BANGOR, Maine — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine has partnered with the Bangor Y and the University of Maine to pick up the slack left when Downeast Health Services dropped its mentoring program last July.
“When we received word that Penobscot County was no longer being covered, we immediately began working with our parent organization and community leaders in the Greater Bangor area to see how our agency could fill this void,” said Alex Geath, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine.
The midcoast affiliate already serves 350 youth in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties and hopes to add another 150-250 youth in Penobscot County within the next three years.
“This expansion is about strengthening the community through our proven mentoring programs,” Geath said.
When the Bangor-area program fizzled out last year, 60 children were left without their Big Brother or Big Sister, and another 100 on a waiting list were left wondering whether the program would return.
Geath said it took a lot of work and the financial support of many area agencies to make it happen.
“We basically have to begin anew here in Penobscot County, but the program will end up being much larger,” he said. “We’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg in terms of support, but sustaining funding is always the biggest challenge.”
Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. has pledged $30,000 over a three-year period, Bangor Savings Bank and the Rotary Club of Bangor have donated $5,000 each, and other groups have contributed lesser amounts.
The agency will maintain an office at the Bangor Y on Second Street and plans to hire a full-time program manager in the coming weeks. Planning for the first major fundraiser — a Bowl for Kids Sake in April — already has begun.
Geath said the Bangor Y, UMaine and the Bangor School Department became natural partners to help build a coalition of volunteers and participants. Big Brothers Big Sisters will launch the first school-based mentoring program at four area schools that previously had mentoring programs — Fairmount School and Down East School in Bangor and Leroy Smith School and Wagner Middle School in Winterport.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national organization that provides mentoring services to children ages 5 to 14. Many come from single-parent homes or divorced families. Many struggle socially and academically, and some have behavioral challenges. Matching a child with an adult mentor provides a positive role model outside the family.
The need for mentoring services in Penobscot County is great. Eighteen percent of children in Bangor live in poverty, the fourth-highest percentage in the state, and 47 percent of Penobscot County children receive free or reduced lunches at school.
More information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Midcoast Maine is available by calling 593-0380 or by e-mailing Geath at <a href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Bangor%20Daily%20News%20Article”>email@example.com</a>.