Big Brothers Big Sisters raises nearly $50,000 after emergency plea

Eric Ward sought the job

gkocher1@herald-leader.comFebruary 3, 2012 

Eric Ward, 51, is the new executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass. Ward served as Georgetown College's athletic director and co-director of the Cincinnati Bengals Preseason Training Camp from 2002 to 2011. He is currently an adjunct professor at Eastern Kentucky University. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff gkocher1@herald-leader.com

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Greg Kocher | Staff

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    To learn about Bowl for Kids' Sake or to make a donation, call 1-800-201-8797, go to BBBS-bluegrass.org or stop at any Central Bank branch.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass has raised nearly $50,000 in the week since it issued an emergency plea for donations.

The troubled organization also announced Friday that it has hired Eric Ward, former athletics director at Georgetown College, as its new executive director.

The non-profit that matches boys and girls with older mentors was close to ceasing operations, and its board voted privately last week to close.

But since the public plea for donations, "significant" contributions came from Thomas & King, Georgetown College and the Central Kentucky Blood Bank, among others, and that has helped the organization's financial situation, said Alan Stein, the retired minor league baseball executive and a former Big Brother.

"We're still here, and the response we have received from the public, from individuals, from corporations and many other agencies throughout Central Kentucky has been, in a word, encouraging," he said.

"We are here to say that while it has been terrific, we still need more help," Stein told reporters Friday.

The organization has a monthly operating budget of about $60,000, so the current financial status "remains day-to-day," the non-profit said in a news release.

The amount contributed so far helps the non-profit make it till its biggest annual fund-raiser, Bowl for Kids' Sake, which starts next week in Madison County. That event, in which bowling teams across the region raise money through pledges, has raised nearly $500,000 in the past. However, Stein said this year's goal is closer to $300,000 because the organization has a smaller staff.

The overall goal is to raise $250,000. That would help Big Brothers "get into a firm position" and would buy some time for the organization to sell its key asset: a 75-acre camp in rural Jessamine County called the Ernie Hatfield Youth Camp, Stein said. The property, named for a former executive director, opened in 2009 as a summer retreat for children.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has received three inquiries about the property since the public plea last week, Stein said. He said the property is appraised "in the $700,000 range."

All of the money raised will go first to maintain the 11 staff members and the 420 mentorship matches in 13 counties, Stein said.

"Every time we are able to save one of those kids, it is a good investment for our community, because it saves us long-term in drug-rehabilitation costs, in remediation-in-education costs, in corrections costs, and all the things that society has to pay for later on," Stein said.

The organization has a debt of about $200,000, he said.

Ward, 51, worked with Stein previously in the successful effort to bring minor league baseball to Lexington with the Legends.

"I believed in him then and I believe in him now," Ward said. "I have enough experience with Alan that when he says he's going to make something happen, it does."

Beyond that, Ward said, Big Brothers Big Sisters "is an organization that deserves to exist. It deserves to thrive. The mission is such that we can't let it fail."

Ward was athletic director at Georgetown College and co-director of the Cincinnati Bengals Preseason Training Camp from 2002 until 2011. The Bengals announced last month that they will not hold the camp in Georgetown in 2012, ending a 15-year tradition.

Ward is an adjunct professor at Eastern Kentucky University, and he has started his own education consulting company. He was previously an adjunct professor at both Georgetown College and Midway College.

Ward said it will take some time for him to determine where to take Big Brothers Big Sisters.

"I do know this: The staff that's here is doing a tremendous job, and I'm going to lean heavily on them to give me the back story and bring me up to speed as quickly as possible," he said. "It's important to give the staff some structure so that they know the organization is in it for the long haul.

"At the same time, we've got to get out and deliver our message in a one-on-one basis with people and tell the story" of the organization's work, he said.

Ward said he contacted Stein after reading about the non-profit's plight.

"I felt like it was a good match for my skills and my interests and my passions," he said. "So I picked up the phone and called Alan and I said, 'Tell me more.'"

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