Big Brothers Big Sisters Named Agency of the Year
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Southern Adirondacks was recently named the national nonprofit organization’s Agency of the Year for Small to Midsize Agencies and its CEO selected for a national leadership council — but that’s no surprise to Kelsey Schermerhorn, whose life was transformed by the local branch of the organization.
“The staff at Big Brothers Big Sisters is amazing,” said Schermerhorn, who more than 11 years ago was paired with her “Little,” Amber Backus. “This program is life-changing.”
Schermerhorn has been an active “Big” volunteer longer than anyone has been on the five-person staff, so she has seen the program evolve under the leadership of Bill Moon, CEO for the past eight years.
“Bill is a go-getter,” Schermerhorn said. “We do more out in the community now than we ever have.”
This year, those efforts were recognized as BBBSSA earned the top honor as Agency of the Year in the Small to Midsize category, under which more than 70 percent of the national agencies fall.
The team also earned a Gold Standard Award, a Big Brothers Big Sisters of America recognition of the high-quality programming offered and the agency’s continued growth in the number of children served.
“There are 225 affiliates nationwide and only 26 of us qualified,” said Bill Moon, CEO of BBBS of the Southern Adirondacks. “Most others are from major metropolitan markets with large staffs; not many are able to hit that level of achievement with such a skeleton staff.”
“The team’s collective effort and dedication played a phenomenal role in receiving these awards,” credits Moon. ”Congratulations are due to our staff — Megan, Marie, Alex, Kerri and Mike — as well as our volunteers, board of directors, donors, partners, advocates, and most importantly our youth, who trust us to help them navigate challenges together. While we are focusing on how to change their lives, they easily and most definitely change ours.”
Among new programs, Moon and his team introduced workplace mentoring, group mentoring and Bigs in Blue, a partnership with Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
“Small markets have a lot of innovation and we need to start harnessing and embracing that,” Moon said. “These awards are a wonderful recognition of our staff and what we’ve been able to achieve.”
His advocacy for small markets and the needs of rural populations led to Moon being elected to serve for the National Leadership Council of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, for which he will represent the 11 states in the Northeast region.
But he doesn’t want news of these honors to overshadow local need for more volunteers. Last year, BBBSSA served 463 children and Moon anticipates this year that number will climb to 500, but the agency has a waitlist of more than 200 kids.
“Awards are great, but we’re looking to call more attention to the needs of our youth and to bring more volunteers and donors into the agency,” he said.
Despite high need, the group has inspiring success stories.
“What’s most rewarding is watching the matches, the friendships and stability they gain together; a lot of our kids don’t have that stability so they always have that person who’s there,” said Megan Farrell, program director at the local BBBS.
Schermerhorn’s story was the first that came to mind for Farrell.
“It’s very rewarding and it’s so much fun,” said Schermerhorn, who was paired with Amber Backus of Granville when Backus was just 7 years old. Backus graduated from high school last spring, and still the two are close.
Backus was living in her fifth foster home when she met Schermerhorn.
“[Our relationship] meant a lot to me then,” Backus said. “Not only did I get to be with her and get time away, but we would also talk about how school was going, or things that were bothering me. I felt like she was a sister to me.”
The pair goes hiking and biking together, watches movies, swims and participates in BBBS match events, including the annual fundraiser Bowl for Kids Sake, Backus’ favorite.
“I’ve seen so much growth in Amber — socially, emotionally, in school,” Schermerhorn said. “To see the progression of her life, it’s rewarding to know I helped with that.”
Their relationship strengthened after Backus was adopted by a family who later fostered a younger girl Schermerhorn would eventually adopt.
“God totally orchestrated the whole thing,” Schermerhorn said. “Before, it was just me and Amber, but now we typically do stuff as a family.”
Sharing her Big’s attention is fine by Backus. “I’m so glad Kelsey adopted Summer because she’s a really good mom and I still get to see Summer.”
More than the honors bestowed upon the agency, Farrell said success stories like Schermerhorn and Backus’ inspire the team’s hard work.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters helped me with my depression, helped me build confidence and feel normal,” Backus said.
To volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a Big, make a donation or recommend a child for the program, visit mentoringinfo.org.
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Photo attached. From left: Marie Busse, Megan Farrell, Bill Moon, Alex McCane, Kerri Monroe, Michael Sauro