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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 17, 2010 7 years ago

Sarasota Small Business of the Year Awards: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast

by: Stephanie Hannum Managing Editor


Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast (BBBSSC) started as Big Brothers of Venice in 1968. Each year, Big Brothers Big Sisters provides one-to-one mentoring to 1,700 children, ages 6 to 18, in six counties in Southwest Florida. The mentoring has had a powerful impact on academic performance, self-confidence, attitude and relationships of the children.

“The only thing that holds children back is their opportunity to connect with others,” says President and CEO Joy Mahler. “You will impact children just by showing them the way, letting them know you care and by being consistent and reliable — change will occur.”

Mahler says the key is attracting volunteers, who have education and life experience and who can connect and relate that experience to youth. The program is based on connectivity — expanding a child’s network so he can succeed.

“Our focus right now is looking at how well we serve the children in our program — and which children we are serving,” Mahler says. “It’s not how many, but how well we are serving.”

However, like most other non-profit organizations in Sarasota, Big Brothers Big Sisters felt the ripple effect of the recession.

“The economy impacted everyone involved — our staff, our families and our volunteers,” Mahler says. “There’s an increased need in a declining environment.”

As that need continues to grow, the non-profit has been creative in partnering with more than 100 corporate partners that provide volunteers and financial support. Its creative strategies in partnering with other businesses include greater time flexibility and opportunities for volunteers to mentor youth. “Bigs in School” mentors continue meeting with youth through the summer at libraries and other locations; and volunteer opportunities include partnerships with major-league sports teams that provide tickets and outings.

“The biggest opportunity out of the challenge of the economy is to seek smaller contributions given by more people,” says Mahler. “Philanthropy will never go away — we just adjust to the new normal.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters and Mahler’s commitment to excellence was instrumental in their win of the Sarasota Chamber’s Non-Profit Organization Award last week.

“Winning this award is a tremendous affirmation of what we achieve in the community through mentoring,” Mahler said. “It’s an affirmation to volunteers — they do the real work.”


Address: 101 W. Venice Ave., Suite 34, Venice
Start date: 1968
Number of employees when started: Two
Number of employees now: 33
Advice: “Develop a solid business plan and monitor your results consistently. If it appears you are under producing, have a backup plan. I’ve often heard ‘the key to life is how well you adjust to Plan B.’ A must-do for small business and non-profits is to stay with your mission/vision with a commitment to quality.”
Biggest challenge: “The economy impacted everyone involved — our staff, our families and our volunteers. There’s an increased need in a declining environment.”
Where do you see your business one year from now? “We have altered our business plan to adjust to the economy and what we understand to be the new normal. A year from now, Big Brothers Big Sisters will be serving more children with added program components based on evaluated needs.”

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