Big Brothers Big Sisters aims to grow

Amy Rogge Mack
Amy Rogge Mack

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With community service surging throughout the United States, the new chief executive at Big Brothers Big Sisters Services in Winston-Salem aims to grow and diversify the agency’s base of volunteers and funders.

Engaging more volunteers and offering them more options for getting involved is critical to providing meaningful relationships with kids, says Amy Rogge Mack, a former senior executive at the Corporation for National and Community Service who joined the agency Nov. 2 as president and CEO.

And while people are busy, particularly in the recession, research has found that busy people are more likely to volunteer, she says.

“Now is the time,” she says. “We need to just tap that potential further.”

Mack, who worked for the national service agency for over six years, serving as chief of staff, director of public affairs and senior adviser to the CEO, succeeds Bert Grisard, who is retiring after leading the agency for 32 years.

Formed in 1977, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves roughly 600 kids ages six to 15 a year, matching them with nearly 450 volunteers, most of whom spend time with them each week.

The organization operates with an annual budget of $685,000 and a staff of 13 people.

Mack says she will be looking for ways to engage more Baby Boomers as volunteers and find new funders in the region and throughout the United States who can provide both financial and also pro-bono or in-kind support.

Engaging more volunteers is critical for the agency, which pairs them with kids after a rigorous six-week screening process that includes interviews, reference checks and finding the “right” match between volunteers and kids that will “allow their relationship to develop,” Mack says.

Big Brothers Big Sisters offers two types of volunteer matching, which typically involves spending time each week with a kid.

One option is for the volunteer to take the kid to an event, like a ballgame or movie, or to do something together like homework.

The other option, typically for volunteers who may be high-school or college students, is to meet with a kid at the same site each week, such as a school or community center, where the activity is supervised.

Big Brothers Big Sisters provides some programs to roughly 100 kids on a waiting list, an effort that also helps introduce potential volunteers to the program, Mack says.

The agency now aims to develop “non-traditional” opportunities “to serve and interact with kids” that might not necessarily involve, initially at least, a commitment to work with a kid one on one, Mack says.

Growing the program also will require raising more money to cover the additional staff needed to recruit, train, match, manage and track volunteers, she says.

With United Way of Forsyth County and individual donors each accounting for 35 percent of its annual budget, the agency also counts on corporate donors, grants and other types of support.

And an annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake event each February generates roughly 35 percent of the annual budget, mainly from individual and corporate donors.

Big Brothers Big Sisters also has received grants for its Teen Mom program from the Winston-Salem Foundation and the Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem.

And it has received a grant for its new ninth-grader program from “Graduate. It Pays.”, a collaborative initiative that aims to increase the graduation rate at local high schools.

Mack, who also worked as operations manager for the East Coast office of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says Big Brothers Big Sisters is in good financial shape, has a strong and committed board and staff, and is ready to grow.

She plans to spend up to six months developing strategies to get more people and resources involved in the agency.

“If we can tap one more person, who’s maybe spending two to three hours an evening in front of the TV, for just one hour a week, think of what we could do in this community,” she says. “If you can get anyone to volunteer anywhere, that’s a good thing. It gives incentives to others who have not volunteered.”

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