After four years of cramped quarters and very little privacy, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County celebrated the official opening of its new — and much more spacious — headquarters Wednesday with a Goshen Chamber of Commerce-sponsored ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.
According to Menessah Mullett, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County, the nonprofit had spent the past four years in a one-room suite located at 2606 Peddlers Village Road, and had simply outgrown the space needed to operate.
“So today we are celebrating our new building,” Mullett said of the new headquarters, located at 3320 Elkhart Road. “With this building, now we have the opportunity to be in a stand-alone building where all of our case managers will have individual offices where they can now work with families, whereas before we were set up in cubicles, and it just wasn’t very private, even for phone conversations. And so, for us, this was kind of a big deal, especially since we’ve moved into more of a case management-program design.”
Also cause for excitement, Mullett said, is the sheer amount of much-needed storage space the new facility provides.
“Our events count for 50% of our fundraising. And with that, we use centerpieces and stuff for events over and over, and just didn’t have the storage anymore at the old location,” Mullett said. “And so now we have an entire basement where we get to store stuff, and it will also allow us to expand our staff.”
While the nonprofit had operated out of its Peddler’s Village location for the past four years, Mullett noted that the organization itself has actually had a presence in Elkhart County for 46 years.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters matches adults and professionals in the area with youth who are anywhere from 6 to 17 who are looking for a mentor,” Mullett said of the nonprofit’s work. “We actually just piloted a high school buddy program two semesters ago now where we take high school kids and match them with fifth- and sixth-graders at Concord Intermediate School and kind of do an 11-week guided program with them where they get to work one on one with the students.
“So, the goal overall is really about mentoring and building relationships,” Mullett added. “A lot of these kids don’t ever get that one-on-one time that they need, that one-on-one activity, and so relationships are the key here. And it’s really what we strive to build. So, we provide support and training to volunteers that are working with some of the families that we work with, and then we provide case management and support to the parents, parenting classes and case management monthly.”
As of this year, the nonprofit currently has 63 active cases, though more than 150 cases were served last year alone, more than the organization has ever served in its 46-year history.
“So, we’re very proud about that,” Mullett said.
In addition to the added space and greater privacy, Mullett noted that the nonprofit’s new headquarters also boasts a dedicated activity room where clients and their mentors can visit, host parties and movie nights, etc.
“It’s something that they’ve really wanted, and now we have the space,” Mullett said with a smile. “And the other positive thing about this space is that we have an entire back yard now. We used to go to Ox Bow for our ice cream social and picnic, and now we can host it in our backyard here.”
While Wednesday’s open house was the official grand-opening of the new building, Mullett noted that she and her staff have actually been operating out of the new location since Dec. 1, though in a limited capacity due to the ongoing construction work.
“But in terms of everything being finished, the new windows in, etc., that was completed this morning as of 11 a.m. So, it came right down to the wire,” Mullet said. “In fact, many of our clients haven’t actually even come here yet, because of the construction, etc. So, we haven’t held any activities here yet. I believe the first activity we might hold will be in February, maybe a movie night. So, we’re really excited to see how that turns out.”
And, to complement the nonprofit’s relocation, Mullett noted that the organization has also undergone a complete brand redesign.
“Our colors used to be purple and white, and now we’re green and black and white,” Mullett said. “So, it’s been a complete makeover. New building, new logo, the whole shebang.”
As a nonprofit, Big Brothers Big Sisters relies heavily on volunteers for both in-person and monetary support, and is always on the lookout for more volunteers to lend a helping hand, Mullet explained.
“Volunteers are extremely important. They’re like gold to us,” Mullett said. “We rely heavily on private donations. We don’t have a lot of grants, believe it or not. But we partner with the local United Way and the Community Foundation to be able to help us in a smaller capacity, for example. And then we do have a federal grant through the Juvenile Justice System, which provides training to us and all of our partners that are part of the youth serving programs in this area.
“But yes, we’re always looking for volunteers,” she added. “So, what we ask is people to check out our website, bbbselkhart.org, and check out the requirements. You can download the application and see the requirements right there. So, I really suggest they look at that.”
Speaking of volunteer options, Mullett noted that volunteers can participate in a school-based program, which requires a once-a-week commitment for 35 minutes a week, which typically involves some type of child mentorship at the child’s school or an afterschool program like the Boys & Girls Club.
“Or, they can participate in a community-based program, which requires a commitment of about four hours per month — four outings outside of the school environment — for a full year,” she added. “So, we just lay out the options for them.”
For more information about the nonprofit and its work, visit bbbselkhart.org.