It’s not often an organization turns 30.
Ponoka’s Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) did just that and shows no signs of slowing down.
“It is an agency that has existed for 30 years based upon volunteerism. That’s the incredible part,” explained executive director Beth Reitz.
Without all the volunteers the organization would not be where it is today, she added, and those volunteers ensure minimal administrative costs. There aren’t many organizations that can show such community involvement.
BBBS’s board of directors in Ponoka also realized some time ago that it needed to come under the umbrella of the Boys and Girls Club at the Ponoka Youth Centre in order to stay effective and functional. In 2006 the board joined forces, which has helped ensure its longevity.
“Our cost per match provincially and even nationally is so low in comparison to what other agencies are experiencing,” said Reitz.
They have had mentors in Ponoka for more than 20 years who have seen their little brother or sister grow up and graduate. And some of those kids then took on the role of mentor.
“It’s a real good indicator of how beneficial the program is,” added Morgen Chernick, program coordinator.
Ponoka’s program is doing so well with its fundraising, mentor supports, volunteers and funding model that the Government of Alberta is looking at how it functions in an effort to gain best practices, said Reitz. Part of that success has to do with strong community involvement, she said.
The organization’s history and strong roots are partly due to the vision of the first board of directors and executive director. Pat Rowland was the first administrator for the organization which conducted a feasibility study on whether a program like this would be needed in Ponoka.
A survey of single parents in 1985 showed that there was indeed a need for a Big Brothers program (as history would have it, Rowland’s daughter was involved in the survey). That survey helped shape the focus of Ponoka’s program, which started to take shape in 1987, explained Rowland.
She pointed out that when efforts began in earnest to build the program, using the Big Brothers program manual really helped set a strong foundation for Ponoka.
“The next thing that was important was that you formed a steering committee,” said Rowland of the beginning days.
Included in that steering committee was an RCMP officer, two ministers, a teacher and nurses. This committee represented a cross-section of Ponoka of people who worked with children. Eventually a board of directors was created to ensure the program went well.
“The development of a board, and the keeping of a strong board has been really instrumental,” said Rowland of its success. “Plus, the dedication of the staff that has been there for a long time.”
Something the group made sure to focus on right from the start was to be involved in the community and to get its name out by being in the newspaper — the Ponoka News and Advertiser — as much as possible. “At least once a month. Most of the time twice a month,” said Rowland.
Add to that the strength of the community volunteers, including board members and mentors, is another factor in Ponoka’s BBBS strength, said Rowland.
She eventually became an executive director before joining a committee for the organization. Later she joined the board of directors. Rowland was chairperson for the board of directors when the decision was made to join with the youth centre.
Funding in today’s financial climate is nowhere near what it used to be, said Rowland, who praised the current group for its fundraising abilities.
Despite some of the challenges the group faces in meeting ongoing funding needs, she suggests that the continuity of staff and board members has ensured its strength over the years.