By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
Like many small nonprofit organizations, Boys to Men has struggled in the wake of COVID-19. With a couple events that accounted for the vast majority of the organizations funding canceled, the difficult decision was made to lay off half of the close-knit staff. Still, the reduced staff has managed to bring their mentoring program for at-risk teens online.
Mentors are hosting 12 weekly video chats on Zoom for any boys interested in attending. For the month of April, boys deeply invested in the organization through past camping trips took part in a pilot program where they provided feedback on the virtual mentorship. On May 1, Zoom mentorship opportunities were opened again but only 30 boys participated the first week. The next week, 45 boys attended and the number has continued to grow from there. Still, it is a steep drop from the over 700 boys they were engaging at local schools, although that number does not necessarily reflect the number of boys enrolled in the mentorship program.
“We would love to say that we have 100% transfer rate, but that’s just not the case,” said youth coordinator Jose Garcia. “[The] boys that show up, definitely want to be there. They want to see their mentors; they want to be part of something again.”
Garcia worries that the loss of engagement until schools begin taking place in-person again means boys beginning in the program will lose momentum. He said the boys opened up about their lives in the weekly one-hour sessions because they are seeing the same man week after week. That consistent encouragement and help is gone for many of the boys who have not re-enrolled.
The boys could ask for help from mentors on a wide range of issues. The questions were often practical: how to file taxes, build a resume, apply for a job, but more often groups built trust by talking about everything going on in their lives at home and at school.
“Our mentors sit and listen and guide them into making positive choices, choices that they’re going to feel good about — so they can become a good man,” explained executive directory Rose Courtney. The mentors also shared their own experiences as they guided the boys.
Garcia, who participated in the program in high school before becoming a facilitator, said it is an opportunity for boys to talk about their sadness, anger and pain. It was often a safe space to cry, which still carries a social stigma for men even while strides are being made to improve that.
The lay-off of the staff was a means of survival so those programs can return in full force when schools reopen. In addition, the organization worked out a deal with its office’s landlord to reduce rent by two-thirds through August while staff are working remotely. A large portion of the remaining rent is being paid for by long-time corporate sponsor Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.
Two major fundraising events in the summer, the Caddyhack Golf Tournament and 100Wave Challenge, were both canceled. In addition, The Century Club let Boys to Men know that funding for the January 2021 Champions for Youth campaign had evaporated. Those three events accounted for $750,000 of the nonprofit’s $900,000 operating budget.
“We don’t know what those streams of revenue are going to be for us this year. It doesn’t look promising for any of those,” said co-founder and chief development officer Joe Sigurdson.
The board worked to put together a business plan in the wake of the cancellations. They paid for an independent auditor to look at the financials – an important step to qualify for many grants. The organization has also rolled out a sustaining membership program so they can have regular monthly income not tied to events. Sigurdson has also created a Friends of the Ranch program to solicit donations from men who have led camping trips in the past. Between those three new efforts, the streamlined staff hope they will be able to continue providing video mentorship for now and in-person mentorship later.
“Together as a community, we will get through. It will pass and we just have to be patient that there is a brighter future for everyone,” said Courtney. “We need everybody support to be able to continue to get the boys the mentorship that that they that they are hungry for.”
— Kendra Sitton can be email@example.com.