation in Greybull will be one of the topics of discussion. What becomes of it, ultimately, will be up to the board, but Beamer indicated that she would like to hire a part-time person to staff it, even if it’s just for one day a week.

“What I will say is that we will not stop providing services,” she said. “What’s happened nationwide is, because we have taken such big funding hits, the national office has given us much better technology to provide support in our communities and we don’t need as many people as we’ve had in the past.”

BBBS of Northwest Wyoming covers Park, Washakie, Hot Springs and Fremont counties in addition to Big Horn.  Across the agency, there are 100 kids receiving services, and Beamer said the national organization now sees that as a workload that can be handled by one employee.


After school program

In a letter sent home with Greybull students, BBBS announced that it would not be running an after-school program beyond Jan. 24, 2013 — and that it would just be managing the various matches that are in place.

Beamer said the 21st Century grant had been providing approximately $157,000 annually in support of BBBS’s after-school programming. That funding source, which had been renewed on a an annual basis, dried up at the end of December.  “Our five years were up,” Beamer said.

When it kicks in again in June, BBBS won’t be getting any of it.  Instead, the school district is applying for the funding, believing that it is in a position to be able to offer after-school programming to the district’s students.

“And that actually makes a lot more sense,” Beamer said.  While the $157,000 ran “a number of BBBS activities” in addition to the Greybull after-school program, Beamer said BBBS will be better served in the long run by focusing on preserving existing matches and building new ones.

“That’s what we do,” Beamer said. “Big Brothers Big Sisters is a mentoring program, so we were lucky for a few years to be able to branch out and do some neat programs.  But the money isn’t there anymore, so we’re doing what we can.

“At the end of the day, most people in business will say you have to stay true to your mission, and our mission is provide children facing adversity with strong, enduring, professionally-supported, one-to-one relationships that change their lives forever.”

Prentiss acknowledged that the loss of the funding to run the after-school programming was a contributing factor in her decision to resign from BBBS.  Another, though, was an organizational shift that placed greater responsibility on her shoulders.

When the program directors in two other counties in the agency resigned, the two remaining program directors, Prentiss and another director, were asked to take responsibility for the entire five-county area.

“That made the job a lot more stressful,” she said.  “I got in it to help the families of Big Horn County; it’s hard to oversee a county when you aren’t physically there and don’t know the dynamics of that county.”

Prentiss said she feels that BBBS has made a difference in the community, not only in the lives of the kids, but also for the adults who work with them.

BBBS announced in its letter that existing matches will continue to be supported. It is currently running four programs:  community-based matches, couples matches, school-based matches and Lunch Buddy matches.

“I think the organization, the plan, the mentoring … all of it has a place within our small communities,” she said, adding, however, that the key to future success will be not only the decisions made by Beamer, but also whether the community steps up to support the program.

“If people in Big Horn County want to continue to have the program, they need to make that known to her,” Prentiss said. “Whether that’s by making financial donations or by supporting programs by being volunteers, whatever makes sense to them.”