Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado, a nonprofit that has provided mentorships to thousands of students over 35 years, is in dire financial need and has launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to keep its doors open.
“We are not ready to give up. It’s too important of an organization,” said Ryan Brungard, board secretary for the nonprofit.
Big Brothers Big Sisters provides one-on-one mentorship to children, many from low-income families and single-parent households, and has a wait list for its services, said Executive Director Paul Plvan. It serves Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio and Pagosa Springs.
However, the nonprofit has faced declines in its revenue sources, including donations, grants and proceeds from special events over the last three to four years. The organization has also faced rising costs for staff, audits, insurance and office space, Plvan said.
This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters has faced a $50,000 shortfall in its budget, in part, because its annual fishing tournament had to be canceled after the fish die-offs in the Animas River, he said.
The organization is also facing cash flow problems without any savings to fall back on, Plvan said.
The nonprofit spent significantly from savings over the last few years to cover expenses. It also sold its building and spent the revenue on operations, he said.
“That’s what you do in survival mode,” he said.
Plvan took over leadership of the nonprofit 1½ years ago after it had gone six months without an executive director. He ramped up grant writing and cut expenses to help stabilize the organization, he said. For example, he cut a school-based program in Pagosa Springs.
At the same time, he reduced the number of children waiting for mentors, from 35 to 10 children, by connecting children with mentors.
The nonprofit currently provides mentors to 79 children in Durango, Bayfield and Pagosa Springs, he said.
Both Plvan and Brungard are big brothers themselves and have seen the difference mentorship can make in the lives of young children facing challenging circumstances.
When Brungard met his “little brother” in 2013, the elementary school student was clearly shy. He had his T-shirt pulled over his knees and face covered with ice cream, Brungard recalled.
In the ensuing years, Brungard and his match, now in eighth grade, have a relationship built on trust. As the boy transitions to high school, Brungard hopes to mentor the young man as he learns to drive, among other challenges.
“It’s good that we have had this time to develop that relationship where he can hopefully feel very comfortable coming to me,” Brungard said.
Often, mentees are more comfortable confiding in their mentors than their parents, Plvan said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters also serves children who have faced deep loss. One mentee is currently without both of her parents because her mother passed away and her father was detained by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, Plvan said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters would like to increase the number of children it can mentor, but expansion requires additional staff and funding, he said.
A fundraising campaign aims to raise $1,000 sponsorships for 100 mentorships in 100 days, Plvan said. If the campaign is successful, it will raise $100,000. The nonprofit has so far raised $30,000 through sponsorships since it started in late summer, Plvan said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters’ budget in 2019 is expected to be about $225,000. The nonprofit needs to raise about $275,000 annually to support 100 mentorships, which is the nonprofit’s target set by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
As part of reaching stability, the nonprofit wants to move away from its traditional dependence on special events to ongoing donations. Durangoans are inundated by nonprofit events, and events can be unreliable sources of revenue.
“That’s the critical path, is the reoccurring donations,” Plvan said.