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Big Sisters? Big Brothers? â??No thanks,' says Sculley's proposed budget 

Greg Harman
[email protected]

Future dropout? Meet City Manager Sheryl Sculley's proposed City budget for 2011. Y'all can, like, hang out in the garage for a little bit together, but then you'll have to go.

Future Baby Momma? Yeah, I know the rec center is closing early these days because of the budget cuts. But we've got a date with an old coke buddy and don't want you around. Can't you find an abandoned loading dock somewhere to hang with your friends?

Wannabe gangster? For the last time, no, Big Brothers doesn't have a mentor for you. Now shove off. The Street will look after you.

Under the City's proposed 2011 budget, a thousand at-risk San Antonio children will linger on a growing waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas mentors even as City leaders lament out sky-high teen pregnancy and dropout rates.

For the second year in a row, BBBS has been zeroed out of the City's budget, meaning that dozens of kids that otherwise would have been paired with a caring adult volunteer and begun learning key life skills â?¦ won't.

It's hard for BBBS President & CEO Denise Barkhurst to understand.

“I've been here 13 years. We met with every single councilperson including all their staffers during the past year to ask why our budget had been cut for the current budget cycle. No one really knew why,” Barkhurst said. Of course, when the 2010 budget was put together, there was no CEO at BBBS. The group was in the midst of a transition in leadership.

After she was named, Barkhurst started trying to get in to see the director of community initiatives to get the group's funding restored. It took six months to get the meeting, and then then-director Dennis Campa said he wanted “more information on which kids you're serving,” Barkhurst recalled.

“I said, â??I can send you more information about the kids we're serving â?¦ We're serving kids in poverty, living in homes affected by incarceration of a family member, sometimes both parents.' I'm not really sure what he was talking about.”

It was troubling, because the City and BBBS had a long-standing relationship. For at least 10 years, the City had committed anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 to the program. It takes about $1,000 per year to serve each child by trainings mentors and managing those relationships.

“We're a little disappointed because we have been working with the City on its dropout initiative, knowing that kids in our program, statistically, research has proven are more likely to graduate, stay in school, stay out of trouble,” she said.

She's supported by statistics culled from BBBS literature, such as the following:

â?¢ University of Texas 20-year study finds 87% of children in BBBS program graduated from HS or got their GED

â?¢ Public/Private Ventures study shows children in BBBS are 46% less likely to start using drugs; 27% less likely to start drinking; 52% less likely to skip a day of school; 33% less likely to hit someone; and had better school attendance and better relationships with family members, other adults and peers

â?¢ Harris Interactive study found that adults mentored as children in BBBS were better educated, wealthier and more fulfilled than their peers â?? suggesting BBBS can break cycles linked to poverty.

Introducing her proposed budget last week, Sculley waxed poetic about the many positive aspects of the budget while warning Council members they would still likely hear a lot about the few negatives. Big Brothers Big Sisters was never mentioned by name. But, prescient Sculley called this one: Council will hear more about it in the budget hearings ahead.

“We'll have a Big Brother or Big Sister at every single hearing,” Barkhurst promised, adding that all the Council members are well educated on the program's many benefits. Expect also to hear about these community and learning centers having their hours drastically scaled back to meet the terms of the new budget that includes a taser on every cop's hip.

Watching the scramble for dollars, it's hard not to ruminate over BP's $50 million fine for safety violations at its Houston refinery. Seems if San Anto's AGE Refinery fell under a similar microscope that little nearly-blew-up-a-mile-of-Southside mishap could lead to some needed reallocation of wealth. Mr. Chairman Emeritus Al Gonzalez, just sign the check over to “the youth of San Antonio.”

BBBS currently has 2,000 volunteer mentors working with local kids. Another 400 would-be volunteers are lined up and ready to help, however the group doesn't have the resources to train and match them to the more than 1,000 kids waiting in line for a friend.

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